Six stories of indigenous communicators show how defending territories is key to preserving the planet
Six communication collectives of indigenous peoples from different countries of Central and South America exchanged the experiences of their communities in defense of their territories and their ancestral ways of life. The Intercultural Meeting of Indigenous Communicators highlighted the threats facing their territories due to the development model as we know it: extractivism, agribusiness, megaprojects and destruction of nature. Threats that in turn are the most dramatic causes of the serious climate crisis, a consequence of human activity.
But the Intercultural Meeting of Indigenous Communicators has shown that these peoples also have in common the processes of historical resistance to megaprojects and policies destructive of nature. If governments and societies listen to the voice of indigenous peoples and learn from the harmonious relationship they maintain with nature, they will find the key to stopping polluting emissions and the increase in the planet’s temperature. But above all, to have a better life, in harmony and balance with nature. That is why it is so important to learn about the experiences of the native peoples’ own communication collectives.
The meeting was attended by communicators from six indigenous peoples of Central and South America: the Mixe or Ayuujk people of Oaxaca in Mexico, who are resisting the Interoceanic Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. In Brazil, the Yudja and Kiabi peoples of the Xingu Indigenous Territory who defend indigenous territories threatened by deforestation and extractivist projects; in the middle Xingu, the indigenous youth of Altamira affected by the Belomonte dam; the Wayúu people of La Guajira in Colombia, who have suffered for decades from the consequences of open-pit coal mining; and the Mayan people of southern Belize, threatened by extractivist projects.
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Istmo de Tehuantepec, MÉXICO
Juana Ramírez Villegas is part of the communications collective UCIZONI (Unión de Comunidades Indígenas de la Zona Norte del Istmo). She is an indigenous woman from the Mixe o Ayuuk people of San Juan de Guichicovi, Oaxaca, Mexico. They are currently facing the construction of the inter-oceanic corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, with which the Mexican government intends to link the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean by means of a train. Along this route, they are building industrial parks and completely changing the territory. The Mexican government has achieved this by manipulating prior consultations in order to divide and confuse the indigenous peoples who live on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the ancestral inhabitants of this territory. The corridor project will completely change their way of life and will affect culturally and socially these peoples, historically abandoned by the Mexican state. Thanks to UCIZONI’s communication collective, they have been able to reach out to the different communities and to the national level, demanding respect for their territory and the defence of the rights of the Mixe or Ayuuk people of Oaxaca. In the Intercultural Encounter project, this communications team was further strengthened.
Sarstoon Temash National Park, BELICE
This is the story of Elvia Bo, an indigenous woman from the Mayan people of southern Belize. She is part of the organisation SATIIM (The Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management), which works to defend the rights of the indigenous Mayan peoples of southern Belize. For them, communication is very important, because the indigenous territories are very remote from each other and they do not have access to information about the rights of indigenous communities. On several occasions, both governments and companies have tried to explore for hydrocarbon exploitation and other mega-projects within indigenous territory. For this reason, the aim is to install a radio with a signal powerful enough to reach all the peoples. In the Intercultural Meeting of Indigenous Communicators project, an important step was taken towards the creation of this indigenous radio station.
Resguardo Provincial, COLOMBIA
Laura Brito Boriyu is part of the Wakuaipa Communication Collective of the Wayúu de Provincial indigenous reservation in La Guajira, Colombia. This collective is made up of young communicators and audiovisual producers who, through communication, denounce the reality that the south of La Guajira has been suffering for more than 40 years with the presence of one of the largest open-pit coal mines in the world. This extractive mega-project has destroyed the territory and displaced dozens of Wayúu communities, affecting their ancestral practices and turning them into workers for an extractive multinational. The story of the Provincial reservation is dramatic, as the mine is located 700 metres from the community. In Provincial, they suffer from direct contamination by coal dust in the air, daily explosions and water pollution. This is why it is very important to train young communicators from the Wayúu people so that they can use their own worldview to denounce the profound impact of the multinational and to counteract the heavy investment in propaganda that the company makes to keep its face clean in the public eye while it destroys Wayúu ancestral territory.
Altamira, Medio Xingú, BRASIL
Mitã Xipaya is a young communicator from the Xipaya people in Medio Xingú, in Altamira, Pará. Altamira is the largest municipality in Brazil. The Belo Monte dam, one of the largest dams in the world, was built there. The construction of Belo Monte brought serious social problems to Altamira for both the indigenous and non-indigenous population. Altamira has shown a very high degree of social decomposition since the arrival of the dam, affecting mainly the youngest people. So much so that the suicide rate among the youth of Altamira is very high. This is why Altamira’s youth communication collectives are so important, not only to denounce the failure of Belo Monte, but also to motivate young people to transform the present and the future of Altamira. Mitã is part of the UJIMX (Union of Indigenous Youth of the Middle Xingú).
Territorio Indígena Xingú, BRASIL
Arewana Juruna and Kujaesage Kaiabi are indigenous communicators and filmmakers living in the Xingu Indigenous Territory in Mato Grosso, Brazil, where 16 indigenous peoples live and protect the forests of the Xingu river basin. The entire Amazon is threatened and seriously endangered by deforestation for timber, mining, cattle ranching, industrial agriculture and other extractive projects. The Brazilian government has implemented policies that favour the destruction of the forests, putting at risk the survival of both the Amazon and the indigenous peoples who inhabit and protect it. Over the last few years, deforestation has increased more than ever. Indigenous communicators in Brazil have played a very important role in raising awareness about the importance of protecting the forests and have denounced the destructive policies of the current Brazilian government. Moreover, Brazil’s indigenous communicators have a great track record and serve as an example for other indigenous communicators in Latin America. The Intercultural Meeting of communicators was able to support the process of communicators from the Indigenous Territory of Xingu. communications.
Dedicated to the Memory of Lilo Clareto
During the accompaniment of the Altamira communicators’ process, Covid took away Lilo Clareto, a photographer and a very important colleague for the Altamira community and the work with young people. Perhaps the death of Lilo and thousands of others could have been avoided if the Bolsonaro government had implemented an effective vaccination strategy. But the Brazilian government’s policies denied the severity of the pandemic and this severely harmed the most vulnerable populations. We dedicate this project to the memory of the great Lilo Clareto.