The Kumiai Indians achieve a place in the Mexican Congress for the first time, but…

MEXICO.- María de los Ángeles Carrillo took possession of a congressional deputation of Baja California as a symbol. Woman, indigenous Kumiai, an ethnic group that until seven years ago was unaware of their status, directly and indirectly represents a centuries-long struggle that has cost many lives. Two of them from 2020 to date.

“It is time to make laws to prevent them from taking advantage of us,” he says in an interview with this newspaper.

The drawback is that you will have to work a long agenda in three weeks. “What is urgent in the first place is that they stop taking over our lands.”

This is not an invasion of organized crime as in other parts of Mexico, he clarifies. It is people of all kinds who have seen in indigenous vulnerability an opportunity to steal land, natural resources, water…

The Kumiai were gradually expelled from their territory since the time of the conquest. In the end, the ethnic group was relegated to southern California (San Diego) and northern Baja California in the municipalities of Tecate and Ensenada. It was separated by the border that passes through its sacred hill: the Cuchumá.

In recent times the dispossession continues. Nearly 15,000 hectares snatched piece by piece in an escalation of invasions. Now they have 3,000 hectares of communal property left that they still own. Although they do not want to recognize them.

Deputy Carrillo gained strength as an activist, among other things, for revealing to the local media the names and surnames of those who have orchestrated the illegal possession of their land for a decade.

These are businessmen and public officials in complicity to “share the loot.”

“Now we Kumiais can no longer even cut firewood for cooking because they took over everything,” he laments.

The most affected municipality is San José de la Zorra. The invasions began in 1954 with the same modus operandi: the interested parties arrive at the place and surround it. From now on nobody can take them out, nobody can enter.

Raising your voice in the municipalities where the Kumiai live is a deadly matter. In San José La Zorra there are no victims, but in others there are.

It does not matter that the “Great Masters of the Craft Heritage of Mexico 2021” live there, recognized by the Ministry of Culture. It does not matter that some of the best master craftsmen live there, such as Aurelia Ojeda, awarded the “Special Prize for the best antique salvage piece: Maija awi tipay pchow”.

Kumiai craftswoman. Photo: courtesy of Horacio González.

In the middle of last March, Patricia Rivera (61 years old) was murdered. from a shot to the head. She was a lawyer and defender of indigenous rights, mainly of the Kumiais.

He was in a meeting at his home in Tijuana when three hooded men entered and subdued the attendees. They demanded that everyone hand over her belongings and when the activist demanded that her mobile phone be returned to her, one of the criminals turned on her and shot her.

Two years ago, Óscar Eyraud, a Kumiai indigenous activist from the original towns of the municipality of Tecate, was also shot.

During the months prior to the crime, he denounced the lack of water in the community of Juntas de Nejí and the hoarding of wells by companies. Among them, the Heineken brewery for consuming millions of liters of water from wells in Tecate with the endorsement of the National Water Commission.

The modus operandi of the crime was similar to that of Patricia Rivera. An armed group broke into the house of the 34-year-old activist and attacked with long and short weapons, according to the report of the federal representative of Citizen Security and Protection in Baja California, Isaías Bertín. The murder is still not cleared up.

Óscar Eyraud was also a promoter of the autonomy of the local indigenous population. And that’s messing with the tough.

autonomy and power

Indigenous autonomy implies that the original peoples can exercise the direct budget instead of being managed by the municipality, and the political parties don’t like that because it takes power away from them,” observed Alvaro Visuet, legislative commissioner for the National Council of Native Peoples and Afro-descendants.

“This is guaranteed in Article 2 of the Constitution and in Article 69 of the International Labor Organization agreement (which Mexico signed)”.

This implies that the communities recognized as indigenous can be governed by uses and customs, determine how they want to elect their rulers and implement their own security and justice systems.

They can also choose their educational systems, media, health, housing, employment, social welfare, land management, environment, and even non-member access to their territory.

The execution of self-government is very well known in the south of the country. They have even fought for him with armed movements in Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guerrero and Michoacán. In the north, it is very different because the ethnic groups are less numerous and institutional resistance is constant.

Historian Horacio Gonzalez, president of the Baja California History Seminaryremember that it was not until 2015 that the local congress officially recognized the five indigenous ethnic groups in its territory: Kumiai, Cucapá, Paipai, Kiliwa and Chochimí.

One of the murals that currently show the diversity of Baja California. Photo: courtesy Horacio González.

“Here they were practically invisible. They were there, as if they were mestizos, without being subject to rights as native peoples. It took 13 years for them to be recognized after it was made in the federal constitution”, she specifies.

“The government of Baja California has neglected to serve the communities that are its roots. The arrival of the Kumiai deputy is an unprecedented event”.

The antiquity of the Kumiai ethnic group has historical support in an exhibition at the San Diego Museum of Man. Petroglyphs, cave paintings, astronomical maps that document their arrival in California and Baja California as eco-lectors and hunters before settling in the coastal zone 12,000 years ago.

Kumiai means “those who see the water from the cliff”.

Legislator Carrillo highlights that despite their history in the region “they always want to put them aside.”

In the 2021 elections, political parties registered as indigenous candidates for popular election positions to militants and citizens who obtained proof of ethnic identity without being indigenous. And the electoral authorities approved their registrations!

It was a trap to seize power with traps to simulate compliance with the law. An electoral reform approved at the federal and local levels obliges political parties to include indigenous candidates in their multi-member lists so that they promote laws in their favor.

To meet this requirement, mestizo and white militants from political institutions posed as Kumiais, Cucapás, Paipais, Kiliwas and Cochimís.

The Academic Advisory Group of the State Electoral Institute of Baja California found out and made a scandal. He accused several candidates of the crime of usurpation.

“Those who usurp the election positions destined for indigenous peoples and the lack of action of the electoral bodies consolidate the racism that historically and institutionally has permeated the relationship with these populations,” they warned in a public letter.

The document was signed by 16 researchers, academics and experts from the Autonomous University of Baja California and the Department of Cultural Studies of the Colegio de la Frontera Norte, among others.

The complainants demanded sanctions against those who applied as indigenous without being so. They requested the withdrawal of the candidacies and penalties for the parties and coalitions that incurred in the “usurpation action.”

The lawsuit also included an exhortation to the authorities of the ethnic groups that “given or sold letters” of recognition to those who were not indigenous. “They must become aware of the damage they are doing to their communities and remove them.”

In the original towns they said that they had forged their signatures.

In the end, the Electoral Court of Justice of Baja California canceled the candidacy of Rigoberto Campos and Adrián Gildardo González for the position of deputation by majority of proportional representation of the Partido Encuentro Social.

Rigoberto Campos (right) pretended to be an indigenous person to win the candidacy. Photo: PES.

He ordered that the Attorney General’s Office and the Electoral Crimes Office be given a hearing for impersonating indigenous people with white features.

The only authentically indigenous candidate who stayed was María de los Angeles Carrillo, for Morena. But only in substitution.

On March 16 he took possession of the seat but only for a few days. The incumbent Dunnia Montserrat Murillo requested a leave of absence until April 10, to support the consultation on matters regarding the revocation of the mandate at the national level.

The revocation of the mandate is a matter of top priority for the Morena party because citizens will be asked if they want President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to remain in office or not.

long schedule

Either way, the Kumeyas must solve their problems with or without congressional representation. Their needs are as varied as they are ancestral. Bilingual education, for example.

The law says that the State must guarantee the preservation of the original languages with classroom teaching. But in fact it does not happen, says Deputy Carrillo. “They are only given Spanish.”

The result of the simulation has been catastrophic. Currently only 14 people speak Kumiai in San José La Zorra, so the municipality is on the verge of disappearing.

Kumiai indigenous girl. Photo: courtesy Horacio González.

The Kumiai are aware that the death of a language is the end of a culture and to avoid it they look for young people to learn it. Right now they have a group of 60 interested guys.

But they want more. They have a budget that they managed to lower from the State and they are already in the first stage of creating educational content with audiovisual material in schools.

Meanwhile, they attend to health issues at the same time. In the first place because they do not want to receive them in hospitals without being entitled to social security.

The problem is not exclusive to the Kumiai, but it is there. In the middle of last year, local deputy Evelyn Sánchez, president of the Commission for Social Development and Indigenous Groups, counted 2,000 members of various ethnic groups who died from covid or diseases associated with the coronavirus.

They were not included in the vaccination program as a vulnerable group and the doctors sent them home even if they had complicated conditions in Tijuana, Valle de San Quintín and in the town of Maneadero, in the municipality of Ensenada.

Historian Horacio González observes a dissociation in Baja Californians between the reality of the indigenous and how they look at them. “They see the native peoples as something distant or as a way to profit from them.”

He gives two examples: cucapá beer and the sale of sage.

In the first case, the Cucapás do not earn anything from the sales of one of the most popular craft beers in the country. Therefore, he explains, the use of the name of the ethnic group is a cultural appropriation.

The salvia shortage is more complicated. The ancient herb used in Kumeyai ceremonies is running out. The reason is the commodification of the plant, he says.

It is promoted among the groups new age as a spiritual helper. Intermediaries buy it for 20 pesos (about a dollar) a bunch and sell it for 600 pesos (30 dollars) on the web.”

The Kumai’s challenges span the entire length of the border. The geopolitical division after the American invasion in the 19th century divided them. Some he made Americans; to others, Mexicans. They did not care because they came and went from one place to another without difficulty.

But those entry and exit permits were recently revoked at the same time that the construction of the wall began with Donald Trump and Joe Biden followed.

In 2020, the Kumiai stood in front of the machines that removed the ground in the area of ​​the municipality of Tecate. They tried to stop them while US workers placed metal sections of the wall and made topographical measurements.

They sang their ancestral songs to the rhythm of traditional instruments. Thus they invoke the right over that territory, its plants, its indigenism, its non-border and its political rights.

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