URI Latin America Event Honors Spirit of Fire, Indigenous Traditions

6 March 2013

Apolinario Chile Pixtún (Guatemala) and Santiago Oretlla (México) perform the Ceremony of Initiation.

Apolinario Chile Pixtún (Guatemala) and Santiago Oretlla (México) perform the Ceremony of Initiation.

Representatives of 11 indigenous Cooperation Circles took part in “Honoring the Spirit of Grandfather Fire,” a forum on native spirituality, from Nov. 22 to 25, 2012 at the Metropolitan Design Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  The event was co-hosted by the Interamerican Council on Native Spirituality (CISEI)  and by Runa Wasi, a non-profit civil association working in the areas of Indian rights, health, education and culture.

The forum presented perspectives on fire: as a chemical reaction, as a source of light and heat, and as one of the elements that regulates life in the universe.  Fire is both a force for destruction and for cleansing; it is a transformer and a purifier.  For many cultures, fire represents the awakening of the soul, the divine spark, the Great Spirit or God.  

The forum began with an opening ceremony led by an indigenous elder who lit the sacred fire that remained burning until the close of the meeting.  Over four days, national and international, indigenous and non-indigenous representatives met to honor the spirit of Grandfather Fire, exchanging ideas, visions, knowledge and wisdom through religion, medicine, the arts, education, philosophy, social sciences and ecology. Hundreds of people had the opportunity to listen, share and participate in this extraordinary event.

Attendees throughout the event were invited to light the fires each morning as an opening for the day’s work.  On Saturday, Nov. 24, the ceremony of initiation was led by Apolinario Chile Pixtun, representative of the CC Confederation of the Mayan People-Guatemala.

Rosalía Gutiérrez, representative of the Indians of Argentina CC, led a circle of young people in the workshops held on Thursday, Nov. 22, and Apolinario Chile Pixtún (Confederation of the  Mayan People CC) participated in the discussion “The Fire of the Sacred Birds.” On Friday, Nov. 23, Regional Counselor Alejandrino Quispe Mejía (Amaru-Perú CC) participated in the discussion: “Fire, Air, Spirit.”  On Saturday, Nov. 24, Luisa Pereira, ( MOPSyC CC) led a circle of women in a discussion of the “Healthy Eating Habits of Ancestral Peoples,” and Sofía Painiqueo, representative of the new Indian CC of Chile, sang a Mapuche song, the song of the earth.

The event included an art exhibition, with works extolling the spirit of fire; documentaries and stories about the element of fire and presentations by storytellers on the myths, legends and ancient traditions of their peoples relating to fire. Representatives of all 11 indigenous CCs shared a stand in which they could sell the native crafts from each of their countries.  Each had banners identifying their worldview, customs and spiritual traditions. 

At the close of the forum, the hosts presented the Eduardo Galeano Award to the Rev. Canon Charles P. Gibbs, Executive Director of URI,  for “walking in the beauty of the spirit.”  María Eugenia Crespo, URI’s CC Global Support Coordinator, accepted the award in Rev. Gibbs’ stead. In addition, Dilia Parra Guillén and Ricardo Aquino, both members of the Venezuela CC, were honored during the closing ceremonies.

The forum gave Enoe Texier, URI’s Regional Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean, the opportunity to meet with members of many of the indigenous and non-indigenous CCs of the region.  Regional Counselors Genivalda Cravo (Brazil) and Alejandrino Quispe (Peru) also took part in the event.  A new indigenous Cooperation Circle, Aflaiai, submitted its application for approval during the forum, and another, Marawaka, announced that its application is in the works.

Before the event, members of the 11 CCs taking part in the program – based in Argentina, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama and Peru – spent four days in Buenos Aires planning and proposing activities for URI’s Latin America and the Caribbean region in 2013.  Members Alejandrino Quispe (Amaru-Perú CC), Fanny Ávila (Mukua-Panamá CC) and Luisa Pereira (MOPSyC CC- Argentina) drafted a document which was later shared with the other members of the region’s indigenous CCs.  Sharing a house throughout the event helped the members strengthen their bonds of unity, brotherhood and respect for differences in the diversity of their cultures and spiritual traditions.