La Marabunta Filmadora in Mexico is a Sonora-based Participatory Video hub run by Yaqui and Comcaac community members: Anabela Carlon, Eusebia Flores, Faviola Rodríguez, Samuel Cupis and others. Grace Hutchison interviews InsightShare Associate, Thor Morales, on the importance of the La Marabunta model and of connected Indigenous communities.
Technology is more accessible than ever. And its availability has offered new platforms for the historically stifled voices of Indigenous Peoples. La Marabunta Filmadora, is a Sonora-based Participatory Video hub using media and technology to turn up the volume on Indigenous issues. InsightShare Network seeded this hub in 2012. Since then, we have been supporting the La Marabunta team to develop their practice, to lead on vital projects in their communities, and now to take flight as an autonomous media hub. The ‘La Marabunta’ model, of creating networks through video and Indigenous-to-Indigenous training, is vital to the resilience of Indigenous movements in northern Mexico and beyond.
Indigenous Peoples, their communities and their ability to mobilise, have been harmed by separation from each other and alienation from non-Indigenous peoples. Video can overcome that. With its ability to cross national and personal borders, video is bringing Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike together to create change.
Indigenous Rights Movements in Mexico: north to south
According to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, Mexico has the largest Indigenous population in the Americas with 21.5% of the national population self-identifying as Indigenous. Indigenous-led movements for self-determination, equal opportunities, rights and sovereignty are wide-spread, particularly in southern regions of the country, where the majority of the Indigenous population lives. In 2003, the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) and Indigenous National Congress created autonomous Indigenous governments in Chiapas, Michoacán, and Oaxaca, bringing to life Mexico’s status as a pluricultural nation.
The EZLN was formed out of Chiapas and represented the aspirations of Chiapas’ Indigenous Peoples by demanding an end to Indigenous separation and oppression. The EZLN movement was fundamental in representing Indigenous interests by protecting Indigenous heritage in the Mexican constitution. Its success is emblematic of the power of Indigenous solidarity.
However, in the northern regions of Mexico, Indigenous communities are smaller and not as readily connected as those in the south. This increases the severity of issues we see in these regions. Thor Morales, a Mexico-based InsightShare Associate, demonstrated this, giving the example of Indigenous groups in Chihuahua, who are coerced and overpowered by drug cartels. In other areas, such as the Guerrero highlands, takeovers by cartels have been forestalled through strong traditional governance systems and translocal communication channels.
How are Indigenous activists using media to strengthen their movements?
Without strong translocal communication channels, that in turn foster strong, regional, Indigenous institutions, communities can be left isolated, scuppering their movements. Community-driven media is a lifeline for such movements, particularly for remote groups. Media connects communities, mobilising them against common threats and sharing their stories with the world -in their own words.
Since first trying out Participatory Video (PV) in 2011, La Marabunta has trained communities from across north-western Mexico in the method (Yoreme, Tohono O´odham, Pima, Guarijio, Comcaac, Yaqui and Ralámuli) creating a network of community-led media hubs. In this hard-to-connect region, La Marabunta has ignited a movement: PV is now used across Sonora, Chihuahua and Sinaloa, setting the foundation for the first Indigenous Centre for Participatory Video (ICPV) in north-western Mexico. The ICPV is a bridge connecting critical ecosystems from the Sierra mountains to the oceans, and strengthening communities despite their physical and linguistic separation. Communities across the region are now uniting to protect their biocultural protocols and territories.
Participatory videos have been created on wide-ranging topics, such as the spraying of toxic pesticides from airplanes on to Indigenous lands, illegal logging of ancient forests, the creation of dams that destroy sacred waterways, the laying a gas pipeline on sacred land and the loss of language.
In 2019, La Marabunta trained Yoreme and Ralámuli community members. Thor, who has worked closely with La Marabunta over the last decade and has supported many of their trainings, remarked on the unique-but-similar experiences of communities across the region. Although the Ralámuli are from Chihuahua and the Yoreme from Sinaloa, these communities are both experiencing erosion of their cultural heritage along with their traditional territories and systems of governance.
One Ralámuli participant, Luis Javier Perez Enriquez, noted, ‘We can share the knowledge of our elders and also reflect on what can we do, what can we put in practice, what are the needs and how can we help our people through the use of media. I can not stress enough how important and useful participatory video can be for the whole Sierra Tarahumara.’ Speaking on the success of PV as a tool for Indigenous resistance, Thor explained that PV is uniquely placed to amplify the voices of Indigenous Peoples: ‘it is communal and created within the community’ reflecting Indigenous approaches to knowledge as something collectively owned. It enables all-important networks of trust between communities.
Using the ‘La Marabunta’ model to overcome international boundaries
The issues caused by isolation, seen on a regional and local level in Mexico, are also notable at country level in the Americas: Indigenous rights movements out of Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia are well known, but news from Brazil feels less ubiquitous. Because Brazil is predominantly Lusophone, there is a language barrier that distinguishes the country in Latin America and effectively isolates it.
For this reason, the introduction of media to the Indigenous rights movement is all the more vital: through such networks Brazil’s movements can be amplified and connected with other resistance movements across the region. This seems more important than ever: we have scarcely arrived into the new decade and five Indigenous land defenders have already been killed in Brazil.
In September 2019, La Marabunta visited the indigenous territory of Arariboia, home to the Guajajara and the isolated Awá tribe. This was the first international Indigenous-to-Indigenous training undertaken by La Marabunta and was a momentous step forward for the movement they ignited in Mexico. The Guajajara trainees discussed crises that resonated with Anabela and Eusebia, who led the training: they live marooned on ‘an island of green amidst a sea of deforestation’ and their people are murdered by illegal loggers. Similarly, the northern Indigenous territories of Mexico are beset by extraction-agency projects and have suffered fatalities of their own. These shared problems underscore the reality of most of the world’s Indigenous Peoples. Yet this common ground also offers hope in a shared cause and shared strength.
With hate speech gripping Brazil, and many other countries, the dissemination of an alternative message is vital. Last month, La Marabunta delivered another international training, this time in Ecuador. Meanwhile, the InsightShare team has been busy seeding hubs across Africa in support of the Pan-African Living Cultures Alliance. We can use the La Marabunta model for connected Indigenous communities to take inspiration and courage in forging the networks of solidarity that will be so important in resisting hate and creating more hopeful futures.