It was a warm fall day in Seattle, but K’in Bor wore a thick parka as he listened to the conference proceedings in whispered translation from English into Spanish and Mayan. K’in Bor and Manuel Chan Bor, who had never been away from their rainforest, suffered from cold, strange foods, and worry about their people at home.
K’in Bor and Manuel Chan Bor are Mayan Indians from the Lacandone Rainforest in southern Mexico. Hosted by the Lummi Indian Treaty Task Force (from near Bellingham, WA), they visited various Indian groups as part of the Lacandone Rainforest Project.
The Project exists to promote understanding of the Lacandone rainforest situation; to facilitate communication between the indigenous peoples of North America and southern Mexico; and to implement an Environmental Monitoring Program (to begin in January, 1990) to protect the Lacandone rainforest and to serve as a model for similar programs around the world.
People of Mayan descent have lived in the rainforest for over 1,500 years. Though officially recognized as a biological reserve since 1978 by the Mexican government, there is no protection for the 83,000 acre remnant of the once 2.5 million acre rainforest. Endangered species such as jaguars, howler monkeys, crocodiles, and harpy eagles – and the Mayans – are threatened as the outside world encroaches on the reserve.
The conference convened on September 23 to raise awareness and call for action. It was also a conference about reverence, and the strong feelings of a people for their own way of life and the place where they live. Prayer and song in seldom-heard languages were integral to the proceedings.
Spokespeople from tribes in Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, and British Columbia described the challenges they continually face to preserve the integrity of their cultures and environments under pressure from development – essentially the same pressures as on the Lacandone reserve.
The powerful underlying message of the conference was that indigenous peoples need to be able to determine their own affairs and help develop policy. They have wisdom, knowledge and answers to offer the predominant cultures in terms of humans’ relationship with the Earth. They ask that we learn to see with their eyes, listen with our hearts, learn to live in harmony with nature – in short, to stop our conquering ways and love this planet. The beauty and strength that emanated from the panelists as they opened their hearts to us in our mutual need was very moving, inspiring and tremendously exciting. Here in our midst is a precious source of strength and wisdom, which we need to seek out and treasure.
For more information about how you can get involved or support these projects (ask for the sample draft of a letter to the Mexican embassy urging protection of the Lacandone rainforest reserve – the approach is important) write Lisa Dabek, Lacandone Rainforest Project, PO Box 95967, Seattle, WA 98145. Tel (206) 547-2378 or Kurt Russo, Lacandone Environmental Monitoring Program, Lummi Tribe, 2616 Kwina, Bellingham, WA 98225 (206) 647-6258