Local Nebraska Organizations Celebrate with Maya Forest Gardener Receiving University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) Chancellor’s Medal in Support of Ancient Indigenous Farming Lessons for Agriculture
Omaha, Nebraska, February 7, 2023 – An Omaha Delegation made up of Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim (CMPI) and RegeNErate Nebraska, traveled last month to University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) in support of Maya Regeneration Project partner, Maya Master Forest Gardener Narciso Torres of Belize who received the Chancellor’s Medal, the university’s top medal that has not been awarded in over thirty years, on January 12, 2023. While academic research often relies on community participation, it is rare that individuals and communities are recognized by academia for their contributions, especially contributions of Indigenous communities. Mr. Torres is the first Indigenous “citizen scientist” to receive this award by UCSB.
“It is an honor and pleasure to bestow the Chancellor’s Medal of the University of California, Santa Barbara, on Master Forest Gardener Narciso Torres,” said Dr. Henry T Yang, UCSB Chancellor . “For four decades, he has collaborated with Dr. Anabel Ford and the research team at El Pilar to help us understand the nature of ancient Maya settlement patterns and land use, the rich cultural and ecological heritage of the El Pilar site, and its lessons for sustainability and conservation today.”
Mr. Torres was accompanied by a delegation from Maya Territory Belize including Spiritual Authority Felicita Cantu. Other dignitaries accompanying Mr. Torres at this historic event included the President of the Garifuna Nation and the Ambassador at Large of the Garifuna Nation.
Maya Forest Gardening refers to the practice of cultivating food, medicine, and materials within the existing ecosystem of the rainforest, which increased its resilience to historical changes in climate while providing all household necessities for ancient populations. A key element of the Maya Forest Gardening system is the Milpa Cycle, a complex sequence that alternates between cultivated fields and forest gardens that builds a useful cropscape that can sustain human life and maintain the biodiversity of the forest. For more than 8,000 years Maya agronomists created plant varieties of unequaled quality by combining science with selective plant breeding within this Forest Gardening context. These millenia of care and cultivation gave humanity dozens of transformative food sources such as corn, beans, squash tomatoes, cacao (chocolate) and even peanuts, that eventually spread across the globe.
Continuing the traditions passed down from his ancestors, Torres and other Maya Forest Gardeners’ practice builds fertility, reduces erosion, lowers temperatures, conserves water and increases biodiversity. Based on Dr. Ford’s research, she believes we can learn from the Maya Forest Gardners to confront our current environmental and agricultural issues.
“We are losing so much,” said Torres of the plant species he cultivates, which are often depleted by industrial agriculture operations. “We are destroying them with chemicals. We are using things that are not Mother Nature.” Yet he remains jovial and hopeful, explaining, “We want to see a better life for our future generations.”
Local Maya Leader and Co-Executive Director of CMPI, Luis Marcos shares that, “There are common challenges that Maya farmers in Central America and all young and new farmers have with gaining stable access to land. The Maya community in Nebraska is eager to grow permanent roots in Nebraska and the Maya Regeneration Project represents our Maya vision of food sovereignty for our community and practicing regenerative agriculture to ensure soil, water, and human health are protected.”
The public is invited to learn more about the Maya Regeneration Project and local collaborative efforts to uplift Indigenous-led agriculture and regenerative practices in Nebraska at a public event featuring two films about the local Q’anjob’al Maya, tribal communities in the U.S., and non-Indigenous farmers implementing regenerative agriculture to improve soil, water, and human health, “Maya Regeneration Project: Healing Water, Soil, and Humanity” Co-Directed by Katie Schuler and “Farm Free or Die” Directed by Roger Sorkin on Tuesday, March 21, 6pm-7:30pm, Film Streams' Ruth Sokolof Theater, 1340 Mike Fahey St, Omaha, NE 68102. Reserve your ticket here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/premiere-screening-maya-regeneration-project-tickets-533780721507
About the Maya Regeneration Project
We are the land, the land is us. The mission of this project is to anchor the Q’anjob’al community’s ancient relationship with the land, create employment, build collective wealth, ensure access to healthy food, restore traditions and culture, and support holistic physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.
In order to achieve this mission we hope to establish a profitable regenerative poultry, agroforestry, and value-added farm operation on 400-600 acres of land within 60 miles of Omaha. The Maya Q’anjob’al people possess profound wisdom and agricultural knowledge and have forged meaningful connections with other Indigenous groups in Nebraska. But we are also a displaced Indigenous people, and many of us live in economic poverty. We propose combining this Indigenous wisdom and knowledge with recent advancements in regenerative agriculture to create a food production system that will provide healthy, local food, lift Maya people out of poverty in Nebraska in our traditional homeland, and contribute to broad economic development.
About Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim
Founded in 2006 by Q’anjoba’l Maya in Omaha, Nebraska, Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim’s mission is to improve the health and well-being of Mayan people through community development strategies in Omaha, Nebraska, the United States, and Q’anjob’al Maya territory consistent with the Q’anjob’al Maya system of social organization, in honorable relationships with U.S. sovereign tribal nations, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN DRIP).
About RegeNErate Nebraska
RegeNErate Nebraska is a hub designed to collaborate and build a unified and intersectional regenerative movement. RegeNErate Nebraska’s mission is to regenerate our communities from the soil up by ensuring more Nebraskans have access to the networks, tools, and technical assistance to implement and advance an ethical, equitable, economical, and ecological agricultural system that is built by and serves all Nebraskans. The RegeNErate Nebraska network includes farmers and ranchers, Tribes, urban farmers, regenerative supply chain businesses, small processors and meatpackers, young people and prospective farmers, food consumers, community leaders and organizations, policy leaders, and allied organizations.
Omaha, NE - Today, Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim (CMPI), an organization founded and led by Maya and Indigenous people based in Omaha, NE and Maya Territories in Guatemala, condemns the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Migrant Protection Protocols. Though the Biden Administration had ended the much-hated policy, the court’s decision will force its reinstatement while it is challenged in lower courts.
“The Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as the “Remain in Mexico” program, was always illegal and born from racism and colonial interests. We are disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision to force the Biden Administration to reinstate it. This ruling puts thousands of asylum seekers, many of whom are Indigenous, in grave danger. We call on the U.S. to end the cruel and inhumane MPP that traps Indigenous people at the Mexican border where we are the most vulnerable to violence by organized crime and Mexican police. We also call on the US to stop creating the situations that displace us from our ancestral lands and force us to flee in the first place.” said Carolina Martin Ramos, Co-Executive Director of CMPI.
Since its founding in 2007, CMPI has worked for the sovereignty and well-being of Maya people in Omaha, NE. In 2013, it began its Maya human rights program with the goal of protecting the rights of Maya people in the US and in Maya territories currently occupied by the state of Guatemala. CMPI staff and volunteers provide legal representation and advocate for policies that recognize Maya and other Indigenous Peoples’ inalienable rights and rights under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“We as Indigenous People are forced to flee our ancestral homelands and seek asylum because occupying settler colonial states including the U.S. protect the transnational extractive industries and other business interests that criminalize, torture, and kill our people when we assert our inherent rights and rights under international human rights law. Instead of the illegal and immoral MPP, we demand protocols that support our right to stay home in our ancestral lands where we have lived since time immemorial.” said Luis Marcos, Co-Executive Director of CMPI and Spiritual and Political Authority with the Q’anjob’al Maya Government.
In the most remote parts of Guatemala and around the world, solidarity is crucial to overcoming challenges and rebuilding life after disasters. Such is the case in the parts of Maya Territory ravaged by hurricanes Eta and Iota last year. Several Q'anjob'al, Chuj and Akateka Maya communities were partially or even totally destroyed, and residents were forced to leave their homes and take refuge with relatives or in shelters to survive.
Coordinating with the Ancestral Plurinational Q'anjob'al, Chuj and Akateko Government, CMPI was able to quickly reach the affected communities, collect data, and immediately know the conditions on the ground and what the communities needed.
With this information, and the generous support of Global Giving, we were able to buy corn, beans, rice, personal hygiene products and other basics. With these resources, we helped ensure that the basic food needs of 1967 people in eight communities were met for two months after the disaster. 65% of those served are adolescents and children.
With the funds, we also contributed to the restoration of a 300-meter section of road, which had been completely covered with earth as a result of a landslide caused by heavy rains, blocking access to three communities of San Pedro Soloma. The restoration of this road benefited about 1,500 people. Several houses lost their roofs in the twin storms, and we were also able to provide some families with metal sheets to rebuild their homes and move back into them
The passage of storms Eta and Iota through Mayan territory has been painful and challenging for those who lived through it. But it has been less painful thanks to the support received from all the good-hearted people who have contributed to this cause. We at Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim are deeply grateful for the solidarity of everyone who donated through Global Giving and Global Giving itself for their gifts to this much needed humanitarian work.
At the beginning of this project, we proposed focusing our training of ancestral medicine on women. However, the community requested that we expand it out to include men. In order to respect their autonomy, the project is now being directed at five men and seven women between the ages of 13 and 58. This diversification of ages is an opportunity to exchange the knowledge that already exists about Mayan medicine, strengthen it, and guarantee its continuity for generations.
Of seven planned modules, two have been carried out. These include 1) The history of Mayan medicine in indigenous peoples, and 2) The Mayan cosmogony and its relationship with Mayan medicine. These topics have strengthened the foundation of this ancient knowledge in the participants.
In most Mayan communities of Guatemala, the participation of women is minimal, since domestic responsibilities almost always fall on them, which makes it difficult for them to fully participate in different processes that benefit their family, their community, and themselves. At Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim, we know that the training of men and women is essential to collaborate in the construction of a society that offers equal conditions between genders. For this reason, in carrying out the modules of the Ancestral Medicine Project, we have created a space for the attention and care of the children of the participants with a person in charge of the space. In this way, the care of the participants’ five children is not an obstacle to their participation and learning.
In order for the training process on Mayan medicine to have a greater impact, and to deepen and provide more knowledge to the participants, we have had the collaboration of two experts on the subject, both of Q'eqchi Mayan origin. To ensure that language is not a barrier between the instructors and participants, we had the support of an interpreter. The information provided in the workshops is being collected and systematized for future learning.
Recently, in Guatemala, new prevention measures have been issued due to the COVID-19 pandemic, suspending face-to-face learning. However, we believe that now more than ever we must strengthen knowledge about our millennial health system, so we are looking into continuing the process virtually.
For this project to have life, it is counting on the support of a team of five people as well as the Project Coordinator of the Maya Pixan Ixim Community in the Mayan territory. This work is made possible through the generosity of our donors.
\It is incredible to see how a small action can have big impacts in a community, especially when that community is geographically isolated, but powerfully organized.
As part of the support and accompaniment that we are providing to the community of Blanca Flor, located 15 kilometers up a dirt road in the department of Huehuetenango, Guatemala, on April 13 we delivered a computer, a printer, a desk, and an office chair to furnish a community office. This donation was in response to a request from the community and is part of the project to acquire solar panels to provide electricity to 55 families.
You can support this project by donating today.
In the community assembly in which the equipment was handed off, an elected community representative explained what a difference this office equipment would make for them. It will transform an empty room in this isolated village into a community controlled non-profit organization. It will enable them to do basic, but crucial things like create documents, communicate with others, store important files and facilitate several projects, including that of the solar panels. In his speech, the representative offered deep thanks to Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim and our donors for making this possible.
Members of the Ancestral Plurinational Government of the Q'anjob'al, Chuj and Akateko nations, a close partner of ours, traveled with us to Blanca Flor. They had agreed to accompany us and also took advantage of the occasion to meet with the community to discuss strategies to move forward this project and to strengthen the autonomy of the territory. They also provided training for the members of the Board of Directors of the community association as part of a process of leadership development offered by the Ancestral Government.
Fortunately, the current lack of electricity in the community will not prevent the use of the equipment, as they’ve secured a diesel generator to power it. However, the community is excited for the day when they will be able to power these tools and so many others with clean, renewable, solar energy.
An update on CMPI’s Maya Health in Maya Territory Initiative
We believe that everyone should have access to quality, culturally appropriate health care, regardless of their location, nationality or language. This is why we launched our Maya Health in Maya Territory Initiative in September of 2020. Unfortunately, since its launch, Maya Territory, already heavily affected by COVID-19, was ravaged by two powerful hurricanes just a week apart which destroyed homes and buried entire communities. Responding to that disaster and the needs of its victims unfortunately delayed the launch of this project.
Nonetheless, from January 8-9 of this year, our Director of Programs in Maya Territory met with the Plurinational Ancestral Akateko, Chuj and Q’anjob’al Government, our primary partner in this project, to re-evaluate the project and its beneficiary communities in light of the new context. After in-depth analysis, we concluded that the disaster underscored the urgent need to strengthen our ancestral life systems. We also decided that the health project will be carried out in the K’isil community, which sits 13 kilometers southeast of the municipality of San Juan Ixcoy, Huehuetenango and which was heavily damaged by the hurricanes.
During the meeting, project funds were used to hire two women to prepare the participants’ meals, offering each of them two days of work and much needed income.
The next step of this project is a training process for a group of community medicinal plant practitioners, consisting of six modules over three months. Each module will last two days. The group is made up of 15 women who have excelled in the science of ancient medicine.
In order to analyze this process, at the end of it, we will ask the women how they feel, what the experience has been like, what they have recovered of ancestral medicinal practices, and what they have learned from others. We will also ask them about their expectations for the future, specifically, with the tools they have, how they visualize their work and their lives going forward.
You can help us achieve our dream of accessible, appropriate health care in Maya Territory by donating through Global Giving here.
The science of medicine has been developed in all civilizations to preserve health and life. Its evolution required long processes of experimentation with the properties of natural elements and in this way identifying cures for each illness.
In the Akateko, Chuj, and Q’anjob’al nations, situated in the northern department of Huehuetenango, as in the whole of the Maya territory, the majority of this ancestral medical knowledge has been preserved. This includes various specialties: the use of plants, animals, fruits, rocks as well as physical therapy, hydro therapy and therapeutic touch, amongst others.
There has been much lost from these disciplines, but at the limits of western science, this ancestral knowledge begins, and in various spaces there is a combination of both. For example, in Jolom Konob, the capital of the Q’anjob’al Maya Nations, known now as the municipality of Santa Eulalia, Huehuetenango, there is a birth house in one of the communities that includes services using modern and ancestral technology.
This is why Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim’s health project in Maya Territory will not only bring western doctors to underserved indigenous communities in Northwestern Guatemala, but will also promote the use of Maya medicine along with western medicine. Through centuries of colonization, indigenous medicine has been disparaged, and its practitioners persecuted. Yet it continues to thrive.
And in fact, in Q’anjob’al, Chuj and Akateko territory, ancestral medicine has seen a new resurgence because of the increase in illnesses among vulnerable populations and the absence of the state in attending to them. Each mother and father in each home knows how to cure at least ten illnesses or disorders with natural elements. They also know community members, Mayan doctors, who have received their wisdom from their parents and ancestors, and who offer their services to the community.
In addition, seven out of ten births in this region are attended to by indigenous midwives, called comadronas or parteras, while only two out of ten decide that they need a hospital and one out of ten, a doctor. This reality shows how crucial this ancient medical knowledge is and how much confidence people in this region have in it.
The COVID-19 pandemic in many ways has been a mirror that has shown people the fact that the Guatemalan state is in no condition to attend to basic needs, and people have found themselves abandoned in an incredibly difficult situation. As infections in the region began to rise, from the people came a proposition–using a combination of medicinal plants to treat and survive this new and unknown illness, like people survived measles, smallpox and other endemic diseases.
The Plurinational Government of the Akateko, Chuj and Q’anjob’al people worked with the Health Ministry to put together a manual of how to treat mild cases of COVID-19 using plants and foods that most people could easily access.
This ancestral knowledge, especially of medicine, is fundamentalto save lives and strengthening it is imperative because it is the only way to ensure the health of people in this isolated region. Will you support our work to preserve this knowledge, combine it with western medicine and bring it to thousands? We can’t do it without you. Please consider donating today.