Running For Their Lives
Logging Story 74

Running For Their Lives

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John Ahni Schertow
December 13, 2008
 

The Raramuri, sometimes called “Tarahumara” are said to be one of the few indigenous nations in North America to continue living the life of their ancestors, in the forests and mountains of Northern Mexico.

They are known throughout the world as being “long distance runners” — a skill they’ve developed over centuries of living in the Sierra Madre, where they retreated five hundred centuries ago to evade the conquistadors — and, in more recent times, by chasing down mountain goats and deer.

Faced with the destruction of their way of life, the Raramuri today have chosen not to run as their ancestors once did. Instead, they have chosen to stand and fight the government officials, logging corporations, police, and the druglords who threaten their way of life—as Ryan B. Wylie explores in his 8-minute documentary, “Running For Their Lives.”

The documentary focuses on the Choreachi, one of the most remote Raramuri communities in the Sierra Madre.

A few years ago, logging companies “altered maps and boundaries—going so far as to move two mountains on a fradulent official map—in order to obtain logging permits to clearcut the forests of Choreachi,” says Wylie. “The Mexican environmental agency—SEMARNAT—rubber-stamped the permits in 2006.”

“With the help of the Sierra Madre Alliance, a nonprofit focused on defending Raramuri lands and rights, the Raramuri filed a lawsuit last year, which temporarily suspended the logging at Choreachi. They currently await trial, where they will have to contend with decades of fraudulent documents and decisions that have prevented legal recognition of Raramuri land rights.”

The situation is worse in other parts of the Sierra Madre. For instance, in Colorados de la Virgen, drug lords have killed leaders and, like the logging companies, falsified documents in order to seize control of Raramuri lands. There are also reports that the drug lords have forced slave labour on the community, and sexually terrorized women and children.

“Yet one thing is clear,” say Wylie. “The Raramuri know how to endure. Their quiet determination may enable them to overcome the enormous odds. And their tight-knit sense of community may empower them to unite and become politically active. With over 60,000 people, they are the second-largest indigenous group in Mexico.”

“Most importantly, they are deeply, intensely connected to their lands. That connection could be their source of strength—both personally and politically—in the years ahead.

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