Shaylih Muehlmann (Department of Anthropology, UBC)
“Because We Know the Land: Indigenous Local Knowledge in the Mexican Narco Territories”
Tuesday, 20 September, 2011, 12:30pm, Geography Room 212
In this paper, I examine how the rise of narco-trafficking in northern Mexico has included attempts by various cartels to recruit local indigenous people in the lowest echelons of the narco economy as smugglers or mules. Drawing on eight years of ethnographic research in the region, I argue that this participation capitalizes on what is perceived to be their innate “knowledge of the land.” In particular, I analyze the diverse ways that the celebration of indigenous peoples’ “traditional ecological knowledge” initially championed by the environmental movement has been commodified for various niches in northern Mexico’s illegal economy. This case reveals the contradictory ideological tenants about what constitutes “indigenous identity,” particularly in a region in which the same people recruited by the cartels because, as they themselves put it, “we know the land” are denied indigenous status by the state because of their lack of “traditional” ethnic markers such as speaking an indigenous language. Many local people, in this regard, take advantage of the “indigenous slot” that is offered to them by the cartels partly because this positioning is denied to them by the Mexican government.