In a recent week-long exchange to Nicaragua, we brought two of our Indigenous partner organizations, MUIXIL (Guatemala) and Wangki Tangni (Nicaragua) to address shared issues, learn from their peers, develop coordinated strategies for social change — and exchange modes of resistance rooted in their Peoples’ histories and cultures.
Both of their communities have experienced the devastating effects of war. Ixil Indigenous communities in Guatemala suffered genocide and brutal massacres in a war against Indigenous Peoples that the US provided millions of dollars to carry out. Around the same time, the US-sponsored Contra War in Nicaragua turned Indigenous Miskito communities into battlefields.
Both communities have survived through generations of discrimination against their Indigenous Peoples, exploitation of their resources, and marginalization. Local Indigenous women’s organizations like MUIXIL and Wangki Tangni have taken up the work to rebuild their communities. They organize to end gender violence and fight for environmental justice. They bring community members together and organize to promote and maintain a sustainable peace.
Importantly, our convening centered learning, community-building and resistance through cultural exchange.
Indigenous Peoples and their heritage have long been under attack. Reclaiming traditional and cultural knowledge is a form of resistance. In this exchange, the women of MUIXIL and Wangki Tangni ensured spaces to celebrate their Indigenous identity and build relationships organically with one another. For many of the participants, this initiative was the first time they met other Indigenous women leaders from outside of their communities. It was an opportunity to recognize the similarities of their experiences: which includes a history of colonization and confronting resource extraction.
Otilia Lux de Coti, Indigenous rights advocate and a key advisor for MADRE’s programs in Guatemala, led a workshop on Indigenous identity. In this workshop, everyone was asked two key questions: “What is identity?” and “What are some factors to strengthen our identity?” Otilia guided the women through a process connecting the personal to the political. Together, they linked women’s personal experiences to the human rights of Indigenous Peoples, self-determination and the necessity to preserve cultural identity.
Rivers are sacred spaces for many Indigenous communities in this region, because they are believed to have healing properties as well as ancestral significance. Wangki Tangni brought everyone to their river for a healing ceremony. They offered this as a way to provide moral support, help women overcome the impacts of violence, and heal from grief.
Throughout the week, impromptu moments between the groups sparked new connections. A young Ixil woman with MUIXIL taught Miskito women how to weave solidarity bracelets! This unplanned moment revealed a genuine friendship flourishing between the women of both organizations. They aligned on a personal level and worked together to create a physical representation of a growing bond.