We travelled to Totonicapan with Enrique Cua from CEEI. The communities in this area are Mayan Kiche.
We met with the Directors of the Natural Resources Board for Totonicapan. This board is comprised of 12 elected directors from 48 communities in the area. CEEI provides training on organizational structures, legal assistance pertaining to section 169, the Constitution and the Peace Accords. They have also supported gender training and exchanges between different indigenous peoples in the region where women are engaged in leadership roles. The Natural Resources board now has one elected woman for the first time.
We began with an opening prayer and introductions from the leadership from the 48 communities. They welcomed us to the “land of the apples.” Darlene was recognized as a First Nations person.
Importance of the community forest
The board members talked about the unique model of environmentally sustainable forest management. This model is founded on the relationship between people and nature which is rooted in the Mayan cosmovision. This vision is about seeing the environment as being connected to Mother Earth. The forest is one of the most important coniferous forests in the country covering over 21,000 hectares; it provides water to more than 50,000 people and 80 communities. Every community elects volunteer representatives to protect the community forest and sources of water. They explained that they have been working as volunteers from generation to generation. Decisions are made by consensus, with a focus on responsibility to transmit ancient knowledge to the next generation.
The board is independent from governmental structures or state institutions. There is great concern about the natural resources that are under threat in many parts of the area. Some of the communities have a lack of information on how to protect the natural resources. The director of the Board expressed the need for solidarity and ongoing support from Horizons. In some communities they have been cutting down the forest and the reforestation takes a long time. The problem is that the wood is used for cooking in open fires, heat and furniture. Alternatives need to be explored and Horizons agreed to help facilitate this exchange with other partners in Central America.
In our exchange, Darlene referred to the parallel struggles of the First Nations people in Canada who have to struggle against the mining, gas interests that violate the earth.
We then travelled to the protected forest to participate in a Mayan ceremony. Darlene and Scott ( another delegate)were asked to join Celestina, a lawyer with CEEI, and Enrique in a ceremony that involved burning candles and asking Mother Earth for forgiveness from contaminating the forest and water and permission to care for the forest.
This was the highlight of my trip because I had told a Sudbury Elder Hilda, about the ceremony and she gave me a skirt with the symbol of my clan, the fish to wear for the ceremony. During the ceremony I asked my grandmothers and grandfathers to walk with me alongside the Mayan people on their land. After the ceremony Celestina embraced me and said your mamma, papa and grandmother are here. Once on the bus again I saw a deer appear from the forest and it looked right at me. I knew then they were with me. A deer last visited me when my grandmother was preparing to leave this world. I later was told that a deer sighting in Guatemala is quite rare. This was a memorable day.