It is with these in mind that the Mayas are claiming for a Homeland to preserve their culture, place, freedom and democracy. The idea was born among the ***Ke'Kchi*** and Mopan Mayas of the Toledo District and developed by the Toledo Maya Cultural Council and endorsed by the Toledo Alcaldes Association. The homeland would encompass all the Maya villages and geographical areas traditionally used by the Mayas. The Mayas argue that since their ancestors were the original inhabitants of Belize, they have a right by natural law to inherit the land.
The story of the encounter between the Maya and the British woodcutters was not peaceful. They Mayas were forced to retreat into the interior to accommodate logging. The British, in an attempt to subdue the Mayas, created ten Maya Reservations in the 1880s amounting to about 77,000 acres. The Reserves were never physically demarcated nor defined in the country's constitution as the communal property of the Mayas.
Despite the neglect of regional infrastructure by the central government, the Mayas flourished in these lands by being self-sufficient like their ancestors thousands of years ago. They planted their corn, beans, fruit trees and built their houses out of materials from the forest. The Maya traditional healers treated ailments among the populace. The communal land system was the norm. Law and order was kept by the Alcalde (village major). The first two villages to be opened to western civilization, by the introduction of primary education in the 1940s, were San Antonio and San Pedro Colombia.
The Reservations constructed by the British to subjugate the Mayas were not honored by the Mayas. Many villages were constructed outside of the Reservations without the government's approval as the Mayas regard all of these lands as the home of their forefathers who built magnificent temples to manifest their presence.
In 1974 the ***Honourable*** Charles Wagner, Minister of Lands in the Government of Belize (GOB), initiated plans to abolish the Reservation system and to open the Toledo District to foreign investors. In addition, the G.O.B. was thinking of reducing the role of the alcaldes.
TMCC prohibited such a move because once the reservation system was abolished, the Alcaldes would have no role in determining who gets land in the villages, and law and order would not be respected. The G.O.B. regards the Reservation System as an anti-development strategy.
TMCC had been willing to accept the abolishment of the Reservation system on the condition that a Maya Homeland is secured. Only a Homeland would guarantee equal land distribution for the Mayas. The land lease system of land ownership is filled with political manipulation. Mayas who applied for land under this system have been frustrated. Under a Communal Homeland proposal those who prefer to work the land communally would have that privilege. The Homeland would accommodate Mayas who want to lease land for milpa, tourism, or other meaningful development.
It is the philosophy of Mayas that land cannot be bought or sold. The land is sacred. For example, can we buy air? clouds? rain? sunshine? In the same way land cannot be sold. Individuals who may want to sell a parcel of land within the Homeland can only sell it to other Mayas or leave the land for the benefit of the community.
The Alcaldes and the Land Trust Committee, duly elected democratically by all village leaders, will decide how land would be distributed in the Maya Homeland. The Council would stress that the Homeland is developed and managed by the indigenous occupants for their economic development. All places considered to be sacred in resources for the community would not be leased. The Alcaldes and the Maya Land Council would decide which land or resources would be co-managed by government and Mayas.
The Homeland proposal has the support of all the villages in the Toledo District. In order to achieve the desires for a Maya Homeland, Curtis ***Berkey*** of the Indian Law Resource Center was asked by the TMCC to do an extensive research on the historical land rights of the Mayas. The research was in part completed by attorney at law Ms. Lisa ***Sherman*** [Shuman in Belize City]. Upon the completion of the land rights document, TMCC held a series of workshops to educate the local communities.
On April 18, 1996, the Toledo Alcaldes Assocation and the Toledo Maya Cultural Council, with technical assistance from the Indian Law Resource Center and the Geography Department of the University of California in Berkeley began what is called the Maya Mapping Project. This step was taken to map the area so as to be fully aware of the area's potential for sustainable development. Maximum benefits would be derived from such developments with minimal environmental disturbance. The Atlas you have in your hands attests to the rich culture of the Mayas. It also shows that the attainment of a Homeland is still not achieved. The Mayas patiently are pursuing peaceful means to achieve their goal.
The creation of a Homeland under the status of a "Freehold Title" is the ultimate goal of the Mayas. The production of permanent crops such as citrus, cocoa, spices, and achote[?] is encouraged. The Maya Trust Committee would endorse areas to be surveyed for such use through individual or group effort. This system would give the Mayas time for transition into the "Free Enterprise" market economy without being exploited but become the direct beneficiaries.
Existing private properties will be respected. Village land committees along with the village alcalde would plan the village, parceling the lot for better management. One hundred acres would be left around the village to accommodate future expansion and for the poor, the crippled, and the aged to collect firewood. Streams must be protected from erosion and forest preserved along the river banks. Forests should not be cleared for plantation, but may be used for selective logging on small scale providing the community benefits. Ruins will be preserved and improved for tourists' attraction by the Village Land Committee.
Community property should be tax-free, but any land parceled out for individual or group possession should be taxed and payable to the government of Belize. This is a gesture of working in concurrence with the government of Belize for the development of our country.
The Mayas are not making an autonomous body, but rather the right to be consulted about our future. This is a move to guarantee that every Maya has an inalienable right to a piece of land no matter what his or her financial status is.
Finally, the Mayas do not want anything extravagant, neither do we want anything hurtful to the real interests of non-Mayas. We want our rights determined and recognized. We want a settlement based upon justice. We want a full opportunity of making a future not only for ourselves but also for our children. It is in having a small portion of this country and this world that we call our home that will guarantee that our culture can survive in the next century. We want this done in such a way that in the future we shall be able to live and work with all the people as our brothers and sisters and fellow citizens of this global village.