Between March 18 and March 20, 2013, Eli Makagon attended a workshop on biocultural community protocols (BCPs) in Totonicapán, Guatemala. The workshop, coordinated by Guatemalan NGO Oxlajuj Ajpop and the Sacred Natural Sites Initiative, brought together representatives from communities in the region interested in learning more about BCPs, including their development and implementation. Over the course of the workshop, members from the communities of San Andres Sajcabaja, Chichicastenango, and Totonicapán shared information, provided background on the challenges their communities face, and discussed ways forward in the struggle for recognition of their customary rights. Challenges include loss of traditionally occupied land to government and external parties, deforestation, and internal conflict between those who ascribe to traditional Mayan beliefs and those who have converted to Christianity, Catholicism or Evangelicalism. The workshop was particularly timely in light of a recent decision by Guatemala’s highest court to uphold a mining law against a constitutional challenge brought by the Western Peoples’ Council (CPO) for lack of prior consultation with indigenous peoples.
Assisted by translator and facilitator Joseph Kuper, Eli presented on BCPs, explaining their purpose and providing examples of where they have been used. Community members met in groups to identify challenges, map stakeholders and allies, and discuss next steps in the BCP process. For the participants, the workshop offered an opportunity to learn more about BCPs as well as to exchange experiences regarding community organization and explore potential partnerships in the future.