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To Go Forth and to Return: Salute to Victor Montejo

Author:

It is the call of nature to many Native men and women, particularly those
who have gone out into the world and lived dedicated professional lives,
that they return again and again to their peoples. To go forth into the
world and return to source, and particularly to return to serve, holds
formidable dignity and strength in American Indian tradition.

Thus we salute our friend and colleague, Dr. Victor Montejo,
Jacalteco-Maya, a fellow flyer of the four directions and a man whose
career has been a vanguard against the many dangers and attacks discharged
upon our Indian peoples. Dr. Montejo, renowned novelist and social
scientist, has left a prestigious academic perch in North America to dive
into the work of reforming and redirecting a good piece of Guatemalan
government policy on indigenous peoples and their communities.

After his exile from Guatemala in the early 1980s, Montejo traveled widely
in the North American Indian country. He was immediately involved in
serious debate representing the human rights concerns of Maya refugees in
Chiapas, but he also engaged the issues of the Northern tribes. Arriving in
North America, Montejo was received by families of the Haudenosaunee in
formal ceremony, at the Maryland airport where the family landed. The two
young Maya children that reciprocated with their own traditional dance at
that ceremony in the winter of 1984 are today full-grown professionals in
medicine and education. The young teacher who was their father went on to
write a famous novel, obtain a Ph.D. in anthropology, and become a major
university professor.

Even by the summer of 1984, Montejo was involved and present at the
founding in Pennsylvania of the Native American Press (later Journalists)
Association, at various points addressing the assembled Indian journalists
on historical and political questions. We can remember a South Dakota
conference, how naturally he went into sweat-lodge with the people. In
Oklahoma in 1992, he addressed the Native creative writers at the "Return
of the Gift" conference, also reading from his fictional works.

In 1995, when the Cornell think-tank that produced Native Americas magazine
gathered its Editorial Advisory Board, including such North American Native
luminaries as John Mohawk, Charlotte Heth, Dave Warren and Vine Deloria
Jr., the nomination of Victor Montejo was easily accepted. Montejo's signal
essay published in the magazine in 1995 has become an important road map to
what he called, "the tortuous journey to reconciliation," required by his
embattled country of Guatemala.

Montejo, the novelist, has been called the Alexander Solchenitzin of
Guatemala. His sincere, simple and finely-written novel transcended the
testimony genre and became literature in much the same way as the great
Russian's "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch." Montejo's prose truly
describes the psychological and physical torment of those horrible years
and raises an eloquent voice of conscience. Montejo has written widely and
for many years has circled back among his displaced and traumatized people,
in Mexico and in the Guatemalan highlands. More recently, he started
educational and production projects in his home region of Jacaltenango,
while on summer leaves from his teaching assignments in North America.

Wrote Montejo, the essayist, in 1995:

"Slowly, after many years of imposed silence, the Maya voice is emerging in
Guatemala. More and more villages are gaining title to communal lands ...
Hundreds of Maya projects and dozens of nongovernmental organizations are
working with Maya producers and even the traditional Maya religion,
underground for centuries, is now featured in public ceremonies in
Guatemala City. As primary stakeholders in the quest for peace, the Maya
population's participation is crucial to the articulation of a
comprehensive vision of reconstruction."

Nine years after writing those words, Montejo is living again in Guatemala,
where he runs for national congressional office and wins; then, tapped by
the new president of the republic, he is now within the presidential
circle, running his own cabinet-level secretariat. In Guatemala, this is no
small thing, no small sacrifice. Just two years ago, a bishop who issued a
human rights report critical of the army was brutally murdered. Last week,
the president himself formally received the human rights report. The moment
is ripe for good leaders to emerge and engage the political machinery to
open avenues to the yearning masses of Guatemalans wanting freedom from
fear and the option to prosper.

Montejo, the poet, surveys the terrain in his poem, "Remembrance," and
calls on the ancients:

"If our ancestors came to life
They'd surely give us, their descendants
Thirteen lashes for being
Sleepwalkers and conformists
They always advised us
To struggle, build and forge ahead
So that no one's left behind,
And no one's forgotten by his brothers ..."

As always we support courage and integrity in leadership. We salute and
support the work of our best people when they reverse the trend and return
home to help their people. As a newspaper of record in Indian North
America, Indian Country Today will continue to monitor the new Peace
Secretary's well-being, hopeful of his approach to the new potentials that
the new government brings to the Guatemalan population.

In Guatemala, nothing is certain. After all, some of the same people who
carried out the massacres are still in positions of authority. The desire
is to move forward cautiously, to do the positive beyond the recrimination
that can bring further conflict. By the inclusion of indigenous
intellectuals like Dr. Victor Montejo in its government, Guatemala grows; a
ray of light appears in the distance; the nation known as "the land of
eternal hope," can perhaps indeed hope again.