Indigenous people come together


Chiapas Media Project unites the oppressed

RAPID CITY, S.D. -- The Zapatistas have gone from warriors with guns to
warriors with cameras and computers in a new chapter of resistance against
an oppressive government.

Autonomy in the indigenous communities in Mexico is the goal -- and that
goal is moving along, according to Paco Vazquez, member of the newly formed
Chiapas Media Project.

Indigenous governments -- the "Councils of Good Government" or assemblies
-- are one element in the governance of Chiapas and other communities in
Mexico. The object is indigenous justice: sometimes through adaptations of
ancient ways, other times adhering to tradition. The movement is growing,
Vazquez said.

The movement grew out of need; criminals robbed and looted villages with
virtually no opposition or help from the Mexican government, so the people
took the matter into their own hands. And as video produced and distributed
by the Chiapas Media Project shows, the people have been effective in
lowering the violence against them.

The Chiapas Media Project was conceived to support the new resistance. A
bi-national partnership that provides video equipment, computers and
training, it enables marginalized indigenous communities in southern Mexico
to create their own media. Since the project began in 1998, instructors
have worked in close harmony with autonomous Zapatista communities.

The videos are used as educational tools as well as deterrents to violence:
traditional Zapatista men created a video that teaches about the music of
the culture. Another community, Guerrero, developed a video that relates
how they stopped government-sanctioned violence with traditional police and

Vazquez came to the northern regions to meet with members of Owe Aku,
"Bring Back the Way," on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

"It is important for indigenous people to work together to establish and
maintain a collaborative relationship because we share the same living
conditions in the Western Hemisphere -- extreme poverty, poor health,
control by outside regulations/laws, short life-pans, high infant mortality
rates, disastrously high suicide rates, homicide rates, and cultural
deprivation through the desecration of our sacred sites and treaty rights
and the many other social problems associated with living in an oppressed
society," said Debra White Plume, director of Owe Aku.

The successes of the Chiapas Media Project are being closely watched by
American Indian tribes as a possible means of providing education to the
American Indian and non-Indian communities, as seen from the inside.

The community of Guerrero was successful in stopping Boise Cascade from
uncontrolled logging. An organization named Campesino Environmentalists,
formed in 1996, led the attack against the forest product company with help
from the Chiapas Media Project. As a result, some of their leaders were
jailed and tortured.

The video "Defending the Forests," produced by the media project, played an
integral part in the international campaign to free Rodolfo Montiel Flores
and Teodoro Cabrera Garcia.

"It is used for instruction of the indigenous people. We have the power of
the media. We help people have access to cameras to give information on
economics and politics," Vazquez said. "The elders teach the young through
the media."

Resistance to the Lakota is no stranger. In 1973 the American Indian
Movement occupied Wounded Knee in protest to violence erupting on the Pine
Ridge Reservation, violence directed mostly against traditional people.

"Our people have struggled a long time, and over here in South Dakota a lot
of people remember Wounded Knee in 1890. A lot of people think after that,
our struggle and life ended. Many people said that was the final Indian
war," said Carter Camp, Southern Ponca and a member of AIM who was at
Wounded Knee in 1973.

"When the people of Chiapas rose up in 1994, Indian people in this country
felt good: we felt powerful and empowered," Camp said.

Not only are allies being made in Chiapas, but in Canada, Peru, Bolivia and
Cuba as well, Camp said. He added that almost everywhere, indigenous people
are rising up.

The struggles in Chiapas and Guerrero -- the second-poorest community in
Mexico -- are getting gaining public attention through the Chiapas Media
Project. American Indian organizations like Owe Aku are looking at the
methods used by the project to educate the general public and American
Indian communities.

Vazquez said there was very little resistance and no retaliation from the
government about the media project. He said if the military or any
oppressor comes to the communities, the cameras (which are visible) have
acted as a deterrent to violence since 2001.

Mexican President Vicente Fox claimed to bring a solution for Chiapas,
Vazquez said, but the government is still trying to divide the communities.
The government has also declined to accept the agreement made by the
communities to form the Good Government Assembly. Forty-eight communities
are involved.

Thus the need for the media project, as the videos instruct the communities
about the assemblies.

"To be free and find real liberty and justice will take a lot of time,"
Vazquez said.