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True Knowledge Is Not Only in Classrooms: Mexican Native Environmental Leader

Ice fog and pines, view from Northern Mexico. Photo by Lon&Queta via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

“In the Raramuri world, all living beings are our guides, those that give us life,” says Martin Chavez Ramirez, an environmental leader of the Raramuri people. Raramuri are Native American people of northwestern Mexico, renowned for their colourful dresses, their problems with droughts and their long-distance running ability.

In keeping with this belief that all living beings are guides, Martin interprets the term “sustainable development” from a unique perspective. “I understand development when I understand the deer,” he says. Taking on an animal name deepens that connection. Makawi, Martin’s stage name, means “dove”. According to Makawi, he “lived a dream” with a Dakota Sioux indigenous man who gave him this name.

Martin Chavez Ramirez. Photo by Andrea Arzaba.

Martin Chavez Ramirez is also a vital and high profile promoter of his native language Raramuri, as well as environmental justice. A few days ago he was invited to a government-organised conference on sustainable development and citizen participation in Mexico. He had his typical Raramuri costume n, while most of the room was filled with people in suits.

From a family of 13 siblings, Martin is the eldest. He was born in the municipality of Guachochi, a northern state of Chihuahua, Mexico. At the age of 40, he is also a musician and poet, but his main job is to give talks to indigenous people in the surrounding communities on plants, animals, water and pollution. He founded the Sierra Tarahumara Ecoregional Integrated Council AC, and he works with diverse groups of indigenous communities.

Andrea: Martin, what is your interpretation of sustainable development?

Martin: The interpretation for the people Raramuri is to keep developing and learning from the very base, which means, for example, learning how to interpret a plant. The spirit of the trees [can] help you understand nature. The same happens with animals. I understand development when I understand the deer, for example. In the Raramuri world, all living beings are our guides, those that give us life.

A: What is the most important environmental problem that you see in your community?

M: The main problem is the drought. This is caused by the same people who have felled trees without precaution. Another important problem that is causing us trouble is waste water pollutants entering into the community. Also, fish and frogs are very important, they always help us with water, they call her. When they leave, and do not call the clouds, then there is drought. That makes us understand that we are doing wrong to Mother Nature. To the Raramuri world animals and plants indicate the correct way of life.

Typical house with cornfield in rural Chihuahua. Photo by Lon&Queta via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

A: Have you felt discriminated or mocked for your way of thinking about the environment?

M: In my own community, young people think that one [Makawi] only says lies and that one just wants to disturb them. Sometimes people go to college and they think you know nothing just because you are old. It is wrong thinking that education is only in closed classrooms, with pure theories, and sometimes one comes and knows that true knowledge is not only there.

A: As an artist, is your work related to the environment?

M: I do work with the “giant”, which is important as he is a part of the Raramuri legend. But you wonder, who is this giant? He can be that what makes us suffer; for me this giant is climate change. We are seeing that everybody is disorganised, in national or international context, with their own interests; there is no real team work. In climate talks and in our communities, this giant is growing and growing. I represent him in my art.

A: How to counteract this giant?

M: The legend tells, right from our Sierra Tarahumara, there was a giant who ate children, and they fought him. At first, people were fighting him separately and the giant could not be defeated, but later on, there was a real organisation among people. They supported each other and because of this, he lost and he left. Now we have the same kind of problems, such as climate change, because we, ourselves, do not agree with our neighbours, we contradict ourselves.  We think of us and not on what is beneficial to the community. I’m changing the world through reorganising people and analysing how we can deal and fight this problem, this giant, together in the community.


Martin, Makawi, incorporates his “dove” personae as he works peacefully and from a bird’s eye view, a global perspective, to bring environmental, physical and spiritual peace to his people. Not only will the Raramuri benefit, but all societies if they tap into the wisdom Makawi advocates.

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About The Author(s)

Andrea Arzaba


Journalist, interested in environment, culture and development. Blogger for different online publications such as Global Voices Online, Adopt a Negotiator and founder of The SunFlower Post project. Andrea has participated in international peace initiatives such as People to People’s Peace Camp, Clinton Global Initiative and in several World Youth Congresses. She has also been invited as a panelist on Journalism, Youth Leadership and Mexico in Montreal, Moscow and Quebec. Today she is finishing her last year on a BA on Communications, focusing on Journalism, and she is a freelance writer for National Geographic Traveler. She is based in Mexico City.

Comments (2)

  • Stephany

    It is sad to know that not only in the Raramuri community the old people is taken as crazy, dummy or ingorant, just because the new generation think very square. For me that’s one of the very problems of why we cannot find a REAL way of sustainable development.

  • Kevin Rennie

    Andrea, T

    his is an excellent post for Blog Action Day next week with its theme of ‘The Power of We’.


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