Images in this post thanks to Indigenous Video Makers of the Southern Frontera Project CIESAS Sureste
IN the town of San Cristobal de las Casas there is an astounding wealth of activities that are combining practices of collaborative ethnography (that is people documenting their own cultures and community, rather that this work being done by cultural ‘outsiders’) with collaborative arts practices. This rich activity seems to be the result of a combination of Chiapas’ long term history of anthropological and archaeological research; changes in contemporary and particularly Mexican social science and humanities practices towards collaborative models; a lively arts community; and altered Indigenous politics in Mexico following the Zapatista uprising in 1994. Participatory video making in particular has seen a boom of activity in Chiapas since the emergence of modern day Zapatismo, which utilises digital media networks to gain and maintain support for the movement and also has made explicit calls for Indigenous controlled media systems in Mexico.
In contrast to Australia, which has had various forms of government-sponsored Indigenous-controlled media since the 1980’s, such networks are newer in Mexico, and were mostly seeded by NGO’s. (Students of Communications I have met here in Mexico inform me of a lively pirate radio movement that is seeking to create and maintain independent media in this country, which spreads well beyond Indigenous community movements). Indigenous communities in Australia have been given government funded technology, training and support to establish their own media making activities, as evidenced by organizations such as CAAMA, the indigenous radio networks across the country (check out our local in Derby, WA, Laarkardi Radio 6DBY) and more recently NITV. The roots of these movements in Australia have been in government policies of indigenous ‘self-determination’ as well as participation and advocacy by government sponsored researchers and institutions (such as the Australian Institue of Aborginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies) (want to know more about the roots of Australian indigenous media? A good place to start is reading Jennifer Degers ethnography of Indigenous media making in Arneham land called “Shimmering Screens”. She has a simple and well written overview of Indigenous Media in the early chapters.)
Indigenous media making, and specifically video making, emerged in Mexico initially through the support of NGO’s and much Mexican Indigenous video making activity has aligned itself with mobilisations for Indigenous rights around Mexico. (See the excellent site Mapping Mexican Media – Indigenous and Native Community Video and Radio – Native Networks, hosted by the Smithsonian Institute for documentation of the history and diversity of Indigenous media in Mexico) Other projects have been seeded by research organizations utilizing participatory video practices for both social justice and academic purposes. The two most well know participatory video making projects in San Cristobal De Las Casas, Chiapas, demonstrate these different roots and motivations.
The Proyecto Videoastas Indigenas de la Frontera Sur (Indigenous Videomakers of the Southern Border Project) was sponsored by CIESAS (Centro de Investigacions and Estudios Superiores en Anthropologia Social) Sureste – a government-funded, regionally-based social anthropology organization, which is also the current home of the Archivo Fotografico Indigena. CIESAS has supported some anthropological projects which have sought to deeply engage Indigenous people in data collection, research design and interpretation of data, and has a good track record of engaging Indigenous students in postgraduate education (by Australian standards at least). Proyecto Videoastas Indigenas de la Frontera Sur emerged out of debates and movements in Indigenous media and visual anthropology practices and was driven primarily by anthropologists who were working with Indigenous people in Chiapas as researchers and as teachers, and who sought to provide their students and the subjects of their research with tools to undertake visual anthropology in their own communities and languages.
The Chiapas Media Project, or Promedios, developed as an NGO working with civilian Zapatista communities in Chiapas, as a response to the emergence of the Zapatista movement and their expressed need to utilise and control media forms to represent the issues and concerns of their struggle for Indigenous autonomy. Promedios began in 1998 and has worked closely since then with the civilian Zapatista structures to provide training, equipment and technical expertise to Indigenous people in the autonomous municipalities of Chiapas (for more info on the Zapatista movement and its current community structures go to the EZLN website or look it up on the www ) Promedios has developed a network of ‘community journalists’, people trained in media making who are members of Zapatista communities. These communities identify stories the want to tell for awareness raising or advocacy, usually stories that serve their political interests in ongoing Indigenous struggles for land, human rights, and economic and governance independence. Promedios, and it’s USA based sister the Chiapas Media Project, has tapped into the wide ranging international support for the Zapatista movement, raising money from sympathetic individuals, community groups, philanthropies and NGOs and now serves as an organization to resource local audio-visual productions and to support global distribution of the materials created within Zapatista communities of Mexico.