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Mayans Rise Up on Multiple Fronts

featured image: Protestors in Guatemala City try to tear down the statue of Christopher Columbus on Avenida de las Americas on Oct. 12, 2021.

Working to forge indigenous solidarity south and north regardless of borders, two Maya leaders seeking asylum in the US, Kaxh Mura’l (Gaspar Cobo) and La’s Chávez (Francisco Chávez) held a national press conference in anticipation of Indigenous People’s Day, October 12th.  Kaxh and La’s are two lead protagonists in our documentary in progress, Borderland, where the idea of organizing in the largely unknown Maya diaspora in the U.S. plays out.

Kaxh and La’s assert that they didn’t seek asylum in the U.S. to pursue the American Dream, but rather to continue their advocacy in defense of their ancestral lands. They describe how protecting their communities’ ecosystems benefits people everywhere. Their efforts are on behalf of the entire planet. Telling the story of their forced displacement after having been threatened with death in Guatemala, they cite the new Global Witness report stating that 2020 with increased violence including murder, was the worst year for human rights and environmental defenders since they started keeping record in 2012. You can watch the entire press conference here (in Spanish).  

And as we send out this email, the Guatemalan government has sent in armed forces and declared a state of siege in El Estor, Guatemala where non-violent protests by Maya-Q’eqchi’ land defenders against the mining company CNG are ongoing. You can support the People’s Defensora Q’eqchi’ communities directly with a donation via this GoFundMe campaign set up during the protests. 

Despite violent actions by the state in Guatemala, solidarity and honoring of indigenous people is strengthening. The people have renamed October 12th, Day of Indigenous, Black and People’s Resistance (Día de la Resistencia Indígena, Negra y Popular). Across Latin America, there is a movement to take down Columbus statues, a process that has a kinship in the movements to take down confederate monuments across the United States. As one protestor at the Guatemala City statue takedown said, “Why would you ever want to honor a murderer, a torturer, the one who enslaved us and tried to destroy our culture?”

Passing it On: Interview with Brooke Swaney

Daughter of a Lost Bird protagonist and co-producer Kendra Mylnechuk Potter in conversation with her mother. Photo courtesy Brooke Pepion Swaney

Our newest “Passing it On” interview is with Native American filmmaker Brooke Pepion Swaney whose film Daughter of a Lost Bird tells the story of  Kendra Mylnechuk Potter, a Native woman adopted into a white family, as she finds her birth mother April, also a Native adoptee, and returns to her Native homelands. I met Brooke at the inaugural Woodstock Film Festival Filmmaker’s Residency/Incubator earlier this year where I served as a  mentor. Read our conversation.

Ford Foundation Honors Two Guatemalan Artist-Advocates

left:Andrea Ixchíu; right: Sara Curruchich

This week, longtime Skylight collaborators Andrea Ixchíu and Sara Curruchich were both awarded a Ford Foundation Global Fellowship. Through the establishment of the fellowship, the Ford Foundation noted that “to create a more equitable world, we must support emerging leaders from communities closest to the problems—the tenacious individuals with the deepest knowledge of the issues and the boldest ideas for building a brighter future.” Among their many talents, Andrea is a charismatic protagonist in 500 YEARS and Sara wrote and performed the rousing song “Children of the Earth” in the film. Congratulations to them both!

Smithsonian’s “Futures We Dream” Premieres Next Month

The featured activists, artists and collaborators on our short film “Tiichajil_Good Life” for the Smithsonian film series “Futures We Dream”. L – R: Francisco Chávez, Giovanni Batz, Gaspar Cobo, Saba.

Our original short film, Tiichajil_Good Life, commissioned by the Smithsonian Institution will premiere at the opening of their FUTURES exhibit the weekend of November 19-21, 2021. The film was made in collaboration with members of the Maya diaspora in the U.S. In it, an artist and his friends imagine an indigenous future. We will be releasing the film simultaneously with the Smithsonian. Stay tuned!

Pamela Yates

Pamela Yates is a an award-winning filmmaker and co-founder/Creative Director of Skylight Pictures, a company dedicated to creating feature length documentary films and digital media tools that advance awareness of human rights and the quest for justice by implementing multi-year outreach campaigns designed to engage, educate and activate social change.

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