State funded Maori education providers have sent groups of young Maori overseas for indoctrination in revolutionary ideas.
One organisation involved is the Otaki based Te Wananga O Raukawa.
In late 2004, a group of TWR’s young Maori students participated in an overseas educational trip sponsored by a US based organisation, the International Honors Program
On each of IHP’s study abroad programs, a relatively small group of students and faculty will travel together to several different countries. The group will spend between four and eight weeks in each country while examining issues related to the program theme. The exploration of issues will involve direct contact and interaction with local experts, activists, educators, community members, public figures, and leaders of various government and community organizations.
Sounds great, until you realise that IHP seems to be focused on exposing youngsters in its charge to third world revolutionaries and radical “indigenous” movements.
TRW’s team met up with kids from several other countries. They travelled to rural southern Mexico-home of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.
This the story of their trip, with some commentary from me.
November 5th was the longest Friday of our lives: it lasted precisely 40 hours and 23 seconds. We chased the sun around the world from New Zealand to arrive in LA where New Zealand Airlines greeted us…several of us encountered the toughest (and rudest) immigration process as of yet. Those of us who made it through customs frantically dashed to our gate just in time.
Unfortunately, five people were “randomly” searched and missed the flight…Sam was detained for six hours and questioned by the authorities. Fortunately IHP staff from Boston intervened and he was graciously allowed by the US Government to proceed to Mexico on grounds of “humanitarian parole.”
After our layover in Bush International Airport in Houston, the first round of our fragmented group safely arrived in Oaxaca, Mexico on our second night November 5th.
The next morning, we finally met the legendary Gustavo Esteva, IHP Mexico faculty coordinator. Lucano, one of the members of the IHP Mexico Team who is also from India, led us to La Universidad de la Tierra (UniTierra), a small building filled with beautiful people and radical ideas.
Gustavo Esteva is no low level functionary. A former underground guerilla in the Che Guevara era, Esteva joined the Mexican government in 1965 to run the large aid and development programmes.
After a change of government Esteva was offered a ministerial post but declined. After meeting anarchist educationalist Ivan Illich, Esteva founded the radical University de la Tierra in Oaxaca, Southern mexico.
He has been a key figure in founding several Mexican, Latin American and International NGOs and networks.
Esteva was president of the 5th World Rural Sociology Congress. He was also president of the Mexican Society of Planning, vice-president of the Inter-American Society of Planning and served as board Member and interim chairman of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.
In 1996 he was invited to become an official advisor to the Zapatista rebels in their negotiations with the Mexican government.
Explained simply, the University de la Tierra is a school with no classes, no lectures, and no professors. Graduates receive no diploma, but rather knowledge and strong connections. The university is a space dedicated to facilitating the process of learning through real life experience….
The next morning, reunited again, we were introduced to Gustavo’s radical ideas and those of the Zapatistas. The entire week was filled with hours of lectures, discussions, debates, and questions. During these sessions, our assumptions, beliefs, values and experiences were thrown into a new light for re-evaluation. Every afternoon we left feeling more mentally exhausted than sleep could repair.
Sleep deprivation, hours and hours of lectures on revolutionary ideas. Sounds a bit like China during the Cultural Revoltion or Cambodia under Pol Pot, doesn’t it?
We were educated in the idea of education. Does institutionalised education perpetuate an unjust system? From the perspective of many indigenous people in Mexico, the education system estranges them from their culture, teaching them only one perspective.
We explored alternative types of education, confirming that learning does not only take place in the classroom. This resonated with us, seeing as we have struggled throughout the trip to channel our real-life experiences into academic papers. With all these things on our minds, we split up and travelled to three different villages where we would spend the next ten days.
What effect would this type of “education” have on teenage kids, or young adults?
During our down time we watched many educational movies made by and for the community including one on AIDS, dry toilets, and their trash problem…
Fernando returned to Yavesia Wednesday to talk to us about the communal philosophy of life that revolves around the community’s unique cosmovision. He emphasised the four “pillars” of the village social organization—communal territory, communal authority, communal work, and communal fiestas. We learned about the difference between obligations and rights and how this distinction operates in Yavesia: before one can expect the right to use the village resources, one must fulfil his or her tequio, or obligations toward the community.
Sound a little like socialism to you?
On Friday, some of us went to our family’s milpa and helped harvest corn and other vegetables, while others made tortillas, learned about daily activities, or sat by the sunny stream to read or write. The next day we watched as the children dressed up in their revolutionary costumes to celebrate Dia de la Revolucion.
Throughout our stay, we ate, slept, worked, and played with families who were part of the village authority. Each day we were split into rotating teams and would accompany a different family in their daily routine; then at night we met with the communal land and municipal authorities to discuss the day’s events. Many of the people of Yagavila grow coffee (some organic) and then sell it through several coffee cooperatives that ensure the farmers receive fair pay in exchange for their labour.
Good clean indoctrination.
So began our week of discussions processing the last villages stays and gearing up for the Zapatistas. We discussed with Gustavo many of the philosophical dilemmas we found ourselves in, not only in the Mexican villages, but throughout the trip as a whole. What kind of development is okay, if any? How do you experience the otherness of the other while suspending judgement, and is that possible? Does the idea of “poverty” imply a value judgement? Is human rights a Western concept? And what exactly is our purpose on this trip?
Human rights a “Western concept“? What is being implied here?
We were face to face with the difference between tolerance and respect. At this point Gustavo brought forth the concept of Radical Pluralism, which basically allows for the existence of many world-views and cosmovisions in a non-dominating, non-hierarchical way. It entails an openness and respect toward other beliefs and truths, but not the abandonment of one’s own. While many of us admired the concept in theory, we struggled with how to live it ourselves in reality. Gustavo, as always, told us not to think too much, but promised an embodiment of Radical Pluralism in the Zapatista communities we would soon visit .
Radical Pluralism has been defined as the presence of conflicting systems of thought in a person’s mind. It is a philosophy based on the idea that there is no objective truth or unity of truth.
In other words everyone’s truth is equally valid, so you need to be open to new and radical ideas. This is the beginning of “brainwashing“.
The next day two guest lecturers came to talk with us – one spoke about the importance of maize in Mesoamerican society and the threat transgenic corn poses to local communities, and the other about the problem of water in Oaxaca (“the politics of shit”) and the necessity of “ruralising” all cities by making them sustainable.
Basic Maoist/anarchist philosophy.
This week we have been struggling with the looming deadline of our final paper and trying to consolidate our “learning” throughout the whole trip into an academic paper of ten pages.
After catching our breath on the beach we were off again to the city of Juchitan, a kind of “Queer Paradise” where we heard about the different conceptions of gender that exist there. After our brief stay we travelled to Chiapas to begin our exploration into the world of the Zapatistas.
When we arrived in Chiapas we stayed at CIDECI (la Universidad de la Tierra of Chiapas), our base in San Cristobal, for the next three nights. The school is a place for indigenous students to come and learn any skill offered in order to take it back to their communities, including automechanics, music, carpentry, traditional medicine, computer applications, cooking, and Spanish. The school has its own garden to supply much of the food eaten, and they produce themselves many of the products needed to operate. Here we learned about the recent history of the Zapatistas from the director Raymundo Sanchez Barranza, the founder and director of CIDECI who also had a central role in the previous negotiations between the Zapatistas and the Mexican Government.
Thursday we went into town to CAPISE, an organisation dedicated to working with and for indigenous communities in the area. Our hosts at CAPISE and translators in the villages, Nino and Benedetta, gave us a presentation about the extent of militarisation of Chiapas around the Zapatista areas.
Chiapas, we learned, has one of the most heavy military occupancy in the world. Andres Aubrey, an anthropologist who has done extensive field studies in Chiapas, then talked to us about the Mayan symbolism of the caracole, a conch or snail shell, that the Zapatistas have brought back to describe their autonomous governing bodies, Las Juntas de Buen Gobierno (the Committees of Good Governance).
A bit more informed, we prepared to go to Oventik, an autonomous Zapatista community. A group of Aboriginal Australian filmmakers also joined our group to share and explore the ways the Zapatistas are dealing with the media. We arrived not knowing what to expect as we walked down the hill to the meeting place.
Bright murals of Zapatista resistance lined many of the walls, setting the vibrant atmosphere for what was to come. After our passports were collected and we were warned not to take pictures of any people whose faces weren’t covered. We entered a barn-type building carpeted with pine needles and met with the local authorities who wore black ski masks.
The Zapatistas´ words we had read rang in our hearts: “The mountain told us to take up arms so we would have a voice. It told us to forget our names so we could be named. It told us to protect our past so we would have a future…. Behind our black masks, behind our armed voice, behind our unnameable name, behind what you see of us, behind this, we are you.” To finally be in the presence of these people whose struggle has been an inspiration to us all was one of the most intense moments of the trip thus far. The room was filled with a living energy of respect for humanity.
How many thousands of indigenous people from around the world are making this pilgrimage and are undergoing this type of revolutionary indoctrination?
Oventic, incidentally was the Zapatista stronghold visited by Marama Mayrick and Emily Bailey of the “Uruwera 17” during their film making trip to Mexico.
These men and women were part of the Commission of Reception, a part of the Junta de Buen Gobierno, through which most members of the village rotate to participate in governing the community. For the next six hours, they shared inspiring and thought-provoking words, telling us about themselves, their struggle, and their caracole. We learned about the ways they are acting autonomously—without any aid, interference, or permission from the state.
They explained why they had risen up in arms: “We didn’t do it to die, but so we could live.” They are defining their own lives in many ways, from operating their own schools to their own health clinic to their own governing body. Afterward, we explored the cooperative and bought handicrafts, which support the local community. We were also shown the health clinic, shoe-making factory, and other village projects.
How many of these young people will go on to revolutionary activity in their own country-including New Zealand?
The next morning, we left for Pohlo, an autonomous Zapatista base community. Pohlo expanded to its current size of over 5,300 people after a government offensive in 1997 that displaced many people and turned the village into a permanent refugee camp. The village authorities told us about their shortages of food due to the paramilitary groups that occupy their land and prevent them from returning to their communities.
They told us about how they are continuing to define their own lives, despite the constant threat of the military and inability to grow their own food. They will not accept any help from the Mexican government but they do accept donations from various international civil society organizations that are in solidarity with the Zapatista cause. We spent our one night there all together in an evacuated clinic that was once occupied by the Red Cross, who recently pulled out of the area for their forces were “more needed” in Iraq.
Fostering a sense of grievance and indignation against the local authorities and the evil USA?
Tired and dreary eyed, we arrived in Oaxaca at 10 a.m. the next morning. No time to rest, however, for we were faced with the tremendous undertaking of representing our past four months in a presentation we had to perform the following night. After a crazily productive Monday, we met Tuesday morning to fill out evaluations and discuss the inevitable journey home. The discussion was filled with tears, laughter and uncertainty as we all grappled with the reality of the upcoming transition.
What would four months of this do to impressionable young minds?
After scrambling to collect any last minute props and run through our pieces one more time, we all congregated at UniTierra for the big presentation of our final Summary of Learning. While people worked individually or in small groups, it flowed together as a whole.
The setting was: the final bus ride to the airport. Siobhan and Dave, the “people of the day,” acted as the MC´s and during the “bus ride” we watched “movies,” “listened to music,” heard reflective discussions, slammed poetry and sang songs as a means to share and reflect on the experiences we had together the past four months. Everyone put so much of themselves into their presentations, and by the end of the night the energy was through the roof; we were in a state of awe at what we had created.
Tonight we will gather as a group for the last time, since tomorrow morning before sunrise we will be on our way to the Oaxaca International Airport.
We will all be returning to our own communities, however, we too have become a community – a community, as Gustavo has articulated, of friendship – which will hold true across nation-state boundaries, oceans and mountains, time and space. Who knows exactly what lies in our 22 separate futures, but opportunities will come to us as long as we keep in mind some wise words from our dear friend Peter: “It’s a bloody good time to be alive!”
Twenty two more young revolutionaries unleashed on an unsuspecting world.
This process is going on day in day out, not just in Mexico, but in many other countries. Similar groups are even being sent to New zealand to learn about the brave struggle for Maori self determination-Tino Rangatiratanga.
Te Wananga O Raukawa is not the only New Zealand organisation involved in such activities.
How long are we, as taxpayers, going to keep financing our own destruction?