Through Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management—a grassroots organization linking biological diversity management with the physical and cultural survival of Indigenous people—this project is designed to raise the voices of Maya women and youth for river protection in Southern Belize. The focus is on the village of Crique Sarco, considered a model for Maya communities around the Sarstoon Temash National Park (STNP) as the first to enter its map in the Maya Land Registry and respond to government pressure to allow oil drilling on their lands. The classroom—where elders have historically taught Maya Koxtal textile and B’ayal basket weaving and other ancestral arts—will come to the river in an effort to document the biodiversity and influences decisions on customary natural resource management.
An extension of the focus on the revitalization of lost Maya art and cultural practices over the past years, this project can raise awareness of Maya natural resource management. Mothers, and a biologist from the University of Belize, will help Maya youth document fish and wildlife species that rely on the river’s health. Students will take a boat trip on the Temash River, where their mothers traditionally fish, to a lagoon in danger of losing its fish stock from the erosion of customary fishing practices among men. An exhibit at the STNP Visitors Center in Punta Gorda will show wildlife designs that the youth incorporated into their traditional weaving and lead to community discussions about customary bylaws on sustainable practices. Media coverage will show the nation how Maya youth transformed their mothers’ traditional knowledge into art that inspired new practices, combining ancient and modern knowledge.
This project is important because the voices of Maya women and youth are not heard during a pivotal time when the government is pressuring (male) village leadership to allow oil drilling on community lands and it’s evident that decisions based on short-term profit alone could pollute rivers for the next seven generations.