Indigenous Women: The Strength of Our Community

Page 1

Cultural Survival Q









Indigenous Women The Strength of Our Communities

Vol. 45, Issue 1 • MAR 2021 US $4.99/CAN $6.99

Eva Vasquez Clemente, mother, artist, police officer from the Zapotec-Mixtec coast of Oaxaca, Mexico, presenting her exquisitely detailed corn husk dolls (see page 29). Photo by Danae Laura. M a r c h 202 1 Vo lum e 45 , Issue 1 Board of Directors president

Kaimana Barcarse (Kanaka Hawai’i) Vice President

John King


Steven Heim Clerk

Nicole Friederichs Valine Brown (Haida) Duane Champagne (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa) Evelyn Arce Erickson (Muisca) Laura Graham Stephen Marks Tui Shortland (Ma–ori) Jannie Staffansson (Saami) Stella Tamang (Tamang) FOUNDERS David & Pia Maybury-Lewis Cultural Survival Headquarters 2067 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge, MA 02140 t 617.441.5400 f 617.441.5417 Cultural Survival Quarterly Copy Editor: Jenn Goodman Designer: Contributing Arts Editor: Phoebe Farris Managing Editor: Agnes Portalewska Copyright 2021 by Cultural Survival, Inc. Cultural Survival Quarterly (ISSN 0740-3291) is published quarterly by Cultural Survival, Inc. at PO Box 381569, Cambridge, MA 02238. Periodical postage paid at Boston, MA 02205 and additional mailing offices. Postmaster: Send address changes to Cultural Survival, PO Box 381569, Cambridge, MA 02238. Printed on recycled paper in the U.S.A. Please note that the views in this magazine are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Cultural Survival.

Writers’ Guidelines

View writers’ guidelines at our website ( or send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Cultural Survival, Writer’s Guidelines, PO Box 381569, Cambridge, MA 02238. Cultural Survival recognizes that Indigenous Peoples have long been exploited by photographers and publications. This publication does not pay photographers for images and makes no money from publishing them. We also make a tremendous effort to identify every Indigenous individual in the images that appear here. From time to time, however, such identification is not possible. We apologize to the subjects of those photos and to any reader offended by the omission.

F e at u r e s

D e pa r t m e n t s

12 Living in Two Worlds in Sápmi

1 Executive Director’s Message

Shaldon Ferris (Khoisan) Jannie Staffansson (Saami) is a renowned Indigenous climate change expert and reindeer herder in Sápmi, Sweden.

14 Indigenous Women Lead: Conservation and Food Sovereignty Efforts in Uganda Gertrude Kenyangi (Batwa) Indigenous women in Uganda are the foundation for Indigenous knowledge transfer and are leading the push for change and greater equity.

2 In the News 4 Rights in Action #LandBack in South Africa

6 Indigenous Knowledge Play Ball

8 Indigenous Arts Photographer Pamela J. Peters (Diné)

16 A Bridge Between Worlds in Siberia Yana Sharbunaeva (Buryat) Tatyana Vassilievna Kobezhikova (Khakas) is a well known Siberian shaman and a guardian of the Khakas culture.

18 The Radical Healing Power of Indigenous Love

10 Environmental Defenders Defending the Sacred in South Texas: Christa Mancias (Esto’k Gna)


Andrea Landry (Anishinaabe) Healing intergenerational trauma is fundamental to Indigenous Peoples rising and to raising the next generation.

20 The Auntie Effect

Organization of Indigenous Doctors of Chiapas (OMIECH)


Youth Fellow Spotlight Ipiak Slendy Montanhuano Ushigua (Sapara)

Corinne Rice-Grey Cloud (Mohawk/Lakota) Being a social media influencer and Auntie to 32,000 nieces and nephews comes with major responsibilities.

Keepers of the Earth Fund Grant Partner Spotlight


Bazaar Artist Eva Vasquez Clemente

22 Head Up, Pencil Down, No Longer Invisible: Being Queer and Indigenous in Academia Lindsey Balidoy (Bad River Ojibwe/ Tiwa Pueblo) Decolonizing and Indigenizing academia uplifts Indigenous students and encourages them to be proud of who they are.

24 Balancing Motherhood and Service Bia’ni Madsa’ Juárez López (Ayuuk/Binnizá)

ii • www. cs. org

Maricela Zurita Cruz (ChatNya) navigates the complexities of being a working mother and a public servant.

Cover photo: Mother and daughter (Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians) on their ancestral land near Riverside County, California. Photo by Gabrielle Norte (Cahuilla/ Cupeño),

Executiv e Director’S message

Indigenous Women are Cornerstones of Our Communities

Donors like you make our work around the world possible. Thanks so much for being part of Cultural Survival.

Dear Cultural Survival Community,

Cultural Survival Staff Galina Angarova (Buryat), Executive Director


am proud to present our Spring issue of the Cultural Survival Quarterly dedicated to uplifting the voices, experiences, and diverse identities of Indigenous women. We bring you stories that highlight only a glimpse of the multitude of roles Indigenous women play in strengthening and building our communities. These are true accounts of perseverance, strength, resilience, love, and care for children, families, communities, and Mother Earth. This issue is dedicated to us, Indigenous women, who hold numerous roles and responsibilities. We are sisters, mothers, aunties, grandmothers, friends, leaders, doctors, healers, lawyers, teachers, chefs, land and water protectors…. We are the powerhouses of our movements, the backbones of our communities, and the nurturing hearts for our families. Indigenous women find themselves at a disadvantage against challenges throughout their lives. Indigenous women face discrimination because of their ethnic origin; gender; economic, political, societal status or class; disability; and location. This compound effect puts many of us at the edges of survival. My grandmother was one of these Indigenous women, who worked hard to keep our family and community healthy. She completed only three grades of schooling and suffered from a life-long disability lacking access to health care. She lived in a remote village solely relying on the forest and her own husbandry. Yet, she survived and thrived, lived a full and fulfilling life, and ensured her descendants were nourished and supported. Many other Indigenous women too, live and thrive under challenging circumstances. In this issue, you will meet some of these incredible women. The powerful stories of Christa Mancias (Esto’k Gna), Jannie Staffansson (Saami), Gertrude Kenyangi (Batwa), Tatyana Vassilievna Kobezhikova (Khakas), Andrea Landry (Anishinaabe), Lindsey Balidoy (Bad River Ojibwe/ Tiwa Pueblo), Corinne Rice-Grey Cloud (Mohawk/Lakota), Maricela Zurita Cruz (ChatNya), Ipiak Slendy Montanhuano Ushigua (Sapara), Micaela Icó Bautista (Tzotzil), and Eva Vasquez Clemente are

Mark Camp, Deputy Executive Director Daisee Francour (Oneida), Director of Strategic Partnerships and Communications Avexnim Cojtí (Maya K’iche’), Community Media Program Manager Jessie Cherofsky, Advocacy Program Researcher Danielle DeLuca, Advocacy & Development Manager Shaldon Ferris (Khoisan), Indigenous Radio Program Coordinator Sofia Flynn, Accounting & Office Manager Nati Garcia (Maya Mam), Indigenous Community Media Youth Fellowship Coordinator Adriana Hernández (Maya K'iche'), Executive Assistant

testaments to the power of Indigenous women’s resilience, bravery, and sacrifice. We at Cultural Survival are working diligently to bring the issues of discrimination against Indigenous women to light through our work to hold States, corporations, civil society and others accountable so that our Indigenous women, men, and LGBTQIA+ relatives can exercise and assert their rights. We are also working to uplift Indigenous women in a way that does not disrupt gender balance and is according to Indigenous values and protocols self-determined by Indigenous communities. For many years, Cultural Survival has prioritized projects centering women and engaging women’s and girls’ leadership. Our staff and board have been working collaboratively to draft a gender balance policy to ensure balance and equity within our organization, and we will share this policy with the public once it is ready. Cultural Survival is committed to restoring this balance and supporting the work of healing in its many manifestations, including gendered ways. We invite you to join us on this journey to create a more just world and to support Indigenous women’s leadership to guide the way.

Dev Kumar Sunuwar (Kumar/Sunuwar), Program Associate, Community Media Grants Project Danae Laura, Bazaar Program Manager Maria del Rosario “Rosy” Sul González (Kaqchikel), Indigenous Radio Program Coordinator Bia’ni Madsa’ Juárez López, (Mixe/Ayuuk ja’ay & Zapotec/Binnizá), Keepers of the Earth Fund Project Manager Jamie Malcolm-Brown, Communications & Information Technology Manager Teresita Orozco Mendoza, Community Media Training Coordinator Cat Monzón (Maya K’iche’), Executive Assistant Cesar Gomez Moscut (Pocomam), Community Media Program Coordinator Edson Krenak Naknanuk (Krenak), Lead on Brazil Gabael Otzoy Xocop (Maya Kaqchikel), Information Technology Assistant Diana Pastor (Maya K’iche’), Central America Media Coordinator Agnes Portalewska, Communications Manager Angelica Rao, Human Resources Coordinator Sócrates Vásquez García (Ayuujk), Community Media Grants Coordinator Miranda Vitello, Development Associate

INTERNS AND VOLUNTEERS Freya Abbas, Eileen Calub, Laura Dobbs, Stefany Gomez, Jacklyn Janeksela, Somaya Jimenez-Haham, Laura Navitsky, Mariana Sanborn, Marjorie Talavera, Veronica Valente, Katia Yoza Mitsuishi

In Solidarity and Gratitude,

There are so many ways to

Galina Angarova (Buryat) Executive Director

Stay connected Cultural Survival Quarterly March 2021 • 1

i n t he new s

Michael Nyoli Mbondo and David O’Beirne in Knysna, South Africa, starting the Walk to Save the Okavango Delta on February 1.

Australia: National Anthem Modified to Acknowledge Indigenous Peoples December

On December 31, 2020, Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, announced that the first line of Australia’s national anthem, “Advance Australia Fair,” had been modified to acknowledge the presence of Indigenous Peoples in Australia. The words “Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free,” are now “Australians all let us rejoice, for we are one and free.”

United States: Indigenous U.S. Congresswoman Nominated as Secretary of Interior December

On December 19, 2020, then-Presidentelect Biden nominated Congresswoman Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo, D-NM) as Secretary of Interior. If confirmed, she will be the first Native American to serve in a cabinet post.

United States: Bill to Establish Native American Languages Resource Center Introduced December

The Congressional Native American Caucus, vice-chaired by Rep. Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo, D-NM) introduced a companion bill (H.R.8729) to the Native American Languages Resource Center Act to protect Native American language education by supporting distance learning. 2 • www. cs. org

United States: Minnesota Governor Apologizes for “Dakota 38” Execution

Panama: 400,000 Acres of Forests Returned to Naso People of Panama



Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued a public apology for the State’s involvement in the largest mass execution in American history. On December 26, 1862, 38 Dakota warriors were executed in Mankato, Minnesota. The warriors are honored annually in a memorial run.

The Supreme Court of Panama ruled that the ancestral lands of the Naso people, including forests with endangered species such as quetzals, jaguars, and peccaries, will now be managed by the Naso in a new comarca (semiautonomous region).

United States: Act Calls for Land to Be Returned to Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe

Colombia: Tribunal Indicts FARC Leaders for War Crimes



In the 1940-50s, 12,000 acres of land were taken from the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in northern Minnesota. The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Reservation Restoration Act calls for the transfer of the stolen land from the Department of the Interior to be held in a trust for the Tribe.

On January 28, the Special Jurisdiction of Peace indicted eight Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity. All were connected with FARC’s practice of taking hostages and ransoming them to finance its war against the state. Indigenous communities were disproportionately impacted by the conflict with violence, forced displacement, and land dispossession.

United States: California Truth and Healing Council Aims to Provide Accurate Historical Record January

California Governor Gavin Newsom established the California Truth and Healing Council by executive order, which consists of 12 Tribal leaders who will provide their historical account of atrocities committed by the State. The Council will meet quarterly and present a yearly report to the governor’s Tribal advisor.

Brazil: Human Rights Rights Commission Grants Protections to Guajajara and Awá Peoples January

Precautionary measures to protect the Guajajara and Awá Peoples living in the Araribóia Indigenous Territory in the State of Maranhão, Brazil, have been established. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has also asked the government of Brazil to provide health care, medical supplies, and implement preventative measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 among these vulnerable populations.

South Africa: San Walk Aims to Bring Attention to Gas and Oil Drilling in the Okavango Delta February

On February 1, San leaders began a journey on foot from Knysna to Cape Town, South Africa to bring attention to permits issued to ReConAfrica to prospect, drill, and ultimately extract oil and gas from over 8.4 million acres of the Kalahari Desert in Namibia and Botswana. The Kavanago is an area of unique beauty that contains ecosystems of global importance and the last remaining sacred lands that sustain the San.

New Zealand: First Public –ori Holiday Announced Ma February

The rising of Matariki, or the Pleiades star cluster, at the break of June and –ori New July, marks the start of the Ma Year. Prime Minister Jacida Ardern announced June 24, 2022 would be the first Matariki, “a time for reflection and celebration, and our first public –ori.” holiday that recognizes Te Ao Ma

Advocacy Updates Belize and Nepal: Pablo Mis and Dev Kumar Sunuwar Appointed to UN Advisory Board for Indigenous Peoples December

Pablo Mis (Maya Q’eqchi’) from Laguna Village, Toledo, Belize, and Dev Kumar Sunuwar (Kumar Sunuwar) from Nepal have been appointed to the advisory board of trustees of the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples. Mis and Kumar will join three other Indigenous representatives in advising UN Secretary General, António Guterres, on the use of the fund for three years. The fund provides financial assistance for Indigenous community members who wish to participate in the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues, the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and other UN meetings related to Indigenous advocacy. Kumar is Cultural Survival’s Asia-Pacific regional coordinator. Mis has partnered with Cultural Survival as program director at the Maya Leaders Alliance throughout the last decade.

US: President Biden Revokes Permit Granted to Keystone XL Pipeline January

President Biden issued an executive order to revoke a permit to the Keystone XL pipeline granted by the previous administration in 2017. The pipeline has faced years of opposition from an intersectional coalition led by Native water defenders, environmental organizations, and farmers. The proposed pipeline would have transported up to 800,000 barrels a day of crude oil from the Tar Sands development in northern Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas across a 1,200-mile route. The route crossed Oceti Sakowin Treaty Territory and the Oglala Aquifer, which provides potable water for Indigenous Nations, farmers and ranchers, wildlife, and millions of U.S. residents.

Us: Lease Sale of Arctic Lands Violates Indigenous Rights January

On January 6, 2021, the Trump administration held a lease sale to privatize 1.6 million acres of land from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas development. Indigenous rights and environmental activists were outraged by the sale, as the land is home to herds of caribou, which the Gwich’in depend on, and endangered species

Cultural Survival’s Advocacy Program launches international campaigns in support of grassroots Indigenous movements as they put pressure on governments and corporations to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights of their communities.

including polar bears and gray wolves. On his first day in office, President Biden signed an executive order directing the Department of the Interior to place a temporary moratorium on all oil and natural gas leasing activities in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and review the boundaries and conditions of public lands open to development. Cultural Survival calls on the president to permanently protect the refuge and to ensure compliance requiring Free, Prior and Informed Consent from the Gwich’in Peoples, and with all Indigenous Peoples in the area, prior to implementation of all development projects on their lands. Us: Massachusetts to Change State Flag and Seal January

On January 11, a bill was signed into law in Massachusetts establishing a commission to redesign the State’s flag and seal, long seen as a symbol of white supremacy by Native residents of the Commonwealth and their allies. The current flag depicts a Native American figure directly beneath a disembodied arm and sword, encircled by the Latin motto, “by the sword we seek peace. . . ” . Native American Tribal leaders in Massachusetts have been calling for a redesign of the State Seal and motto for decades. The commission will be made up of Native representatives from Tribes in Massachusetts as well as lawmakers and other appointees who have relevant cultural and historical expertise, and will report their proposals and recommendations to the commission no later than October 1, 2021.

Australia: UN Member Countries Criticize Australia’s Human Rights Record January

Several member countries of the United Nations criticized Australia’s human rights record at its recent Universal Periodic Review, particularly with regards to the prolonged detention times of asylum seekers and Indigenous Peoples. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples make up 29 percent of the adult prison population, but just 3 percent of Australia’s population overall. Cultural Survival submitted a stakeholder report for the Universal Periodic Review recommending that Australia adhere to its international obligations to respect Indigenous self-determination and obtain the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous communities before extractive projects are undertaken on their lands, and to launch inquiries into the mental health and incarceration rates of Indigenous Peoples.

Cultural CulturalSurvival SurvivalQuarterly Quarterly March March 2021 2021 • 3

ri ght s i n a ctio n

#LandBack in The Fight for South Africa Table Mountain Table Mountain, a view from Sunset Beach, Cape Town, South Africa.

Shaldon Ferris (CS Staff) (Khoisan)


he sound of drums echoed in the streets of Cape Town, South Africa, on January 28, 2021, when the “Mountain 12” appeared at the Wynberg Magistrate Court. Supporters lined the streets displaying placards that called for the protection, honor, and respect of Aboriginal Peoples’ rights in South Africa. The Mountain 12 are a group of people from different Khoi and San Tribes who were arrested for trespassing by the South African police on January 1, 2021 while they were engaged in ceremonies at Table Mountain, a sacred site. Chelsea Smit Lee, Niel Moffat, Sharon Moffat, Wanda Danster, Clive Danster, Shane Chamberlain, Eric Bowers, Connie Smit, Bronwyn Paulsen, Edgar Smit, Gairoodeen Mitchell, and Timothy Maasdorp were all released on bail on January 2, 2021. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of years ago, the people who inhabited Table Mountain and the surrounding area referred to as Huri ǂoaxa, the place where the clouds are gathered. The traditional name for Cape Town is ǁHuiǃGaeb. Today, Table Mountain is also a popular tourist attraction where many visitors use a cableway or hike to the top to overlook the city of Cape Town. The mountain forms part of the Table Mountain National Park. It is still a place of spiritual significance for local Indigenous Peoples. According to the International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs’ Indigenous World 2020, in South Africa, it is estimated that approximately one percent of the 50 million total population are Indigenous Peoples. The Khoikhoi and San communities are not formally recognized as Indigenous in South Africa, nor are their languages recognized as official languages. During the Apartheid regime, Indigenous identification and cultures were discouraged, if not actually banned, and many Khoisan people were forced to learn Afrikaans as their primary language. Indigenous Peoples were similarly 4 • www. cs. org

subjected to the impacts of colonialism and colonization for hundreds of years before that. In October 2020, representatives from different Khoi and San Tribes formed an alliance with the intention of reclaiming Table Mountain, and occupied the site until their arrest on January 1, 2021. On January 28, the Mountain 12 appeared in court briefly. Proceedings adjourned when the accused and the State asked for more time to prepare. The Mountain 12 have asked for a Khoekhoegowab language interpreter to be present and the group are scheduled to reappear on February 24. The Table Mountain alliance is citing international protections for their actions in Article 11 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states that: “Indigenous Peoples have the right to practice and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artefacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature.” The fight for the Khoi and San Peoples to access and conduct ceremonies at their sacred mountain is fueled by their long lasting relationship with this sacred place. Tens of thousands of years before South Africa was colonized, the San and Khoi people called Table Mountain “Hoerikwagga” (Mountain in the Sea). The mountain was sacred for the Khoi and San, who believed their supreme god, Tsui//Goab, roamed there. The Khoi called Cape Town “Camissa,” the place of sweet waters, based on a stream that flows from under the mountain and into the ocean. Much has been written about the early meetings of seafarers and the “Strandlopers,” or beachcombers, who were at home in ǁHuiǃGaeb. Many accounts exist of famous Indigenous leaders such as Autsumao (Harry the Beachcomber), the chief of the Goringhaikanos, and Krotoa, who was All Photos by Shaldon Ferris.

Kooigoed, an herb with spiritual significance, being burned at Table Mountain.

married to a Dutch settler. Most of these accounts were written by the explorers who passed by, or who settled in South Africa. The name of Hoerikwagga was changed to Table Mountain in 1503, after Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama called it “Taboa da caba.” It was in 1652, however, after Jan Van Riebeeck anchored his ship in Cape Town, that permanent change would take hold. In the mid-1600s, the history of South Africa was at a turning point. Table Mountain, the landscape around it, and its inhabitants would forever be altered. Not only was this the beginning of colonialism in South Africa, but it is at this time when the country’s inclusion in the Transatlantic slave trade shaped the future of our Peoples. With the importing of slaves from West Africa, Madagascar, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere, miscegenation was inevitable, and very soon there was intermarriage between people of European, African, Asian, and Indigenous South African Peoples. A racist attitude from colonizers has permeated South African history since the beginning of their invasion. As early as 1655, and likely much earlier, there was known to be a form of worship in the Cape by Indigenous Peoples who lived there. The Supreme Being of the Khoi-Khoi, published in 1881, documents many acts of ceremony and describes how the Aboriginal Peoples of the region referenced both good and evil. It is on this basis that the alliance at Table Mountain, who are descendants of these ancestors, are now basing their reclamation of the Mountain as an historic place of spiritual significance. Tazlyn Maasdorp, whose husband, Timothy Maasdorp, was among the arrested, stated on January 28: “It is a bittersweet moment yet again, this postponement [of the trial]. However, the Mountain 12 greatly appreciate all the support and prayers from everyone. As this court case will go into our history books of tomorrow, the next generation will be proud of the sacrifices we are making today.” In 2007, 144 States adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Thus far, however, not many have implemented it. In South Africa, Indigenous Peoples today still face much discrimination. Under the Apartheid regime, all Indigenous Peoples were classified together with the people of slave heritage and mixed heritage under the term “Coloured.” This group was, and still is, seen as distinct from other groups. There are still Indigenous people in South Africa who have strong connections to their roots, exercising

Bradley Van Sitters, Timothy Maasdorp, and Rushwain Davids, members of the Khoi and San Alliance, reclaiming Table Mountain.

the practices and traditions of their ancestors. There also exists a group who have been robbed of their languages and identities through assimilation into Western culture, speaking only Afrikaans or English. With the advent of democracy in South Africa a revivalist culture is growing, and many people who were previously discouraged from identifying as Indigenous are now reconnecting with their roots. It is difficult to put an accurate number on how many Indigenous people are in the country, and there is much debate on the matter even among ourselves. A 2011 census estimates that there are approximately 200,000 Nama speakers in South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana. A significant number of Khwedam and !Xun speakers reside in Platfontein, South Africa; the 2011 census figure puts this estimate at 8,000 in Southern Africa. A growing population of !Xun and Khwe people reside in Platfontein in Northern Cape, South Africa, where the state has founded XK FM in an effort to preserve and promote both !Xun and Khwedam languages. Out of 6,000,000 people who have been classified as “Coloured,” one has to search for clues such as facial features, surnames, place of birth, or spiritual links to identify who is Indigenous, and this makes it difficult to measure just how many people are of Khoi or San ancestry. DNA testing has made it possible for some to find out their origins, and initiatives are underway to assist communities in finding out more about their heritage. Some eight years ago, the University of The Western Cape went out to communities and took DNA samples from so-called “Coloured” communities, and this is how it was confirmed to me that my lineage is that of some of the oldest people of the world, belonging to the Haplogroup L0d. People from this Haplogroup are estimated to have originated from 39,000 to 57,800 years ago. For 35 years of my life, I was convinced and happy to be something that I was not. This is the devastating power of colonialism; this is how what was done 400 years ago and still affects us today. Indigenous leaders are now exercising their right to selfidentification by identifying themselves as San and Khoi-Khoi or Khoe-San. Land, language, and cultural reclamation and revitalization efforts are underway by many Indigenous leaders, especially our youth leaders. They are battling for land, culture, and language reclamation as the fight for Table Mountain wages on. Cultural Survival Quarterly March 2021 • 5

i ndi geno u s k n ow le d g e

PLAY BALL Interview with Enrique Salanic

The Maya ball game is having a resurgence in Guatemala. Enrique Salanic hitting the rubber ball with his hip at an early morning training. The ball in the sky resembles the sun. Photo by Cat Monzón.

Cat Monzón (CS STAFF) (Maya K’iche’)


he oldest discovered Maya ballcourt dates back to 1400 BCE. However, rubber balls have been found even before this date. Some have claimed that the Maya ball game disappeared, but as Indigenous Peoples, we know that the game never stopped being played. We proudly say that this tradition has been going strong for three millennia. After it was forbidden, our people played it in secrecy. In many communities the game did disappear, but knowledge keepers carried it into our present day. Today the game is played all over Mesoamerica, where teams are keeping this tradition alive. The most popular variations in Guatemala are Pitz and Chaj-chay. Many are pushing to revitalize play to promote well being through sports, but more importantly, to connect youth with their heritage. The Maya ball game was not just practiced as a mere sport; it holds ceremonial and spiritual significance and is part of our mythology. Legendary mythic Maya twins, Hunahpu and Ixbalamke, were great ball players and avenged their father’s death through a match. Depictions of players are found in ceramic work all over the Maya world. In Guatemala and in Mesoamerica, there is hope by many of us Maya people that this game will continue to be played and will reconnect us with our roots. Through it, we are able to understand the cosmovision of our ancestors in regards to body movement, but also about other bodies in the universe, such as the moon, the sun, planets, and stars. We also learn about other traditions, such as acrobatic dances that took place before matches. We can connect to our spirituality through it in a deeper way. It makes us engage with our culture in a way that is different from theoretical learning. Above all, it offers us an opportunity to learn about our Maya culture from a perspective that strays from the usual oppressive story of conquer and colonization that we have heard over and over again. The Maya ball game gives us an opportunity to reconnect with that part of our history that precedes European invasion.

6 • www. cs. org

Enrique Salanic. Photo by Veronica Sacalxot.

Enrique Salanic is a Maya K’iche’ actor from Cantel, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. He has starred in two films: Dias de Luz, directed by Guatemalan filmmaker Sergio Ramirez, and Jose, directed by Li Cheng, which won the Queer Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival. Salanic has also acted in other films in supporting roles. He is an Ajpitz (Maya ball game player), an Ajq’ij (Maya time keeper), and an English to Spanish interpreter and translator. His educational background is in biochemistry and psychology. Cat Monzón (Maya K’iche’), Cultural Survival executive assistant, recently spoke to Salanic about his passion, the Maya ball game. Cultural Survival: How do you feel playing the ball game? Why do you think it is important for the youth to get involved? Enrique Salanic: I feel empowered. Playing Pitz is a privilege.

There is a lack of support from the authorities and there is also a lack of involvement from the youth, however, new teams are coming together. We feel like our team has inspired others to make their own groups. [Playing] it is a way in

which you can learn our history. Usually we only hear about what happened after colonization, not about what was happening prior. CS: How does the Maya ball game influence your spirituality and your cultural connection? ES: It is a complement which fills a gap. It reinforces my

spirituality, being able to feel the energy of the others prior, during, and after the games. It makes me be more sensitive to the point where I can be aware of the energy of the ball itself. Among our group, we share research we have conducted on archaeology or epigraphy. There are some members that are more interested in certain themes and look for workshops or spaces to deepen their knowledge. The game makes me more inquisitive and makes me dig through history. What we do is not a replica of what happened in the past, but it does connect to many practices that were done before and we need to be aware about them.

CS: How does the ball game influence your mental and physical state? Is it an extreme sport? ES: Mentally, it has to do with spirituality. There is 100

percent concentration. If you aren’t fully concentrated you can get hit by the ball or you can lose your focus. There are moments that require sexual abstinence. It is a great challenge for youth to manage and exercise their mental energy. On the physical side it is very demanding. The game is basically doing intense sit ups for 15 minute rounds, which is what a round might last during a game. You need to exercise each week, parts of the body that aren’t usually used like the hip, arm, and knee. Up to a certain point I would say, yes [it is an extreme sport], due to the fact that somebody can die if they are hit too harshly by the ball in the head, vertebrae, stomach, or other part of their body. CS: Are there adversities to playing the game? What makes you keep playing it? ES: There are adversities. There are people who are very

religious and when they see us practice they want us to leave

or they organize among themselves to kick us out of the places where we practice. I feel this is very closely related to racism. People ask us why we practice it, they say it is a thing of the past. They tell us that it is better that we do not do it or to do it in another place. Also there are people that feel it is a bad influence for their kids to practice the ball game. These are some of the downsides. What keeps me going is our team. We have the same conviction and we are clear on what we have begun, and these convictions make us push on. CS: How do you see yourself in relation to the game in 10 years? ES: I want to keep being a part of the team and playing all

my life, or at least as long as my body allows me to do it. We have a teammate who is an architect and he knows that the Pitz is a part of his life. He may not be able to practice it all the time, but whenever he can, he plays. For all the members of the team it is like that; we practice on our own and whenever we can we meet to play together. Our team is made up of people who do not live in the same town or city. CS: How would you like to see the ball game develop in the future? ES: I wish to see more teams. We do not demand that

they practice the Maya cosmovision 100 percent, but at least that they know what playing this game implies, since it is a ceremonial game. I would love for it to be as famous as soccer, which is very popular. This sport is able to create consciousness at a physical and mental level. It also makes you curious of what happened when this game was played by our ancestors. This is something that I like a lot. You get to do your research and learn new things. For example, why did the game die? Why did we stop playing it? How was it practiced before? and so on. I think the youth will be interested in it because it is physically demanding and you can lure them in with that. However, you have to be conscious, because some people only practice it as a sport and do not complement it with the spiritual part. But I understand this cannot be imposed on others.

In the Maya ball game, the ball is put in motion by action of the right hip, the right elbow, or the right knee and is not permitted to touch the ground. Daniel Sosa and Enrique Salanic at a training on top of Chui Jolom Dueño Hill, Totonicapan, Guatemala. Photo by Cat Monzón.

Cultural Survival Quarterly March 2021 • 7

indi geno u s a rts

Here We Are

Reclaiming Indigenous Identity in America


Diné multimedia documentarian, photographer, and poet, Pamela J. Peters of Tachiinii Photography has been taking photos for as long as she can remember. Her work, which she calls “Indigenous Realism,” aims to challenge viewers to question mass media stereotypes of Native Americans and to think critically about who contemporary Indigenous people actually are. Her photography has been featured at the Los Angeles Center of Photography; Arts District Los Angeles Photo Collective; These Days Gallery; Venice Arts Gallery; Triton Museum of Art; and in 2021 at the Getty Museum as well as in the Los Angeles Times, Reuters News, Cowboys & Indians Magazine, Native Max Magazine, Los Angeles Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Indian Country Today, Real Indians, American Indian Quarterly Journal, and many more. Peters belongs to the Tátchii’nii clan (Red Running into the Water) and currently resides in Los Angeles. Cultural Survival recently spoke with Peters.

Portrait of Tongva singer/songwriter/ poet known as Kelly Caballero, paying homage to her ancestors who are the original people of Tovaangar (Los Angeles, CA). Photo by Pamela J. Peters,

Cultural Survival: Tell us about your photography. What do you focus on? Pamela Peters: I mostly take portraits with a narrative of my partici-

pants. Lately, however, I’ve been taking photos back at home [Navajo Nation]. Through the decades, I’ve been capturing how the landscape has changed. It just feels like it’s a land that’s dying now. I remember running through the mountains when we would visit some relatives, and now, that land is all gone. Where I grew up when I lived with my grandparents, that whole land was open and free and beautiful; now, it’s not as vibrant as it was when I was a kid. My grandfather had an orchard of apple, plum, apricot, and cherry trees. Now it’s dried up land. It’s really sad.

CS: How does being Diné impact what you do as an artist, and how does your role as an artist and documentarian impact your understanding of being Indigenous? PP: I am viewing things differently through my Indigenous lens. I feel

that I have more of an understanding and a way of respecting the people that I am taking photos of. It’s an equal participation between us, and I would never want to go over the boundaries of a person’s space. I get to know who my participants are—there is an engagement that we have, a connection. I like that human connection that we have among each other and I do this in a respectful way, in a human way. Other photographers do it more as a task, like, “Ok, we gotta take these photos, let’s get it done,” and don’t really want to know anything about you. I know that feeling; I remember as a kid living on the reservation, we would sell fruits and vegetables on the side of the road where my grandparents lived, and we had visitors needing to pass our home in order to go over the mountain. A lot of white tourists would come, and they always wanted to take photos of us. They were like, “Oh, look at the cute little Indian kids! Can we take photos of you?” I’m very thankful to my cousin, who was very protective and aggressive, and he would tell them no. But then he would say, well, you guys are going to use our photos, you’re gonna have to pay us. Some of them paid, but we were always seen as a spectacle to people, and I don’t ever want my images to be seen that way. I know every single 8 • www. cs. org

Pamela J. Peters Photo by Viki Eagle.

Interview with Photographer

Pamela J. Peters

person personally in the photos that I take. I do it in a respectful dignified way. I call it my visual sovereignty, to say this is my way of capturing moments and people in photography. But not in a commodified way that a lot of people tend to do. CS: You talk about being a documentarian and having a purpose. Could you explain this a little more? PP: Being a documentarian is reclaiming and

recapturing our voices. I’m not just researching. I already know about our communities. What I am doing is about recapturing and reclaiming what most people identified in this context of Western ideology. That ideology has been identified as documentary. What I am showing is storytelling for the next generation—something that we have done collectively and with the individual’s participation, as opposed to research and observation. I’m one of many Native American cultures, and I am fortunate that I’m learning about other cultures, about their ways and livelihoods. I traveled to South Dakota for the first time about six years ago. It was such an honor to be accepted as part of their community, learning about their history, a little bit about their language, their food, their entire culture. That was such a profound moment for me, because as Plains Indians in the Southwest, we have this connection through Hollywood films. It’s odd, yes, but that was Hollywood. I really wanted to dismantle what was embedded through the visual context of what was taught to me in films, in school narratives. Additionally, I’ve learned so much about other cultures by traveling and being invited to visit the Northwest region, Florida and the Seminole Tribe, as well as learning about the First Nations People and the very similar culture that I have with the Dene Nation in Canada. It’s been an amazing experience. There are things about other Tribal communities that I can’t take photos of that I will love and cherish. CS: Why did you choose to call your work “Indigenous Realism?” PP: I use the term “Indigenous Realism” because I’m capturing

what is currently happening in our community. We’re not that static Indian that’s still perpetuated in mass media. Just living in Los Angeles, I have to go down this laundry list of my identity: I’m Native American, I’m Navajo, I’m Diné . . . there’s already this preconceived perception of what society thinks of when they think “Indian,” and then when they look at me, it’s like their reality has been shattered. It’s hard for some people to grasp that concept, to see me as a human being. When you experience that over and over again, it does take a toll on you mentally and physically, because you question yourself as an individual, like, am I fitting this persona that people want me to be? Or do I have to? In reality, you just have to be who you are. In a lot of my portraits, they’re regular people who happen to be Native Americans. You don’t see them in Indian attire. You see them as real people, living within their own environment. We’re not running around in our regalia, we’re not wearing feathers in our hair every day. We have this real life. We don’t have to dress up as this perception of what’s been embedded into people’s idea of what they think is an Indian. CS: How do you think about your identity? PP: My main identity is that I’m a human being, first and fore-

most. For so long, we were not viewed as human beings. I just

L–R: 2016 Real NDNZ Re-take Hollywood© series: Kholan Studi (Cherokee) reminiscent of Tony Curtis; Shayna Jackson (Dakota and Cree) resembling Audrey Hepburn. Filmmaker/writer Sahar Khadjenoury (Navajo/Persian), photo in sepia tone responding to Edward Curtis’ photography. Photos by Pamela J. Peters.

happen to be Diné, I just happen to be a woman, I just happen to be an artist. But first and foremost, I’m always going to be a human being. That’s the thing I want people to understand, that as Tribal people we are human beings, because the narrative and the context of who we are in society is that we don’t exist. That concept still is thriving in our education system, in government policies and in mass media. Before I can dismantle all those labels and stereotypes, I like to go back to the concept to say we are human beings, first and foremost. One question we’re always asked is, “what are you?” We’re even questioned when we say who we are, after that: “I’m Diné.” “What is that?” “I’m Navajo.” “What is that?” “I’m Native American.” “Oh! You are? How much, are you sure?” There’s always that question, like they can’t believe it, because that fantasy has been so deeply embedded into them from school and from the media. Sometimes I have to show them that I am this person. CS: How do you get your message across? PP: When I first started I thought it was going to be a challenge,

but I think most people, if they’re really interested, they’ll look at the context of the social messages in my creative narratives. I want to change the perspective of how people see photography. It’s not just an image; it’s beyond an image. It has a narrative, it has a context, it has culture, it is a contemporary Tribal person. To really engage, you have to dismantle and decolonize your mind and take a moment to really understand it. You have to do that in order to understand us as Native American people. I do that purposefully, in a complex way, because we are complex people. We’re not just this relic, this one static image. I want people to look at my work and ask, What is that? Why is that person in that image placed in a ’50s-style context? Why is he dressed that way? I want them to break down these images I am creating and read and understand the message behind the image. When I was speaking and sharing my work in Scotland, one of the students asked [why I include people’s names and Tribes]. I said, because I want to show that we are still here, and these people have names, and that these people have Tribal communities that they’re representing as well. When Edward Curtis captured these images, he identified them as “Indian boy,” “Indian girl,” “Navajo girl,” “Navajo maiden.” These are people’s families. These are human beings. Edward Curtis is so synonymous with American Indian identity. It’s our time now as Native artists, as photographers, to reclaim and restructure our narratives in a humanized way. Cultural Survival Quarterly March 2021 • 9

e nvi r onm e n ta l d e fe n d ers

Defending the Sacred in s o uth texas

Christa Mancias, Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas Tribal Secretary, at Indigenize the Capitol 2019 in Austin, Texas. Photo by Lori Simmons.

Michael Givens


hrista Mancias (Esto’k Gna) divides her childhood memories into two distinct categories: the lies and misinformation about her heritage taught to her in school, and the truth that gives her so much pride today. Growing up in Lubbock, Texas, Mancias remembers the harm she experienced learning about the history of her people in school history textbooks. “We were taught the typical cowboys and Indians story, what you saw on TV. We were always scouts and didn’t know much of anything. We just knew the land and they used us.” And the most bitter of the lies told to students: “I was told I was Mexican because I’m brown, [that] there are no Indians because they all died.” But Mancias’ family knew better. “I know who my people are, I know where I come from,” she says. At 38 years old, Mancias is the Tribal secretary of the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of South Texas, a position that allows her to play a visible leadership role in uplifting the history and culture of her Tribe. A mother of three and strongly connected to her ancestors, Mancias is on the precipice of eventually becoming the chair of her Tribe and leading a renewed charge to save her community, maintain the health of the land they live on, and ensure that the Tribe’s legacy is handed down to future generations.

Proud to Be Indigenous

The Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of South Texas (Esto’k Gna) dates their history back to time immemorial. Spanish colonists named the Tribes living in the area surrounding the 1,800-mile Rio Grande Delta. The word carrizo in Spanish means “reed” or “cane,” and was ascribed to several Tribes in the area who built their houses out of reeds. Comecrudo means, “those who eat raw,” an observation the colonists made around the half-cooked meats the Tribes consumed. Despite Spanish imperialism, years of forced conversion to Christianity through slavery, rampant disease outbreaks, and the genocidal intentions of innumerable European settlers, the Esto’k Gna were able to maintain their culture and language throughout the centuries. Coahuiltecan is a term used by the Spanish to describe the myriad Tribes inhabiting southern Texas. Like all racist labels, the term did an injustice not only to the Esto’k Gna, but every other Tribe living in the area. “It’s not an accurate term because we all have different identities and languages,” says Mancias. Currently the Tribe has between 2,000 to 2,500 members. They are not recognized by either the State of Texas or the federal government, which in effect invisibilizes their culture, heritage, and right to self-determination. 10 • www. cs. org

Oil, Gas, and Sacred Sites

The Devil’s River winds roughly 94 miles southwest along the Texas-Mexico border. In 1801, Spanish settlers entered a Carrizo village along the river and murdered more than 300 people, raping the women, pillaging houses, and burying the bodies in a mass grave. At 11 years old, Manuel Cavazos was the sole survivor of the massacre, having played dead with a spear in his back. Years later, he would recount watching the disembowelment of his pregnant sister and the screams of some villagers and family members as they were burned alive. When Mancias and her younger brother, Pablo, were children, their parents made it a priority to pass down their oral histories and culture. This included visiting the site of the massacre at Devil’s River and learning the harrowing story of Mancias’ great-great-great grandfather, Manuel. As an adult, Mancias can no longer visit the site as oil and gas companies have purchased the land and completely blocked it off from the public. Recently, the Tribe learned that Valero, a San Antoniobased Fortune 500 oil and gas producer, has built a pipeline running through an ancient burial site with remains dating as far back as 800 B.C.E. “We’ve been fighting oil and gas for a long time,” Mancias says. “A lot of these areas where they’re fracking, tearing up the land, putting in pipelines, they are sacred sites that are thousands of years old that have ties to the people. We’re talking about not just one village, but many villages that have a vast history of life prior to first contact 500-plus years ago. The land has a history of people there, but they want to destroy it to make liquid natural gas terminals.”

The Fracking Fight

In 2019, the Tribe took the Trump administration to court for building a border wall through a local cemetery in San Juan, Texas. Now, Tribal members are locked in another battle with Texas LNG, a Houston-based liquid natural gas company. In 2015, the firm publicly announced plans to build three LNG terminals and pipelines in south Texas. The Garcia Pasture is a site where the Esto’k Gna have practiced their lifeways for generations, right outside of Brownsville, Texas. In 1972, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, if you were to walk through the pasture, you’d see Texas LNG towers in the distance. “They’re building fracking pads and oil wells through our history, through our grave sites, and no one is saying anything,” Mancias says of the terminal production. The invasion of the LNG terminals isn’t solely about cultural preservation; it’s also about the right to live in a clean environment. While natural gas is described as the “cleanest” fossil fuel, its impacts on the environment are deadly. When natural gas is siphoned from the ground, it is cooled to –260°F, at which point it becomes liquid and its volume reduces dramatically. After being transported via terminals, it is then warmed, converted back into a gaseous form, and delivered to businesses and residences. The processes of converting the gas to liquid form and back again and transporting the liquid can lead to the excretion of large amounts of methane, which contributes to global

warming. Methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its environmental impact. LNG facilities can also disrupt local ecosystems, killing off entire species of plants and animals. Reduced air quality, earthquake-like events, increased cancer risks, and water and soil pollution are all potential impacts of these projects. The Tribe has spent the last five years publicly impeding the production of LNG terminals and other projects that damage the environment. However, these efforts have been met with strong resistance. In 2019, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into law that would punish any individual interfering with “critical infrastructure” projects with between six months and two years in prison and a potential $10,000 fine, a significant win for oil and gas companies seeking to criminalize protests against extractive projects like fracking and LNG terminal production. The lack of federal and state recognition of the Esto’k Gna has made their advocacy efforts an uphill battle. As a Tribal co-chair, Mancias and her father have played leading roles in calling attention to the hazards caused by Texas LNG projects. In May of 2020, she helped co-host a two-day tribunal bringing together members of the Tribe, environmental justice experts, and allies to officially document the impacts of the Texas LNG projects. Over the last several months, Mancias also co-hosted several monthly panel discussions where she spoke about what’s at stake for the Tribe if Texas LNG’s projects continue. Mancias is committed to drawing public attention to the impacts of the LNG terminals, highlighting in particular how Texas LNG cares very little about the lands it’s invading. “They’re not doing their due diligence of knowing the history of the land,” she says. “They just want our dollars.” The movement is growing. More and more Tribal members and area residents are getting involved, making their voices heard about the colonization of Tribal lands and the detrimental health impacts of LNG projects. “People are waking up and understanding who they are and trying to stand up for themselves and their future generations. That’s the fight that we continue now: it’s not about us now, it’s about them later. We want to make sure our history and culture is preserved for the next generation. We are standing up and protecting our ancestors and those who have come before us. Is the money worth the land we should be giving to future generations? My life is worth dying for so that my people can continue to live,” Mancias says. Paramount to those who come after her are her children. Mancias is fighting for a world where her children aren’t taught harmful and demoralizing narratives about Indigenous people. “I want them to live in a society where they are not afraid to be who they are. When they go to school and learn about Native people, they get the truth. That comes from stopping these pipelines so that the state recognizes that there are sacred sites that deserve to be preserved.” — Michael Givens is the associate director of strategic communications for the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. He has spent the last 13 years working in the social justice movement and holds a master’s degree in Investigative Journalism. Cultural Survival Quarterly March 2021 • 11

Indigenous Women: The Strength of Our Communities

Reindeer are central to Saami culture and the Saami carry an obligation and responsibility to protect them. Photo by Jannie Staffansson.

Living in Two Worlds in Sápmi


annie Staffansson (Saami) is a renowned Indigenous climate change expert. She lives in Jokkmokk, Sápmi, in the north of Sweden, where she works with her partner and her beloved reindeer. She holds a degree in organic and environmental chemistry from the University of Gothenburg, and is a former representative of the Saami Council to the Arctic Council; a member of the executive committee of the Sustaining Arctic Observing Network; former Indigenous representative in the Arctic Science Summit Week steering committee, the former Arctic Focal Point of International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change; and a Cultural Survival board member. Staffansson was a member of the Arctic Council Working Group on Assessment and Monitoring Programme and its associated expert groups on black carbon and methane, persistent organic pollutants, and climate change. Now, Staffansson has her own consulting business serving Saami communities and organizations. Shaldon Ferris (KhoiSan), Cultural Survival Indigenous Rights Radio producer, recently spoke with Staffanson.

Cultural Survival: Please tell us your personal story. How did you grow up? Jannie Staffansson: I grew up in a reindeer herding family

where my father was out with reindeer. We are one of the smallest reindeer herding communities in Sápmi. I went to the same school as the Swedish children and I grew up in a non-Indigenous town where we are the minority. It was sometimes difficult to balance those two very different cultures, and also quite difficult to explain my culture to my nonIndigenous friends. It was hard for them to understand my customs, my vision, and my worldview, whereas I could easily understand theirs because we attended the same school and learned the same things. At home, I got different perspectives. I realized that Saami and Indigenous Peoples are not listened to and our knowledge 12 • www. cs. org

is not valued—I quickly understood that listening to the dialogues at our kitchen table about the change in weather. The grownups in my Indigenous community spoke to each other about climate change. I told my father to go and tell the rest of the world about this, because it was not known or reported on the news. He just said, “Jannie, you go and do that. Get yourself an education and then they might listen to you, because they’re not listening to us.” I realized then that I needed to go and get an education. I studied science and chemistry for five years to understand nature at a micro level. CS: What led you to choose your educational and current career paths? JS: The things that my grandmother had taught me and

people in my surroundings about medicine and healing from nature and how you prepare them were verified in my chemistry degrees, including medicinal chemistry. I also studied environmental chemistry, so my Indigenous knowledge and the knowledge that I received from my education in Western science fit quite neatly together. Together with both perspectives, I get a better understanding of what is happening. I was brought up always defending and putting reindeer at the forefront, and myself and others second. Whatever difficulties the reindeer are facing, I have promised to protect them. They face threats from extraction industries, tourism, predators, and the politics of predators in the EU or Sweden, but also deforestation issues and climate change. My focus is on Indigenous science and knowledge and Western science working in combination to tackle climate change. When I studied environmental chemistry, climate change became the issue that I felt I could give more insight to. When decisions are made when it comes to climate change . . . it’s so complex and difficult to understand, we need the best science available. And today, those that are deciding and those that are researching in non-Indigenous sciences, they don’t have all the best

available knowledge, because Indigenous knowledge is often missing in that research. I feel very strongly that the mainstream society is tackling this huge crisis in nature and in our world backwards. World leaders and researchers know that Indigenous Peoples hold a lot of knowledge, and together we could come up with better solutions and make better decisions. But they are not interested because we have been colonized and stereotyped as being less and knowing less. Also, capitalism has been driving the entire climate change agenda. CS: How do you balance a modern and traditional lifestyle? JS: You have to balance since we live in both worlds. Our

culture is also a very modern culture. However, some people might not view it as such. We have developed and are developing, but we don’t want to destroy nature for the sake of money. Our driving force is balance and sustainability; it’s still modern. Non-Indigenous society has helped us with vehicles like snowmobiles, which make it easier for us to get to our land and to help reindeer find better pastures faster, and supplementary feed that we can provide the reindeer when needed due to climate change. But of course, all of these things wouldn’t [be necessary] if climate change did not exist. We are adapting with those tools because of something that we didn’t create. CS: Please tell us about your love for and relationship with your reindeer. JS: The reindeer and the Saami, our history and our story

have always been one in the same. In the Saami creation story, the world was created from a reindeer. Her eyes are the stars, her blood are the rivers, and her hair is the forest. She is the world that sustained us, and because of that relationship that has been for generations, she has kept us alive and we have helped her be alive, too. That is a sacred promise that we have made as a people to the reindeer. We are taught not to violate that. I am currently focused on educating myself further in Saami ways and strengthening my Indigenous knowledge in relation to reindeer herding. I heal when I’m far up in the mountains, off the grid, around my herding dogs and reindeer and giving back to Mother Earth. CS: How are Indigenous women and their livelihoods impacted by climate change? JS: Women are culture carriers in Sami society, as in many

Indigenous societies, and because of that we feel the effects of colonization strongly. We’re living in non-Sami communities, towns, and cities, but we are also practicing our culture. It’s difficult being a culture carrier of language, religion, spirituality, food security, reindeer herding, stories, and handcrafts to actually pass on to the next generation. It is difficult when you are living as a minority. In Indigenous societies women are also struck harder by the effects of climate change, since the impacts of climate change also affect your Indigenous culture. Many women struggle with this. I see many Saami women wanting to participate in reindeer herding, but they are stepping aside because

climate change effects are increasing the workload for all herders. Working as a herder demands a lot of physical strength, since we need vehicles to adapt to the changes and the increased fragmentation of the reindeer pasture land and land loss. Many women put their own interests and wants aside for the bigger picture. With climate change and all the other threats to the reindeer, many women go into education to be able to support themselves economically. Not many people can live on reindeer herding today; almost everyone has another job that creates income to help the reindeer to survive.

Jannie Staffansson. Photo by EU Parliament Press.

CS: What was your experience participating in the international human rights movement and global climate change negotiations? JS: I worked for a Sami organization focused on Arctic and

environmental issues. Because of that, I was brought into the UN policy negotiations before the Paris Agreement and the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform was created, which produced the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. We were a great team that worked very hard representing Indigenous Peoples from every continent. We managed to create some good things. But I struggled with the fact that the negotiations were slow and ineffective and the willingness to take action was so low from countries, whereas at home, our reindeer are dying, and our people are also fighting because of climate change. Coming into a system and realizing that the decision makers do not really care whether or not you survive, that’s quite a rough thing to realize. Of course there are good people in the system too, but it’s run from a capitalistic perspective, not from a sustainable worldview. It is very difficult for Indigenous representatives with our customs and visions to work with people who don’t understand our sacred relationships with nature. They have a relationship with money. It was difficult to communicate. Since we were there, always speaking up, we were able to impact some people and we managed to create certain things. But for me, it was a very toxic environment. For me, what was important in this struggle against climate change and trying to change the situation for Indigenous Peoples, was meeting other Indigenous people and learning that they experienced the same thing. That made me realize that my life is so much more like my friends in Australia and New Zealand than that of my Swedish neighbors. We have the same struggles and we have the same worldviews and cosmovisions. We know what we need to do to stop climate change. Knowing that you’re not alone, that we are many who are strong, fighting, and succeeding in our fight, is something that gave me energy and has helped me to continue the fight. Cultural Survival Quarterly March 2021 • 13

Indigenous Women: The Strength of Our Communities

Conservation and Food Sovereignty Efforts in Uganda Indigenous Women Lead

Gertrude Kenyangi (Batwa)


hey live hundreds of miles apart but share a common destiny: they are the women of the Batwa, Tepeth, Ik, and Benet Indigenous communities of Uganda. All are mountain dwellers living on the fringes of forests they once called home. They and their families were forcefully displaced without compensation. Yet, these communities have strong economic, cultural, and spiritual connections to those lands, which have not been fully granted by the protected area management regimes. Rendered homeless in their own home, ethnic minorities including Indigenous Peoples in Uganda lack access to and control of productive assets, especially land. Being an Indigenous woman myself, I have had to struggle to get a meaningful education. I have had to work in homes of dominant communities, I have been present when our homes in the forest were torched. I have shed tears. The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda does not recognize Indigenous Peoples as a distinct group of people. There is a gap between the manner in which the Ugandan government perceives the term Indigenous Peoples and the manner in which it is employed by the UN agencies and the African Commission. To recognize the multi-ethnicity of the country, the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda defines Indigenous Peoples as the 65 ethnic groups that were existing by February 1, 1926. The African Commission’s Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities identifies Indigenous Peoples as Peoples whose “cultures and ways of life differ considerably from the dominant society and [whose] cultures are under threat, in some cases to the point of extinction.” Indigenous Peoples in Uganda suffer discrimination as they are regarded as less developed and less advanced than other, more dominant sectors of society. They often live in

14 • www. cs. org

inaccessible regions, are geographically isolated, and suffer from various forms of marginalization, both politically and socially. They are subjected to domination and exploitation within national political and economic structures that are commonly designed to reflect the interests and activities of the national majority. This discrimination and marginalization not only violates the human rights of Indigenous Peoples, but also threatens the continuation of their cultures and ways of life and prevents them from being able to genuinely participate in decisions regarding their own future and forms of development. In spite of the common injustice faced by Indigenous Peoples, the women of these communities function under yet another discriminatory governance system: patriarchy. They are barred from accessing forest resources by the modern government and constrained by traditional norms, values, and beliefs from having rights to make decisions regarding household resources. When asked how easy it is to manage life as an Indigenous woman, Janet of the Benet Indigenous People had this to say: “It is a multiple tragedy. Everyone, including our own men and the government, takes advantage of us. Even as adults, we cannot do anything without asking for permission. The Bamasaaba (neighboring dominant community) take us as subhuman in public.” Since the first Rio Conference on Sustainable Development in 1992, many Indigenous men have lost the prestigious position of breadwinner and have suffered a blow to their masculine identities. As men drown their frustration in alcohol, they subject their women and children to domestic violence. When asked how they survive since being forcefully displaced from their forest homes, Dina Nyirarukundo, a woman of the Batwa Indigenous people responded, “We sneak back into the forest to harvest fruits, tubers, honey, and other foods. When we are caught, we are beaten and sometimes imprisoned.

We have been turned into thieves of our own inheritance.” Support for Women in Agriculture and Environment (SWAGEN), works to create strong grassroots community groups capable of actively participating in and meaningfully contributing to mainstream national and international development for equitable and gender sensitive social, economic, and environmentally sustainable development that guarantees dignified lives for all. SWAGEN is implementing a project to build the capacity of Indigenous women to retain their identity and to actively participate in and benefit from government programs. SWAGEN commissioned a study to understand the extent to which policy, legal, and institutional frameworks create opportunities for the participation of Indigenous Peoples in government programs. The study discovered that Uganda has subscribed to several international legal instruments that oblige the State to observe the rights of minorities within its borders. These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007). These commitments are reinforced by the National Constitution and by national policies and laws. In spite of these commitments, policy does not translate into practice, and Indigenous People remain marginalized. SWAGEN advocates for Indigenous women to build on their Indigenous knowledge and adapt it to changing conditions. The Batwa are known to engage in pottery to make utensils. With the advent of cheap plastics posing competition to traditional earthen utensils, SWAGEN is encouraging Batwa women to make clay cooking stoves. The stoves save fuel and conserve the environment, and they can be sold at a profit for the women. SWAGEN is also involved in advocacy for favorable policies for family farming. We pay special attention to women’s empowerment in food sovereignty in order to secure the right of the Ugandan people to choose what to eat and how to produce it. We fight against blanket adoption of GMOs as a solution to world hunger and food shortages precipitated by climate change, land grabs, and use of agricultural chemicals for pests and weed control. We advocate for ecological agriculture over industrial and chemically enhanced agriculture to promote localized systems of agricultural production that support decentralized, “people-run” economies. As an Indigenous woman, the work SWAGEN does resonates with me. It is, however, an uphill battle. Dominant communities and powerful corporations of extractive industries threaten me with death. I am always looking over my shoulder, fearing that I will be added to the growing numbers of human rights and nature defenders who have been murdered. Because they do not want to lose the cheap labor they tap from Indigenous communities, any attempt at lifting the status of Indigenous Peoples alters these exploiters’ unquestioned beliefs that Indigenous Peoples should not own resources, participate in decision making, and share in benefits. It also disrupts traditional interpretation of cultural needs and cultural worth. Under the Collaborative Resource Management program, communities around Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, including Batwa, signed memoranda of understanding with the Uganda Wildlife Authority to access bamboo stalks on a controlled basis. The Batwa rely on collection and sale of bamboo

stems, fuelwood, honey, and ropes/vines for basketry, legally accessed through Collaborative Forest Management around Echuya Central Forest Reserve and Mgahinga National Park. Not all the resources that the Batwa would like to access have been included in the program. The women continue to advocate for the inclusion of wild yam and honey. Indigenous Peoples have a number of cultural sites within and around the forests they formerly called home. These include hot springs, worshipping sites, caves, fishing sites, and forest trails. Indigenous people want official access to these sites because of their cultural significance, and to pass on their culture through teaching these practices to their children. At the moment, some do access the sites, secretly. Traditional practices and knowledge have conserved the forests for ages. Then there is the lucrative tourism revenue sharing. Uganda Wildlife Authority remits 20 percent of its gate entry fees to parishes adjacent to the protected areas. According to the current revenue sharing guidelines, these funds are supposed to be used for projects selected by the communities, such as social infrastructure projects, income generating projects, and projects that address human-wildlife conflict such as problematic animal control fencing. However, the decision making processes of revenue sharing projects has been mainstreamed into local government. No Batwa are employed in tourist lodges, but a few Batwa living near the forests are employed as tourist and researcher guides and porters. The “Batwa experience” is marketed for tourism in Bwindi and Mgahinga, as are the sale of crafts and tourist entertainment by local community members and Batwa. Tourism near Mount Moroto focuses on mountain climbing. It benefits local people who work as guides and porters and has created a market for crafts. Women who benefit from this opportunity are painfully few, as they are weighed down by unpaid care work in a patriarchal society. When asked whether or not she would like to be a tour guide, Generous Iriamal (Tepeth) says, “Of course I would! I would even do it better than the men because I have mastered all the routes as I gather food. But with whom would I leave my children?” Loss of connection to traditional lands has grave implications on Indigenous communities and the social fabric. Indigenous women in Uganda are fighting on many fronts—to retain their identity, to have the right to live their lives as they want, to have rights of access and control of resources and meaningful participation in decision making recognized, and to benefit from government programs towards sustainable development. Because of low education levels, non-recognition, neglect, and non-inclusion, it is hard for Indigenous people to organize themselves to enter into agreement with the government for collaborative management of forest resources. Every intervention must recognize Indigenous people as the original inhabitants, and thus the rights holders, to natural resources. Extractive industries should meaningfully involve them in decision making. This can only happen if Indigenous people have representation in decision making bodies such as the local government councils and the National Parliament. — Gertrude Kenyangi (Batwa) is executive director at Support for Women in Agriculture and Environment (SWAGEN). Cultural Survival Quarterly March 2021 • 15

Indigenous Women: The Strength of Our Communities

A Bridge Between Worlds in siberia Tatyana Vassilievna Kobezhikova

Right: Tatiana Kobezhikova holding a Summer Solstice ritual honoring Father Sky and making sacred food offerings to the spirits. Inset: A greeting the sun ritual held at dusk.

Yana Sharbunaeva (Buryat)


or centuries, our ancestors have known how to forecast the weather, predict future harvests, and cure diseases with natural medicines. In our traditional belief systems, the world is inhabited by spirits: the water spirit, the fire spirit, animal spirits, and ancestral spirits. Mother Nature is at the core of our values and belief systems. People feel an overwhelming reverence and respect for these divine powers and carry responsibilities towards these spirits. Standing as a force between people and mighty deities are shamans, who act as Tribal guardians, spiritual leaders, and mediators with what we now call the supernatural. Shamanism originates in Siberia and is still a crucial part of Indigenous cultures. It is believed that people become shamans through inheritance or by being chosen by spirits. They become capable of travelling to other realms and gain the power to heal the sick, control the weather, communicate to ancestors, and predict the future, among other skills. Tatiana Vassilievna Kobezhikova (Khakas) is a well known Siberian shaman and a guardian of the Khakas culture. She is from Khakassia, a mountainous region of Southern Siberia, from the Mungat clan, Syoska Akh Haskha. She is called Umai Ine (Rainbow Woman) in her Indigenous language. Kobezhikova recalls, “There were hunters and herders in my clan, as well as shamans, healers, and fortune tellers. My ancestors were the people who knew nature and could understand the language of birds and animals.” Kobezhikova is renowned far beyond the borders of Russia and Khakassia. She collaborates with scientists, archaeologists, anthropologists, and psychologists on numerous projects. She was one of the organizers of the first symposium on

16 • www. cs. org

astroarchaeology, an interdisciplinary study of astronomical techniques to establish the seasons, or the cycle of the year. Together with other shamans of the world, she works on environmental projects and projects for the revitalization of spiritual heritage. For her service, she was awarded an Order for Good Deeds by the International Council of Elders, of which she is also a member.

An “Unusual Girl” Finds Her Calling

Kobezhikova was born on a ferry on the Chulym River in Khakassia, Southern Siberia, on a hot day in July. By luck or coincidence, an old Roma man helped the child into the world. As she was born, a giant eagle landed on a hitching post on the ferry, startling the horses. Seeing this, the Roma man said to Kobezhikova’s parents, “You must have given birth to a very special baby.” The same day, a huge storm hit as if nature were acknowledging the birth of an extraordinary human being. It was believed that a child with shamanic powers would be born to this family one summer. Everybody expected that Kobezhikova’s elder brother, also born in summer, would inherit the gift, but Kobezhikova was the one. Kobezhikova’s extraordinary talent became obvious at an early age. She could see spirits, talk to them, make offerings, and tell fortunes. People in her village noticed Kobezhikova’s unique gift, as did a neighbor who became her guide into the world of the supernatural and shared his knowledge with his young mentee. Kobezhikova recalls, “He was an old man and we called him Katyk. We spent a lot of time together and he taught me how to make and feed the fire. He showed [me] how to sew one’s destiny on and off. We used to go fishing All photos courtesy of Tatiana Kobezhikova.

and he taught me how to properly treat the spirits of the water, how to talk to them and what to say.” Full understanding and acceptance of her true calling did not come until Kobezhikova got married and gave birth to a daughter. At the age 33, she fell seriously ill and spent a few days in a coma. There, between life and death, Kobezhikova met her ancestral spirits, who demanded that she stick to her inherited power and take on the shamanic tambourine if she chose to live. Kobezhikova explains, “Shamans do not choose their destiny; it is given. When your time comes you are called upon, and for the rest of your life you belong to both worlds, the one of humans and the one of spirits.” People often think of shamans as some kind of magician who makes things happen with the power of their mind. But even the greatest shamans are no different from ordinary people. We can meet them anywhere, in cities or villages. They go shopping, use public transportation, have mobile phones, and blend modern lifestyles with traditional shamanic practices. “As shamans we are already open minded. Our mission is to help people and we’ve been doing this for centuries. For me, a big city is the same as the taiga. Big cities possess massive energy, which may double or triple your own. At the same time, they may magnify your fears and can be destructive,” she says. Kobezhikova believes that there is a place for shamans in the modern world, that their powers can restore the balance that has been lost. “There are things that never change. Human bodies and souls need healing energy. When people have a difficult choice to make, we are here for them, we can help them to choose the right path,” she says. Over time, it became clear to Kobezhikova that practicing shamanism in isolation was not enough. “The decline in values ​​ along with the loss of traditions and cultures and the careless attitude towards nature and sacred lands forced me to reconsider my approach to my work. [So] I began my educational mission. I traveled around to villages to hold ceremonies and meet the people. I talked to them about the importance of shamanic traditions as I did when attending scientific conferences and festivals. Everywhere I pursued my goal to bring attention to our core values among people of different nationalities,” she says. Kobezhikova recalls that this was the right moment to reshape people’s perception of ​​the shamanic tradition. “Shamanism is a very serious philosophy with deep meaning. It combines teachings about the art of life, ecology, and harmony with the past, present, and future, and the place of [humans] in the world.”

When the Last Snow Leopard Leaves

The snow leopard is a totem animal for many Indigenous Peoples in Siberia. It is believed to be a deity that comes down to Earth to take shamans’ messages back to the spirits. There is an ancient legend that says that when the last snow leopard disappears, Indigenous Peoples will cease to be. It may only be a legend, but concerns are real. The future of Indigenous cultures in Siberia is uncertain as fewer and fewer people speak their own languages and practice their ancestral traditions. Today, there are less than 50 snow leopards left in all of Russia, so it is no wonder that Kobezhikova chooses to actively educate local people and support local conservation

efforts. “As long as the snow leopard is out there, Native Peoples will thrive,” she says. As a shaman, Kobezhikova believes that every woman must remember her sacred feminine role. She says, “I work hard to persuade young Indigenous women to embrace their divine potential to bring a new life into the world and to raise a child. How else can we secure the future of our Indigenous nations? Who else can we pass our traditions to, our language, and our identity, if not to our children? A child is a new link in the chain which connects the past and the future. I also advise Indigenous women not to seize men’s places and to maintain equilibrium in their families and communities. When both men and women know their place in the universe, the gender balance is intact.” She adds, “We can speak different languages, but thinking in one’s Native language is essential, including pronouncing words, even for a few minutes a day. To understand how differently languages work, try to picture the way you speak Russian and [the way you speak] your mother tongue. You would notice that the sounds are different, so is the rhythm, even the way we breathe is different. When we speak our Indigenous language, we fine tune our body, our Indigenous energy, on the level of our DNA.”

In Tune with Nature

Every shaman brings a message to the world that urges us all to reconnect with nature. “We mustn’t forget that humans are nature’s creations, just like any other living thing on Earth, but we think of ourselves as superior creatures who stand higher than others. People rise above ants without knowing whose organization is more complex. The more we try to subjugate nature, the stronger her response is. As products of nature, we need to be attuned with it to live in harmony,” Kobezhikova says. In recent years Kobezhikova has been working on organizing an International Big Fire ceremony in Khakassia, which will unite shamans from different parts of the world. Every shaman who participates in the ceremony will bring a piece of wood from their land. Together, they will make a big fire and ask the spirits for help cleansing the world from negative energy and healing humanity. “When we make the Big Fire, we, the shamans, will unite our powers for the well being of all people. Every shaman will take a spark from the fire and bring it back to their community and spread its healing energy,” she says. In the modern world that is dominated by technology and artificial intelligence, we all need a healing spark to reconnect us to nature. Knowledge about living in harmony with the environment permeates Indigenous cultures and is passed down and protected, thanks to shamans. For many Indigenous communities around the world, they are the keys to cultural survival and continuity of Indigenous lifeways. Kobezhikova is keeping Khakassian traditions alive and is a testament to the fact that as long as shamans live and continue to practice, Khakassian culture and traditions will not cease to be. — Yana Sharbunaeva is Buryat from the Khongoodor clan. Cultural Survival Quarterly March 2021 • 17

Indigenous Women: The Strength of Our Communities

The Radical Healing Power of Indigenous Love Andrea Landry (Anishinaabe)


y mother was a revolutionary. She lived her life authentically, expressing exactly who she was and exactly how she felt—even in moments that society deemed “inappropriate.” And that meant she felt everything as powerfully as the fire that burned inside of her, and she loved as fearlessly as the words that fell from her tongue every day. She was a living, breathing example of all the mothers and grandmothers who have upheld Indigenous insurgence, claiming a place for themselves in systems that were seeking to terminate them. Because of this, my mother knew struggle as deep as the land. She inherited it from her father, my mishomis. He had learned how to be a parent from the “teachers” who mistreated him at residential school, which was filled with dysfunction, addictions, and abuse. My mother struggled as a parent, as her father had, and raised me from this place of colonial pain. But underneath all those layers of trauma, loss, sadness, and violence, she was the uprising of authentic Indigenous love. I knew that before I became a mother, it was vital for me to find that place of Indigenous love within myself. I made the commitment to heal my relationship with my mother so that we could end this cycle of discord and abuse. I needed to ensure that my future children would have the opportunity to grow in a space of this Indigenous love, and to know that Indigenous kinship practices are the answer to healing our families. That meant that I had to dig through generations of colonial pain that had become ingrained within my genetic makeup. At times, the pain, anger, and frustration were unbearable. But all that I went through and all the work I have done means that my daughter will know the truth of Indigenous love. My mother’s anger imprisoned me as a child. I realize now that her shaming tactics were the same tactics my mishomis experienced at residential school. There were many fights with name-calling, threats, and physical violence. Sometimes, if I showed emotion, she’d spit on me. Other days, she’d shame me. Each time, she blamed her father. “I am so sorry,” she’d say afterwards. “He did the same to me,” or, “He did worse to me.” The abuse escalated until I got away at the age of 18. University was my savior, though a superficial one. I loved my mama wholeheartedly, but the pain that seeped through my upbringing was too much, and ultimately it followed me to school. Self-medicating with alcohol and drugs helped me cope, and so did being in a relationship. Yet because violent love was the only love I knew, I fell into an abusive relationship. 18 • www. cs. org

Andrea Landry and her late mother, 2014.

For three years, I endured name-calling, threats, and physical violence from the boy I thought loved me. At the time, I had a practicum placement at a community center working with young people. While I was preaching sobriety, healthy relationships, and self-love, I was living the exact opposite. I had to make changes. It was time to dissolve every ounce of toxicity in my life. Little did I know, things would get worse before they could get better. I left him and changed my phone number, yet one night, he found me. He came into my home and raped me. For hours afterwards, I scrubbed myself in the shower and cried. Then I made a decision: I was not going to be a victim any longer. I sobered up. I sought out traditional Indigenous ceremony. I listened to Anishinaabemowin, my mother tongue, and decided to abandon my role as victim in my relationship with my mother. After one particularly abusive phone call, I told her I was done. Ultimately, I divorced my mother and any societal expectations and ideals of what a mother-daughter relationship should be, and notions of what a mother is. Over the next year, we both sought help. We both prayed hard to our ancestors, the ones who left before us, to Gitchi Manitou, the Great Creator. We both healed. And the most powerful thing about it was, we didn’t know that we were both doing it at the same time. I was 22 when I really saw my mother. I called her one evening after not hearing her voice for such a long time. “Hi, Mama,” I said. We sobbed uncontrollably, talked for a long time and made plans to see each other. The mother I was talking to was brand new, so full of life and love—she, too, had healed from her past. And my mother ultimately saw her daughter, who had also healed from years of colonial pain. Forgiveness was difficult; forgiving my mother also meant I had to forgive the generations of abuse that colonialism had inflicted upon my family. It meant forgiving ourselves for holding on to our rage and developing toxic behaviors to deal with it. It meant forgiving my mishomis for harming my mother. It meant forgiving myself for accepting toxicity and abuse from others. But it was within that forgiveness that I birthed my own revolution. Once I forgave my mother, our lives became a series of memories that will be spoken about long after we go. The road trips, the ceremonies, the smell of smudge every morning when I stayed with her—we tried to make up for lost time. Five years later, when I told her she was going to be a nokomis, a grandmother, she cried with joy. When she heard the heartbeat during a prenatal visit, she cried so loud the whole clinic All photos by Andrea Landry.

Andrea Landry and her daughter in a tikinagan, 2016.

heard her. “Oh! Chi-miigwech!” she said over and over again, “Thank you very much!” Her excitement was infectious. She would speak to the baby, her head at my belly when I wasn’t even showing. I’d laugh, embarrassed, and she’d laugh, sing and speak Anishinaabemowin to the baby growing within me. My mother’s presence in my child’s life was going to be a gift. Then everything shifted. One evening when I called her, she told me she had a really bad migraine and needed help. I knew it was something more. My anxiety peaked; I called my uncle. He rushed her to the small local hospital, and they airlifted her to Thunder Bay. The last words I heard my mother say were, “I’ll call you back; I’m going to be sick.” She’d had an aneurysm that erupted. She was brain dead and on life support by the time we arrived. I made the difficult decision to take her off life support, following through with her wish that she not be on it for longer than 24 hours. My mother taught me to celebrate life and to love, even in times of deep, deep pain. So, that is what we did, with a fourday celebration of life with fireworks, food, friends, fun, and tears. She taught me that to grieve is to love. So I grieved, and I loved. There I was, 19 weeks pregnant with my first child, without my own mother. I cried. I yelled. I howled. I prayed. I smudged. I sang all the Anishinaabe songs she taught me. I let all my pain out so my child wouldn’t feel it. My heart was broken, but I mustered all the energy I could and envisioned love completely surrounding my baby. And I made the grieving process a part of my daily ritual for the sake of the well being of my baby—grief had to come out in order to let the love in. To this day, my daughter recognizes the songs from my homelands, the songs my mother sang to me—a powerful example of Indigenous kinship continuing on after death.

My mother raised me from a place of her colonial pain. But ultimately, my mother gave me the tools for how to be a mother from a place of Indigenous love, the ultimate weapon in destroying colonialism. Healing my relationship with my mother, freeing myself from the confines of generations of colonially created pain, was the key to raising my daughter the best way I knew how. Indigenous kinship practices, like disengaging from authoritarian parenting patterns and acknowledging my daughter’s voice and love of learning on the land, is now our family’s life force. It is everything. Sometimes I still grieve my mother, and I cry in front of my daughter. At the age of two, River-Jaxsen will stare at me quizzically, and I will explain to her, “I miss my mama,” and, “Sometimes Mamas have to cry too.” She will pat my shoulder and go on her way. Whenever my daughter feels afraid or upset, we remind her to express and release any emotion she feels. She is already learning behaviors of emotional expression, and that honors her autonomy and also unties generations of colonially influenced parenting. I am showing my daughter through songs from her homelands, through words in both Nehiyaw (Cree) and Anishinaabe (Ojibway), and ultimately through the fearless expression of human emotion, that to be herself, in every expression of her being, is absolutely amazing. Because by emotionally letting go, we as Indigenous Peoples will fundamentally rise. — Andrea Landry (Anishinaabe) is a mother, professor, therapist, and Indigenous rights defender who prioritizes Indigenous ways of living. She teaches for the First Nations University in Regina, and formerly taught for the University of Saskatchewan. A longer version of this article was originally published in Today’s Parent in June 2020. Cultural Survival Quarterly March 2021 • 19

Indigenous Women: The Strength of Our Communities

Lindsey Balidoy at her graduation from the University of California, Davis.

Head Up, Pencil Down, No Longer Invisible

Being Queer and Indigenous in Academia Lindsey Balidoy (Bad River Ojibwe/ Tiwa Pueblo)


oozhoo-aaniin, my name is Lindsey Balidoy. I am Bad River Ojibwe and Tiwa Pueblo. I am a scholar and an educator. I am a proud queer woman. I am a daughter, sister, friend, and relative. I am also someone who felt like all of these identities did not belong in the same place at the same time. That is, until I found a community of Indigenous scholars who refused to be invisibilized, teaching me what it means to decolonize my identity through academia. I was born and raised in an urban, coastal, intertribal community. We heard from a multitude of voices from various Tribes, both around and outside of the area. We hosted Powwows, shared meals as a community together, and navigated the experience of being away from our ancestral homelands together as a community. My identity as a young, queer Indigenous woman formed in this setting, with my spirit so nurtured that a passion for education blossomed. Places of education have been both my savior and the biggest hurdle to jump through. The world was seemingly at my fingertips, but my idea of what the world looked like and academia’s idea of what the world should be are two competing ideas. I was told that only men and women can love each other, that the only way my people exist are through history books, and that only men can hold positions of power. My identities were labeled as ‘other,’ and I would have to hide who I was to fit into this setting of colonial academia. 22 • www. cs. org

Lindsey Balidoy and her mother at a traditional powwow ceremony.

As I was entering my career as a student in higher education at my local community college, I found that it was easiest to push all of my identities to the side in order to blend in with everyone else. I was tired of being the only Indigenous gay woman in a room, just waiting for someone to say something offensive. It seemed like no one ever thought an Indigenous person could be in the same room as them, and I was tired of breaking the news. I went to class, did my work, and went home. All of this knowledge and opportunity was right at my fingertips, and I was going to do anything I needed to hang on to that hope. I bit my tongue, kept my head down, and went two years feeding into a system that actively was erasing who I was. One day I was in the campus library writing an English paper about acculturation and how devastating it was to lose traditions that have been practiced since time immemorial. There was a lump in my throat that I would walk around with until my upcoming graduation. Was I being true to my culture, my people, and my ways of life by hiding who I was? Did my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and all the mothers before that fight for me to be here, just for me to forget? Most importantly, did I have the strength to battle this monstrous colonial system of academia? When I first landed on a university campus, the easiest route seemed to be the one I had been following: head down, pencil up, continue to stay invisible. However, I was suddenly catapulted into a community of Indigenous warrior scholars that were loud and proud about who they were. I heard traditional greetings, saw students using traditional medicines like sweetgrass and sage, and encountered university employees who were Indigenous to California. My idea that I couldn’t share an academic space with my Indigeniety was beginning to shed because I saw living proof that it was possible. I will forever be grateful for the Native Nest, a space on campus for Indigeneity to thrive. Officially called the Native American Academic Student Support Center, the Nest offers programs, services, and holistic support in a culturally relevant manner. This physical space allows Indigenous students to connect, explore our identities, and legitimize our presence on a big university campus. Built like a cottage, I learned how important All photos courtesy of Lindsey Balidoy.

Intertribal community protesting against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

physical space was, how big of a deal it was having this designated location for us to gather. The Nest played a pivotal role in my own personal development and academic success. The Native Nest is where our community of Indigenous scholars could work, conference, and just see other Indigenous people on campus. Sometimes we would watch movies, hold beading circles, or eat traditional foods together. Other times, all of the Indigenous leaders on campus would sit down together to plan our recruitment and retention programs for the year or help plan cultural events and celebrations. As a queer Indigenous woman who was learning how to take pride in my intersecting identities, my engagement in this space was a recipe for my success: the feelings of isolation and assimilation that led to my spiritual melancholy were replaced with feelings of belonging, empowerment, and healing. Something that also developed around this time was my understanding of my sexuality and how it intersects with my Indigeneity, since I was beginning the process of unlocking all of the identities I had tucked away for so long. It was invigorating to be on a large university campus, away from the community I grew up in, and see open and proud expressions of self. It is radical to hold your sense of self at the forefront in any capacity, and the thought of doing it myself was incredibly daunting. In this moment, the values of being exposed to an intertribal community came to light, and I began to listen to and observe the Two-Spirit and queer relatives that walked before me. I saw those who faced unimaginable hardships but found healing and success in academia. I felt less alone, less pressure to have everything figured out right then, and more motivation to never hide my identity as a queer woman again. I felt a renewed sense of self as a young, queer Indigenous scholar. I found myself approaching my academics just as studiously as before, but now was respecting, honoring, and exploring my own unique identity. My voice felt amplified and I was supported the entire way by people who understood what I was experiencing. I began to understand how deeply damaged our academic systems are, and how it will take a village—and more—to achieve the decolonial healing that higher education needs. Our own history must be taught, our own authors read, and our own voices valued. We do not have

to settle for what has already been done, but can forge our own paths forward that honor our identities in their entirety. After earning my bachelor’s degree in English, I continued on to a program for a Master’s in Education. This is when I realized that in a room full of women, I can still feel invisible. I was away from the comfortability of an Indigenous community. Less than one percent of Indigenous students continue to obtain a master’s degree. That is the statistic that runs through my head every time I’m talked over, every time I’m told that I have to study only what has been done before, and every time I’m silenced from sharing cultural and spiritual knowledge in the classroom as an educator. To say that it was easy or that I didn’t think of giving up a million and one times would be a complete lie. I cried and prayed every night, and even upset some people after voicing my thoughts and feelings to my non-Indigenous peers. But, as a teacher in the classroom, I now had students who were looking to me for guidance. Students, who, like me, wanted to be seen, heard, and valued. I was advocating for more than just myself now, but for the future of our communities. I did not want the next generation of students to keep their head down in silence like I did, but to walk with pride and confidence. I am a proud Indigenous queer woman who is fighting to teach the next generation of Indigenous students to not hide who they are, but to celebrate every success and honor every struggle they may face in academia. My ultimate goal as an educator in the classroom is to create a safe educational environment where young Indigenous people can safely explore how their identities work together. It is time that Indigenous students feel seen in spaces of learning. Indigenous students deserve to thrive instead of just survive in academia, and be supported the whole way through with culturally relevant support systems. I will continue this fight to decolonize academia through identity reclamation and celebration. The only possible way forward is to rethink, rebuild, and renew what it means to be the keepers of multiple identities that all deserve to be honored. We deserve to heal with our communities. We deserve to look to a horizon where being a queer Indigenous woman is not a hurdle to overcome, but a journey to celebrate. Cultural Survival Quarterly March 2021 • 23

Indigenous Women: The Strength of Our Communities

Balancing Motherhood and Service Maricela Zurita Cruz Bia’ni Madsa’ Juárez López (CS STAFF) (Ayuuk/Binnizá)


Maricela Zurita Cruz holding her son, Et Yu, while working.

aricela Zurita Cruz (ChatNya) hails from San Juan Quiahije, Oaxaca, Mexico. She graduated high school with a scholarship for Indigenous women granted by the Guadalupe Musalem Fund. At the end of her studies, she began to collaborate with Grupo de Estudios sobre la Mujer Rosario Castellanos (GES Mujer), one of Mexico’s oldest women’s rights organizations, which works to improve gender equity and women’s well being through outreach, research, communications, and training in Oaxaca. During this time, Cruz worked to develop training plans and programs focused on Indigenous women’s rights and health. As a professional, she provided a gender diversity focus to the projects of Ojo de Agua Comunicación, an organization working on community communication mainly in radio and documentaries. In 2019, she collaborated with Cultural Survival as a trainer at our workshops for Indigenous women communicators held in Oaxaca. Cruz was awarded the Mexican National Youth Award in the Social Commitment category for her work with women in her community and with GES Mujer, which nominated her. This was a great personal achievement and helped her to secure the funds needed to obtain a bachelor’s degree in education. Because she received the award as an individual, people in her community were suspicious of her “real” intentions. Over time, though, she was able to regain their trust by showing them her genuine passion for working in the community. Cruz used part of her scholarship to fund a local children’s library, which is still operating today. She has held workshops about being a new parent and made a donation to the Guadalupe Musalem Fund so that other Indigenous women would have the opportunity to continue their studies as she did. Cruz maintained ties to her community in Quiahije throughout the 16 years she lived afar. She always knew she wanted to return, but had no idea that when the time came, it would happen so suddenly. Then, in 2020 she was unexpectedly elected by the Assembly of her community as the Regidora de Ecología (director of ecology) for a newly created municipal department. For Cruz, “having a position is not up for consideration; you have to serve.” So, when she was

24 • www. cs. org

notified of her new appointment, she and her partner left their jobs in Oaxaca City and moved back to San Juan Quiahije. Cruz’s appointment is a significant event in a context where power and land ownership are collective. The Assembly is the highest authority in her community; leadership roles rotate and are collectively elected. Cruz is the youngest person in the department and only the second woman to hold such a position. All positions are in service to the community, unpaid for three years, and are an acknowledgment of trust from the community in the person chosen to carry out their responsibilities. Cruz has worked to establish her role as the first director of ecology in her community. “In the beginning, I did not know where to start, so I decided to start with the reasons why this position was created by the Assembly members: to address pollution, excessive refuse, clearing of the forest, and hunting of endangered animals as priorities,” she says. In her first year, she worked on solid waste management. The use of plastic bags in shops was banned after agreements were reached with merchants and business owners. The sale of prepackaged fried foods was prohibited. The sale of soft drinks has been regulated, and they can now only be sold in aluminum cans or family size bottles. The community also reforested some land. Currently in its second year, the department is focusing on recruiting community volunteers to implement an environmental education and awareness campaign. Much work is also being done to promote the purchase of local products and reduce garbage. In addition to being a department head, an educator, and a specialist in gender issues, Cruz has taken on another challenging role: motherhood. Since her son was born, she has had to adjust her work and family schedules. She has had to make difficult personal decisions, such as not breastfeeding her son for all meals in order to meet her work schedules, and to cede other responsibilities to her child’s father. Cruz says that living in her community has had advantages and disadvantages for motherhood. For one, “there are always other women who help to take care of the children and practice ‘collective motherhood.’” Even at work, she says, male members of the council help her with childcare sometimes. However, she knows that the community and her family do not fully accept her parenting style, and she believes that “they would not have named me [as the director] if they had known I was pregnant.” Cruz has also had to balance her community work and motherhood in a context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which All photos courtesy of Maricela Zurita Cruz.

has generated great reflections and lessons for her. She has noticed that midwifery is an important area that needs to be revitalized; in Quiahije there are only three midwives, and they do not identify themselves as such due to the disregard for their work by the state health policies. On the positive side, many people who lived outside the community have returned, and are growing their own food and eating healthier. In addition, some parents reclaimed their children’s education through homeschooling, and students now have the opportunity to connect with the community and its needs, including the environment. In 2019, 10 articles of the Mexican Constitution were reformed to ensure that women occupy 50 percent of political positions at all levels of government. This reform generated several internal conflicts in communities such as Cruz’s, where political positions are held mainly by men. Although many communities had made slow progress in terms of achieving gender diversity, the amendments forced a confrontation within the collective forms of government because it did not consider the different realities of gender roles in local communities. “The representative and leadership positions are comprehensive and not isolated,” Cruz says. “Gender parity has come to break this, and that is why men have rejected us. We women have to use our minds, hearts, and souls to listen to why our colleagues think a certain way. We need to understand very well the territory we are treading. We do not want to reach out to our community with the logic that we learned in the city. There is [another] way of understanding life that is important to respect.” Like many Indigenous women, Cruz illustrates the delicate balance of maintaining all of her roles caring for her family, community, and Mother Earth, while promoting women’s participation in community governance. After working for a long time on gender issues outside of her community, Cruz believes that it is up to women like her, who begin their participation in positions of community power, to educate and make changes internally and to open the way for others. Cruz is leading by example, showing her community “that women have character, that you can be a mother and a director at the same time; that we can have a dialogue with men and women about gender problems, and take advantage of every moment to educate and make visible what we are capable of and what we can do.” Cruz has come to believe that being a mother is a personal decision, one that should not depend on other people. “We need to put aside blame and accept that women can do many things and many others not. There are times when we need to be with our children more and we must take advantage of those moments. We must value everything that is around us and let ourselves be helped,” she says. As for other women who likewise hold community positions, “[we should] open our minds, have clear positions, and know what we are going to allow and what not, so that in moments of disagreement we do not allow things that harm us and that go against our own happiness.”

Maricela Zurita Cruz in the field working on environmental education in her community of San Juan Quiahije, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Maricela Zurita Cruz raising awareness on International Day of the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25.

Cultural Survival Quarterly March 2021 • 25

KOE F gra n t p a rtn e r sp otl i ght OMIECH

Traditional Maya Midwives Protecting Women’s Health


OMIECH midwives exchange medicinal plant knowledge. Photo by Filiberto Sebastián Luna Icó.

Micaela Icó Bautista (Tzotzil) and Susannah Daniels The Organization of Indigenous Doctors of Chiapas (OMIECH) was formed in 1985 by Tzotzil, Tzeltal, and Ch’ol Maya health promoters and traditional doctors. Our objective is to revive, develop, systematize, and defend traditional Maya medicine. The Women and Midwives Section of OMIECH is made up of 51 traditional midwives from 4 municipalities and 8 communities of the Highlands and Northern regions of Chiapas, Mexico. We implement workshops that reinforce the intergenerational transmission of our traditional midwifery within each family and community. In these workshops and the Women and Midwives Section regional meetings, we discuss topics including maternal mortality; care during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum; and the conservation and defense of medicinal plants and animals. In recent years, our work has focused on developing strategies to stop the public policies that threaten the survival of traditional Indigenous midwifery in Mexico. The following is a portrait of a Tzotzil midwife narrated by the Women and Midwives Section’s coordinator, Micaela Icó Bautista. 26 • www. cs. org

s young girls, jtamoletik (traditional midwives) dream that they will be midwives. God (in Tzotzil, Kajvaltik, Jtotik, Ch’ul totik ta Vinajel, Ch’ulme’tik ta Ch’ul Balumil) gives us a sign through our dreams. He/ She gives us the materials we will use. We learn from our dreams and by attending the births of our own children. We also learn from more experienced midwives, our grandmothers, mothers, and others. When a woman seeks us out, it is our duty to give her and her husband advice. Depending on the patient, whether she is ill, tired, or malnourished, we will see what she needs. We tell the husband how he can help his wife. Some midwives are also j’iloletik (healers, “she/he who sees beyond”). Healers are able to communicate directly with their patient’s spirit. They diagnose their patients by feeling their pulse. This diagnosis is important, because some women do not want to tell us when they have problems. During a pregnancy, we have to ask for the protection of our patient three times. The healer knows how to prevent and treat illness that is the result of envy or an encounter with an evil spirit. In her prayer, the healer speaks to both the woman and the baby, and she speaks to God. Midwives who are not healers also know how to pray and ask for protection for their patient. The woman also has to speak with God so that all may go well in her pregnancy. She has to speak to Him/Her, deliver herself to Him/Her, every day. One cannot forget to do this. By the fourth month of pregnancy we can tell whether the baby is well positioned. We give the mother an abdominal massage whenever she needs it. In this way we monitor her until her pregnancy is full term. Sometimes the mother or the baby is rebellious. We correct the baby’s position and within no time it has moved again. This has meaning for us campesina women. When a baby is malpositioned it is because we set down our firewood without untying the tumpline, or because we left the batten in a crooked position on our loom. The baby copies what we do in our day to day tasks. This is why midwife-healers perform both “the secret” and prayer. They have different ways of performing the secret so that the baby will remain in the right position. What we want is for women to come see us at the beginning of their pregnancy. This is for the benefit of both them and their family. Some midwives go from village to village to see the mothers who are going to give birth. This is why our work is important for women, our communities, and ourselves: we prevent maternal deaths. There are medicinal plants not only for treating and managing complications, but also for preventing them. When some women go into labor, they suffer a lot of pain because coldness has entered their body. We lay them down on a petate (straw mat), check their abdomen, warm it and massage it, and the pain goes away. When the baby is almost crowning, the mother squats down and we put a faja (wide woven belt) around her waist. If the baby is a little malpositioned, you have to get a

firm hold on his shoulder and hand, and then from the outside, turn his body in a circular motion and get him into a good position. In some cases we put vegetable oil on the birth canal so that the baby will slide out more easily. When the child is born we sit with it next to the fire and bathe it in lukewarm water. We lay the umbilical cord on a corn cob and cut it with a small piece of reed. If the placenta does not come out, the mother should be given a tea made from the tail of a tlacuache. After the birth, we boil a tea of pepper, cloves, and ginger. This tea is very good for decreasing postpartum bleeding and for cleaning and warming the uterus. If a midwife knows how to use the pus (sweat lodge), this is good for women. It warms their uterus and returns it almost to its original size. The mother should take care of herself for two or three months and she should not drink cold water because the medicine is hot. We midwives know about plant medicine. The sacred plants are very powerful. They did not grow on their own. Rather, they have a guardian/provider: the sacred earth. They have spirits, just as the healer, ac’vomoletik (herbalist), and the midwife have spirits. When a person does not know the plant, it’s because she has not been introduced to it in her dreams. In dreams, we learn about where it grows and its uses. If you do not dream about how to talk to the plant, then there is no communication. For this reason, not just anyone can use the plants. Midwives sow and harvest plants and they store them in their home pharmacies. But they do not harvest them at just anytime. There’s a secret to this. The healers say that if you have faith, you can use plant medicine. But if you deny the plant’s power, if you do not trust in the plant, it will not heal you. Likewise, it is important that a woman trust her midwife so that there are no complications during her pregnancy and birth. In OMIECH, we exchange knowledge with other midwives. These meetings are very important because we learn about how other midwives care for their patients and what plants they use. We support each other. Despite the Secretary of Health’s attempts to force us to attend training courses in which we are prohibited from using our traditional practices, we continue to attend the majority of births in our communities. When we do not attend these courses our social welfare benefits are withheld and our patients are denied access to birth certificates. This attempt to suppress the practice of traditional midwives has resulted in high rates of cesarean sections in Mexico. These surgeries only benefit the pharmaceutical companies that supply hospitals with the medicine and equipment used for obstetric care. The more women who seek care in hospitals, the richer these companies become, while our own traditional Indigenous midwifery dies out. And if this happens, who will attend our granddaughters’ pregnancies and births? In Mexico, there are some groups of traditional midwives who demand government recognition and aid. We do not want the government’s aid or interference. We simply want the attacks on our knowledge and customs to stop, and we will fight tirelessly to ensure that our own form of midwifery continues to be valued and practiced in our communities.

Organization of Indigenous Doctors of Chiapas (OMIECH) is a Cultural Survival Keepers of the Earth Fund (KOEF) grant partner. KOEF is an Indigenous-led fund designed to support Indigenous Peoples’ community development and advocacy projects. Since 2017, through small grants and technical assistance, KOEF has supported 119 projects in 31 countries totaling $488,475. — Micaela Icó Bautista (Tzotzil) is from San Andrés Puerto Rico, Huixtan, and is co-founder of OMIECH, where she has worked since 1985 as the coordinator of the ​​Women and Midwives’ Section. Susannah Daniels has a PhD in Mesoamerican Studies from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. She has worked with the Women and Midwives’ Section of OMIECH since 2017.

Consuelo López Díaz (Tzeltal), traditional midwife. Photo by Filiberto Sebastián Luna Icó.

OMIECH midwives critique the discriminatory practices of government health personnel. Photo by Agripino Icó Bautista. Cultural CulturalSurvival SurvivalQuarterly Quarterly March 2021 • 27

yout h f e llow sp o tlig h t

Ipiak Slendy Montanhuano Ushigua Nati Garcia (CS STAFF) (Maya Mam)


piak Slendy Montanhuano Ushigua is a 15-year-old Sapara youth leader from the Llanachamaococha, Amazon community in the province of Pastaza, Ecuador, and a Cultural Survival youth fellow. She is a student at the Tsitsanu School, home to a group of fellows from the Cultural Survival Indigenous Community Media Youth Fellowship program. Their group fellowship project, “The Sapara Dream,” is focused on strengthening the Sapara culture, language, and competency in communication through workshops for youth in audiovisual production. A community media center was built at the culmination of the fellowship, and now youth from the Llanchamacocha community have a space to produce, edit, and hold future workshops in continuing audiovisual skills and furthering the Sapara dream. Ushigua received training in creation of storyboards, audiovisual techniques, digital camera use, editing, and the importance of media as a platform for defending Sapara territory. “I am a youth who fights against natural resource extraction. I want to share with you the traditional medicine of my people. Our ancestors left us this medicine so that we can cure our children and other people who visit us,” she said. Traditional knowledge transfer is vital for strengthening future generations of Sapara Peoples, and Ushigua is a role model for young Indigenous women in promoting the culture and wisdom of her people, particularly in traditional medicine. “When I participated in the workshops, I learned a lot. I was able to share with my peers what I learned. It helped us a lot. It made me happy to be able to participate in video production; I really enjoy learning Ipiak Slendy Montanhuano that kind of stuff. It Ushigua was a memorable experience,” Ushigua said. 28 • www. cs. org

Ipiak Slendy Montanhuano Ushigua in action taking photos of a Tsitsanu student.

The Sapara Nation of Ecuador has been gravely impacted by oil extraction on its territory, and Llanchamacocha community members have been resisting the construction of a highway that would harm the ecosystem of the Amazon. Ushigua helped produce a series of short audiovisuals highlighting the importance of Indigenous identity, Sapara dreams, defense of territory, and ancestral medicine. The project helped create alliances with Cultural Survival and Tawna Films, which provided support during the project term with the defense of the Sapara territory. The fellows involved in the project are active leaders like Ushigua, who are working hard to strengthen and revitalize their cultural values, systems, and knowledge. “The project caught my attention because communication is very important. Here, Sapara youth transmit messages to the world through community media. We have been fighting for many years; right now we are fighting against oil companies. We do not want our language, culture, identity, cosmovision, and stories to be lost. For this reason, I want to share with the world our way of living, our way of thinking. This has been an important goal for us through community media which has helped us,” Ushigua said. Storytelling through media has been a key element in the transmission of Indigenous cosmologies.

The Fellowship has elevated this process by engaging youth to relate to their cultures, land, languages, and traditions through the use of technology. Other fellows added, “We are very pleased to work with you and consider you allies of the Sapara Nation, of our territory where we are working to contextualize education to cultural reality. Continuing to work with you gives us the hope of advancing in communication from communities eager to show the processes of social transformation, the defense of the Amazon, and the Sapara culture that was declared an oral and intangible heritage of humanity by UNESCO in 2002.” There is a saying, “En medio del mar verde se abre un camino de esperanza para este pueblo” (in the middle of the green sea there is a path of hope for the people). This path of hope motivates and strengthens the power youth have to make a difference, and Ushigua is a ripple in the middle of the green sea. Cultural Survival’s Indigenous Community Media Youth Fellowship supports individuals and groups of youth ages 17 to 25 in their efforts to build their radio journalism and radio broadcasting skills through trainings, community radio visits and exchanges, radio production, and conference attendance. Since 2018, we have supported 33 Indigenous youth fellows in 10 countries.

All photos courtesy of Tawna Films.

B az aar art i st s p ot l i g ht

Eva Vasquez Clemente Using art to inspire

Eva Vasquez Clemente at the Cultural Survival Bazaar at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, December 2019. Photo by Danae Laura.

Bia’ni Madsa’ Juárez Lopez (CS STAFF) (Ayuuk/Binnizá)


va Vasquez Clemente is a single mother of two daughters, an artist, and an auxiliary police officer in the Oaxaca State Public Security Secretariat in Mexico. She comes from the Zapotec-Mixtec coast of Oaxaca. Vasquez makes exquisitely detailed corn husk dolls that represent traditional women dancers of the renowned annual Guelaguetza Festival, where the 16 Indigenous Peoples of the 8 regions of the State of Oaxaca meet. She creates her pieces entirely by hand with organic products and natural colors. Vasquez uses the dry leaves that cover the ear of corn, known in Mexico as totomoxtle, normally used to prepare tamales. Corn is the most important element in her community’s diet and an integral part of their identity. The leaves are selected from the family and community corn harvest, with various shades of red, brown, cream, and purple. To make her creations, Vasquez removes the blades carefully to cut large pieces. Then, immediately before use, she wets them with water to make them malleable again, cuts the pieces that she needs, and sews them together in knots using the threads of the corn husk. During festivities in Vasquez’s town, women use baskets to dance. “When my mother said that they were going to decorate the baskets for the holidays, since we had no money, we used to make them from totomoxtle. My mom always liked the way we did it and people admired it,” Vasquez recalls. “On one occasion in the church, they told us not to pollute, so once at a party in my town, I decorated the streets with totomoxtle figures without using plastic or paper and everyone liked it.” Vasquez started taking part in competitions when she moved to Oaxaca City. “I was improving my technique and I invented the embroidery on the sheet, because I saw that none of the participants did it. My imagination taught me and the challenge of overcoming the work of others and doing something different. In the contest they don’t let you use industrialized things, it all has to be natural,” she says.

Eva Vasquez Clemente selecting corn husk for her dolls from her milpa (corn plot) after the harvest. Photo courtesy of Eva Vasquez Clemente.

Life as an artist is not easy, in part, as Vasquez observes, because “people do not appreciate art...[they] go to large stores to buy things that are not art, but copies made in factories.” While at first she was only creating for competition, Vasquez received a commission from the Textile Museum of Oaxaca. “[They] called me and told me that they wanted to sell my pieces. Before that, I gave them away. I realized that I, myself, did not recognize the value of my pieces, and so I adjusted my prices to make it fairer and the market improved a lot.” Vasquez shares her experience participating in the Cultural Survival Bazaars, “The Bazaars were an opportunity to feel that I am free, that I can travel and see places and people. I have only participated once in person, but the simple fact of being there brought a lot of profit. Disseminating the work and making ourselves known is a satisfaction, knowing that you make people feel something when they see your pieces. When you have found something that you do well and uniquely, it is something that fills you as a person. You no longer ask for anything from life, because this gives you satisfaction, motivation, a way to heal, a way to forget the pain or the sadness through making art. It helps you to grow emotionally and as a person, because you know that what you do is something that people admire and you make them feel beautiful.” She continues to say, “I would like to be an inspiration to women who are sometimes alone, or like me, have lived through a situation of domestic violence. I put up with many things, but I decided to leave and find my way. I tell women not to despair and to know that it is possible. I want to inspire more women to do it and get ahead, because you can be a mother, a worker, a police officer, and an artist.” All in-person Cultural Survival Bazaars in 2021 are postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To support and buy directly from our Bazaar artists, visit our directory of artists at

Cultural Cultural Survival Survival Quarterly Quarterly March March 2021 2021 •• 29 29

Thank you for being part of our community! Together, we are making change happen! “Cultural Survival will be happy to know that your COVID-19 PSA in Maa was forwarded to our education team immediately upon receipt and they have included that information in our local COVID-19 education efforts!”

“ People were unaware of the Forest Rights Act completely. Through Cultural Survival’s support, we could reach the ground level community to provoke them to think and become awakened to their land rights.”

Nelson Reiya, Nashulai Maasai Conservancy Team, Kenya, Indigenous Rights Radio listener

Sobha Madhan, secretary, Gudalur Block NPVTG Federation, India. With a Keepers of the Earth Fund grant, NPVTG Federation is conducting an awareness raising campaign about the Forest Rights Act to secure community forest rights of 10 Adivasi villages.

“ The support provided by Cultural Survival has been very important to continue our work of gathering knowledge within my territory. I am also grateful to meet youth from different places and learn about how they are defending and protecting their knowledge.”

“Our sincere thanks [to Cultural Survival] for the support provided to our communities. This help was a breath of hope.” Center for Environmental and Human Development (CENDAH), Panama. Keepers of the Earth Fund supported CENDAH in their project on the cultivation of food and medicinal plants.

“On behalf of the Maya Kaqchikel Community Council of Radio Naköj, we want to thank you deeply for the support to execute our project: a radio campaign for the prevention of COVID-19 and to ensure our food sovereignty and community economic strengthening.” Radio Naköj Council, Santo Domingo Xenacoj, Sacatepéquez, Guatemala, Indigenous Community Media Fund grant partner

Carolina Trayen Rain Ancan (Mapuche), Chile, Indigenous Community Media Youth Fellow

” This project helped many people to remember words in Mixe, some no longer spoken. It was a program of interest and it helped people in the community to learn to value their culture.” Estrella Jhonaí Gutiérrez Vásquez (Mixe), Mexico. Her Indigenous Community Media Youth Fellowship project focused on revitalizing the Ayuujk/Mixe language.

“ I would like to thank Cultural Survival. I have been working on interviewing the elders. It is important to learn from them and record their knowledge.” Manuel Silvano Guzmán (Tseltal), Mexico, Indigenous Community Media Youth Fellow

Donate online at | Call us at 617.441.5400 x18

Thank you!

#culturalsurvival50 #1972 #CS50