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Author Provides Context on Indigenous Manifesto in Mexico
Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Recently, the National Indigenous Congress of Mexico (CNI) issued a brief but forcefully worded statement testifying to harassment of Wixarika (Huichol) people by the Mexican Army. Today on our blog, Paul Liffman provides comment and context on the statement. Liffman is a professor at the Center for Anthropological Studies at the Colegio de Michoacán and author of the forthcoming book Huichol Territory and the Mexican Nation (University of Arizona Press).

Comments on the Bancos de San Hipólito Manifesto
By Paul Liffman

A group of ritual deerhunters on their trek to Cerro Quemado (the threatened sacred mountain), climbing a recently constructed highway embankment. The construction buried another sacred place called Bear Ranchería. Photo by Paul Liffman

This brief manifesto from a coalition of Wixarika (Huichol) activists, members of the Zapatista-inspired Congreso Nacional Indígena (National Indigenous Congress) and their allies in non-governmental organizations signals the multiple dimensions of Indigenous land claims in Mexico today. First off, there is its mixture of class-based rhetoric and strategic essentialism: the document pits non-Indigenous caciques (political bosses, incorrectly translated as “chiefs” in the English version), the army, and the rich against the Huichols’ sacred territory and more broadly, Our Mother Earth, a translation of Tatei Yurienaka, the earth deity. Such translations reveal how Huichols are mainstreaming their religion in a discourse of autonomy that relies on the category of “territory” (territorio) to anchor their political strategy; sacred territorio partly replaces the conventional sense of land (tierra) subject to the bureaucratic and legal procedures of the Mexican state.

Still, the manifesto’s main focus is a dispute over timber felled by a violent winter storm and then became yet another bone of contention between mestizo peasants based in San Lucas de Jalpa, Durango, and the Huichol ranchería of Bancos de San Hipólito, formerly the northwestern part of the Huichol comunidad of San Andrés Cohamiata. Such conflicts are central to my forthcoming book in the First Peoples series, Huichol Territory and the Mexican Nation (University of Arizona Press, April 2011). That is, mestizos from San Lucas and Huichols from San Andrés have fought for at least 40 years over Bancos and the 10,720 hectares (about 26,500 acres or 40 square miles) that surround it.  This historical context is also the backdrop of the Wixarika installation in the Our Peoples Gallery of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington (see “Museums and Mexican Indigenous territoriality,” Museum Anthropology 30(2): 141-160, 2007). It’s no coincidence because that exhibit’s lead curator, Catarino Carrillo, is from Bancos and had been the gobernador of San Andrés. And once the standard legal avenues for reintegrating Bancos into San Andrés seemed to fail, he became a leader of the autonomous community movement that has put Bancos in the vanguard of the Congreso Nacional Indígena.

But beyond territory and local natural resources, the manifesto also points to the struggle for broader cultural rights and intermittent access to natural resources far beyond their rancherías.  That is, the final sentences turn to the harassment of ritual deerhunters from Bancos, the ceremonial center of Hayukarita (San José) in San Andrés, and a third group from the neighboring community of Santa Catarina. The complexity of this problem is evident in the fact that some of the deerhunters had been detained in the Odam (Southern Tepehuan) Indigenous community of Santa María Ocotán, which borders the Huichols on the north.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning the most publicized current struggle of the Wixarika people: the movement against silver mining in Real de Catorce, San Luis Potosí, a high desert region that includes the cardinal sacred mountain, Cerro Quemado. Periodic mining has reshaped that landscape since the eighteenth century and in fact is part of the Huichols’ own sacred history, but the new possibility of open pit extraction, the draining of desert aquifers, and cyanide discharges by First Majestic Silver Corp could compromise sites and practices in place since centuries before the Spanish invasion.

To learn more see the following sites:

Background Information on Mexico:  Stop Mining. Save Sacred Sites–Cultural Survival
Wixirika-An online archive of Huichol art, history and culture
Defensa de Wirikuta on Faceboo
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Salvemos Wirikuta on Facebook
No a la Mineria con Cianuro y a Cielo abierto en Real de Catorce Facebook
Salvemos Wirikuta – Tamatzima Huaha Blog

Paul Liffman
Centro de Estudios Antropológicos
El Colegio de Michoacán


Paul Liffman is a professor at the Center for Anthropological Studies at the Colegio de Michoacán and a member of the National Research System of Mexico. He has worked as a consultant and translator for the Wixarika exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. His book
Huichol Territory and the Mexican Nation: Indigenous Ritual, Land Conflict, and Sovereignty Claims will be available from the University of Arizona Press in April.

New Book Discusses Cherokee Version of Lacrosse
Friday, July 16th, 2010

This week much of the mainstream and Native media has covered the Iroquois National Lacrosse team’s efforts to travel to England to participate in the Lacrosse World Championships. Ranked fourth in the world, the Haudenosaunee team passed an agonizing week waiting for the United States government to allow them to travel using their Iroquois National Passports, which they have used to travel internationally since 1977 and used as recently as two years ago.

As usual with sports, none of this is just about a game. Sovereignty, spirituality, and sport collide, and the Nationals’ plight underscores the important fact that lacrosse, now played internationally, is Indigenous born. Much of the media coverage this week has touched on the long history and cultural connections the Haudenosaunee people have with the current sport of lacrosse.

Lacrosse has roots in several single- and double-racket ball games played by First Nations and Native American people, including anetso which is played by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation. In a new book, author Michael J. Zogry looks at the intertwined nature of game and ritual and offers an important examination of stick ball history and continuity among the Cherokee people. The book Anetso, the Cherokee Ball Game: At the Center of Ceremony and Identity (University of North Carolina Press, 2010) is our most recent First Peoples’ title, and it provides a framework for rethinking the understanding of ritual and performance, as well as their relationship to cultural identity. Look for a guest post from Dr. Zogry in the coming weeks.

For just a glimpse at the recent media coverage on lacrosse, here are links to some of the articles about the Iroquois National Lacrosse team:

Allow Iroquois travel [The Buffalo News]

Bid for Trophy becomes a Test of Iroquois Identity [New York Times]

The Iroquois Lacrosse Team Denied [Native America Calling]

Iroquois National travel window closing [Indian Country Today]

Iroquois Nationals Update: Britain Denies Visas [Lacrosse News]

Native American lacrosse team forfeits first game in England as passport dispute drags on [Buffalo Post Blog]

Pride of a Nation [Sports Illustrated]

Statement from Chief Oren R. Lyons, Honorary Chairman, Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team [NATV]

US Rule Could keep Iroquois From Lacrosse Tourney [Associate Press via CBS News]

Why the tribe who invented lacrosse can’t play it here [The UK Independent]

Our First Initiative Books
Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

We are pleased to announce our initiative’s first books. This spring, our publishing partners will have not one, but five books, that will proudly carry the First Peoples logo. As with the field of Indigenous studies, the books cover a broad and multidisciplinary range of topics. They represent the robust and new directions scholarship in Indigenous studies is taking today.

Anetso, the Cherokee Ball Game: At the Center of Ceremony and Identity
By Michael J. Zogry • Available June 2010 • University of North Carolina Press
Based on his work in the field and in the archives, Michael J. Zogry argues that members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation continue to perform selected aspects of their cultural identity by engaging in anetso, a centuries-old Cherokee ball game still played today.

Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South: Race, Identity, and the Making of a Nation
By Malinda Maynor Lowery • Available April 2010 • University of North Carolina Press
With more than 50,000 enrolled members, North Carolina’s Lumbee Indians are the largest Native American tribe east of the Mississippi River. Malinda Maynor Lowery, a Lumbee herself, describes how, between Reconstruction and the 1950s, the Lumbee crafted and maintained a distinct identity in an era defined by racial segregation in the South and paternalistic policies for Indians throughout the nation.

Oregon and the Collapse of Illahee: U.S. Empire and the Transformation of an Indigenous World, 1792-1859
By Gray H. Whaley • Available May 2010 • University of North Carolina Press
Modern western Oregon was a crucial site of imperial competition in North America during the formative decades of the United States. In this book, Gray Whaley examines relations among newcomers and between newcomers and Native peoples—focusing on political sovereignty, religion, trade, sexuality, and the land—from initial encounters to Oregon’s statehood.

Ritual and Remembrance in the Ecuadorian Andes
By Rachel Corr •  Available February 2010 • University of Arizona Press
In this book Rachel Corr provides a knowledgeable account of the Salasacan religion and rituals and their respective histories. Based on eighteen years of fieldwork in Salasaca and extensive research in Church archives—including never-before-published documents—Corr’s book illuminates how Salasacan culture adapted to Catholic traditions and recentered, reinterpreted, and even reshaped them to serve similarly motivated Salasacan practices.

We are an Indian Nation: A History of the Hualapai People
By Jeffrey P. Shepherd • Available April 2010 • University of Arizona Press
This book focuses on the historical construction of the Hualapai Nation in the face of modern American colonialism. Drawing on archival research, interviews, and participant observation, Jeffrey Shepherd describes how thirteen bands of extended families known as the Pai confronted American colonialism and in the process recast themselves as a modern Indigenous nation.

We will feature each of these titles and their authors in future posts.