Long before Rome or Paris were planned, indigenous communities were engaged in community planning.

Ted Jojola, regents professor, Community & Regional Planning Program, School of Architecture and Planning, recently attended "Models of Indigenous Education," a two-week program that included a conference for indigenous planners held in San Cristobal de las Casas, in the Mexican state of Chiapas.

The 80 students and 20 affiliated faculty attendees were from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The group represents a consortium – Indigenous Planning Exchange – that has been funded for four years by FIPSE, Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education, through the U.S. Department of Education. Canada and Mexico have their respective funders.

The group asked for an extension, a fifth year on the grant, because they had a balance available to put toward the conference.

"It was a rare opportunity to bring all the partnership school participants together, despite the problems of travel in Mexico," Jojola said. "We accomplished quite a bit to bring a collective sense to the importance of indigenous planning. We looked at the special approaches indigenous planners bring to community development."

The first week the group visited towns and villages in the region.

"We toured Zinacantan, a Zapatista community. They are a sophisticated group that highly values agriculture, employing a sophisticated drip water system to raise cilantro, radishes, flowers and other products for the San Cristobal market," Jojola said.

The second week, the students worked in teams to explore basic planning themes in communities in Chiapas. "They gave team presentations, looking at heritage planning," Jojola said. The UNM group made a video on Palenque and the planning of it.

"As a planner, I see that people don't appreciate the fact that even contemporary cities like San Cristobal are built using infrastructure from traditional communities," he said, adding that the Spanish were intent on dismantling the cultural viability of these places.

"The indigenous planners who took part in the program are the descendants of these places," Jojola said, adding that visiting the sites aids them in repatriating their cultural identity.

"Indigenous planning allows communities to reflect on the meaning and basic practices, and how to restage, rethink and revitalize contemporary planning," he said, adding that colonial disruptions imposed views that still guide them. "Contemporizing brings that continuity back to them," he said.

Jojola said that the struggle in Mexico is far different than in the U.S. and Canada. "We have the ‘benefit' of reservations, with our own governments and autonomy from the federal government," he said.

Nothing like the reservation exists in Mexico, he said, except for the Zapatista areas with their own assertion of self government and political autonomy from Mexico.

"The Mexican indigenous communities see the ideal in the U.S. and Canada. Their conflict is that there is no clear edge or boundary. It affects how they assert themselves," he said.

Jojola noted that Mexican indigenous look to U.S. tribal models for self-sufficiency, but, he said, "Their tribal identity is stronger because they've protected themselves from the outside world. In some ways, adversity has made them stronger. Whereas unmindful mainstreaming by U.S. indigenous is partly to blame for the demise of those cultures."

Jojola said that they look at successful adaptation. "We look at the vibrancy of people. They can be quite traditional but also adaptable, such as using technology like cell phones," he said.

Western scientists are translating the Mayan codices, in which the Mayans explained their sense of the world. "The indigenous community knowledge set was shut out by foreign invaders who viewed the indigenous with disdain. What have we lost? Mayans are now repatriating the translation of those lost codices back into the community," he said.

"We want to continue to explore the juxtaposition of U.S./Mexican issues including urban incursions into traditional homelands. During a visit in the fall of 2009, the team visited Tlaxcalancingo, an indigenous pueblo in Puebla, Mexico.The pueblo has been planting rows of nopales, cactus near encroaching high rises as an expression of cultural autonomy and resistance as well as a way to assert boundaries," Jojola said.

"There's a strong desire on the part of the students to have annual seminars to establish a cross-border community dedicated to shoring up indigenous planning," he said.

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Media contact: Carolyn Gonzales, 277-5920; e-mail: cgonzal@unm.edu