The Huya Ania Institute

Who: Yoreme, Yaqui and wixarika indigenous peoples
Where: Mexico Sinaloa-Sonora region
How Much: Land purchase for reforestation: 1.5M (1,500,000 USD)
Creation of Huya Ania Institute: 200,000 (first year)

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Huya Ania means "the magical mountain world" (“el maravilhoso mundo del monte”), a term from the Yoreme or Yaqui peoples of Mexico, but a familiar concept to other indigenous peoples of the Sonora-Sinaloa Desert, like the Wixárika, Pima, Papago and Apache. The term applies not only to the beauty of the natural environment in the region, but also signals the fact that local indigenous cultures perceive it as a portal, as the greatest expression of indigenous thought. Yoreme (or Yoeme) are terms which mean human beings or humanity, while Yaqui issues from Hiaki, "land", which at once shows how the connection between humanity and nature is essential to these peoples' philosophy of life.
Huya Ania at sunset
Huya Ania at sunset with the Sierra Madre Ocidental in the distance. Photo: The Boa Foundation

The Yoreme, or Yaqui, like the Wixárika, Apache, Pima and Papago name their land with terms that reveal the enchanted nature, the history and philosophy of local environments. Features of the land and the plants found in these spaces guard teachings which can transform us and deepen our understanding of the world. We may be fascinated by the hallucinogenic plants these cultures are the guardians of, but we forget that the environment itself is replete with magic, wisdom and spirituality for them.
Huya Ania at sunset with the Sierra Madre Ocidental in the distance. Photo: The Boa Foundation
Vista da Serra Madre Ocidental com Bosques de Selva remanescentes. ©

The Yaqui have been the subject in anthropology of extensive research on shamanism by Carlos Castañeda, whose many books have given us a glimpse of the profound nature of indigenous thought. These indigenous cultures consider their natural environment as being pervaded by humanity and spirituality. There is actually no separation between the two. What we usually see in a landscape is merely superficial, for the land unfolds to reveal its secrets and wisdom. Mountains and plants speak to the indigenous peoples here. No human being can become truly wise without listening to plants and other beings from nature.

As it happens with many sacred areas in the world, there are landmark features in the natural environment which attest to the special status of the place and mark certain entry points to other realms of existence. The Yoreme single out that the Meseta de Cocaxtla, where Huya Ania is located, is a place pervaded by such sacredness. Indeed, the site is part of a watershed and was once pervaded by forests. The site is also a central point in a triangle formed by the Ventana de la Petaca, the "Petaca Window", one of such portals in the Sierra Madre Ocidental, Las Labradas, where highly stylized petroglyphs have been found which are thought to reveal an ancient language, and Isla de Venados, or "Deer Island", on the coast near Mazatlán. The deer is a venerated animal to many of the indigenous peoples in the Sonora-Sinoloa region. The Wixárika, for instance, received the knowledge of the peyote from the Blue Deer, a curing spirit which came to save humanity from famine in ancient times.
A Sacred Tree from the Chamela-Cuixmala Reserva de la Biosfera, a remnant of the Bosques de Selva. Photo: The Boa Foundation
A Sacred Tree from the Chamela-Cuixmala Reserva de la Biosfera, a remnant of the Bosques de Selva. Photo: The Boa Foundation

The bosques de selva, the native forests of the region, unfortunately largely cut down or destroyed by logging and human desertification, include some of the most remarkable tree species in North America: the ceiba, a sacred tree for the local indigenous peoples, is one of the largest tress found in such forests, while the Montezuma Pine, one of the oldest living tree species, is still found in the sierras of Sinaloa. In spite of the intense rate of deforestation, Mexico is still among the ten countries in the world with most trees, ac-cording to research published in Nature. It can thus be assumed Mexico was once a heavily forested country, before the rate of deforestation increased in the twentieth century. Indeed, half of the forest cover in the country was lost in the twentieth century. But this situation has not abated since the dawn of the twentieth-first century. From 2001 to 2022, Mexico lost 4.66 million hectares of its tree cover, equivalent to a 8.8% decrease in tree cover in the country since 2000 (Global Forest Watch).

The most common causes of deforestation and land degradation inSinaloa relate to a complex social and political situation in this Mexican state.Illegal logging for charcoal and other industrial products go hand in hand here with illegal clearing of land for farming and animal grazing. As a matter of fact, land clearing was once a part of government plans for development, although such policies have been discontinued in the last decades. But de-forestation is also aided locally by low government surveillance of illegal activity and scant supervision of authorized management plans. On top of it all, there is rampant corruption of local authorities as regards deforestation, as well as the lack of supervision of private owners who fear being kidnapped in areas controlled by drug cartels. Another significant, though more silent cause of deforestation is simply the lack of ecological education or ignorance of sustainable land use by both private owners or the general population.With the pressure on the state’s ecosystem perpetrated by all these causes of deforestation, forest fires and pests (produced by human activity) end up leading to further forest and land degradation.
View from Huya Ania showing the site to be used for the creation of the Institute.

Culture and Conservation, Spirituality and Exchange

The Boa Foundation and the Aniwa gatherings would like to announce the creation of the Huya Ania Institute, a place for promoting exchanges between the spiritual leadership we have supported and learned from, as well as a space where these spiritual leaders can have gatherings and re-treats and impart their wisdom and knowledge to the world. Like all projects supported by the Boa Foundation and Aniwa, our main focus is to promote indigenous culture in relation to land, reforestation, heritage, and the guardianship of biodiversity.

The land chosen for creating the Huya Ania Institute, in consultation with local indigenous peoples of Sinaloa, is located in the area known as the Meseta de Cocaxtla. It is important both for preserving water sources and for preserving endemic species of birds and other animals in the region. The mountain forests (selvas) which originally guarded the region encircled the desert areas forming a mosaic of biodiversity. There are at least three hundred dominant species of plants in this ecosystem and no less than five hundred species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Among the fe-lines, six different species abide here: jaguars, pumas, ocelots, jaguarundis, margay and lynx. The Meseta de Cocaxtla is also a prime location for a project which aims at an extensive reforestation. The presence in the region of a large biological reserve, the Chamela-Cuixmala Reserva de la Biosfera, attests to the potential of the entire region. The diversity of this reserve harbors some of the largest trees as well as one of the greatest diversity of animal species in Mexico. One of the last wild populations of jaguars is still to be found here. Being that Mexico has no more than 2,5% of the number of jaguars in the world (only about 4,500 estimated from the 173,000 jaguars in the wild at present, according to the World Wildlife Fund), the fact that the species is only increasing presently in the Sonora-Sinaloa region reveals the importance of its local ecosystems (note that the largest population of jaguars in Mexico is to be found in Yucatan, but their numbers are significantly decreasing there from the impact of commercial activities). Our aim is to create a corridor of biodiversity linking the Meseta de Cocaxtla to the Chamela-Cuixmala Reserva de la Biosfera, making the entire region an ex-ample for conservation.

The Institute will also be strategically located in a territory originally be-longing to some of the most resilient indigenous cultures in Mexico, whose shamanism is renowned in the anthropological literature. By doing so, we hope to support these indigenous peoples own environmental and spiritual leadership as well as provide a new venue for the sharing of their wisdom.The Huya Ania Institute has thus the potential for becoming a prime venue for cultural, environmental and spiritual exchange.

As the petroglyphs found in Las Labradas reveal, the Sinaloa region is one of the cradles of ancient civilizations in North America. The Yoreme orYaqui, and the Wixárika, apart from being the guardians of the sacred sites and water sources of the Mexican Desert, have also shared their knowledge and rituals with us to give us a glimpse of their spiritual heritage. Together, they managed to preserve the region for millennia, before the influx of migrant colonists brought destruction to the region. Like all other places where spirituality and environmental practices go hand in hand, these indigenous cultures as well as all the people visiting the Institute will directly benefit from the activities to be developed through our programs. We aim at creating a cultural and ritual center as well as a school for promoting greater integration and to offer educational programs for local communities.

There is a pressing need to install new strongholds for indigenous culture, conservation and the sharing of spiritual principles in distinct ecosystems today. This is fundamental in a world threatened by the ravenous exploitation of natural resources promoted by money-minded capitalism. In this regard, the team involved in creating the Huya Ania Institute have learned directly from the indigenous peoples they have been living with for the last decades. In fact, the Huya Ania Institute shall be modeled after these successful indigenous initiatives which the Boa Foundation has supported for many years and which have had a significant impact on their local ecosystems and on social groups living in or close to them. The Yorenka Tasorentsi Institute in the Brazilian Amazon, is one of these. One of the Institutes fund-ed by Boa since its inception, it is run by Benki Pyãnko, whose spiritual and environmental work has greatly contributed for the preservation of the Amazon. Benki has led the Ashaninka’s endeavor of planting almost three million trees in the last thirty years with the greatest consortium of traditional seeds and species biodiversity. Benki has equally generated a great social trans-formation in Western Amazonia by partnering local indigenous peoples suffering from cultural loss or disintegration while providing educational re-sources for local peoples. Himself a director and indigenous counsellor atBoa, Benki’s original idea for the Yorenka Tasorentsi Institute comprised its expansion as a copy-left model for the establishment of new institutes in strategic places in the world.
The Yorenka Tasorentsi Institute in Acre, Western Amazon, Brazil.
Benki Pyãnko near a watercourse on the lands of the Yorenka Tasorentsi Institute in Acre, Brazil.

Another Institute Boa has contributed to and derived inspiration for the creation of Huya Ania is the Huwã Karu Yuxibu Center run by Mapu Huni Kuin. Mapu is an indigenous youth leadership who has become a cultural ambassador for UNESCO and a youth director for Boa’s young people’s programs. His Center, like Yorenka Tasorentsi, has also changed the social condition of displaced indigenous young people in Rio Branco, the capital city of Acre, by means of a program of reintegration of young people to the ancient culture and spirituality of the Huni Kuin.
Amazonian indigenous cultures equally see that there is no division be-tween the natural, social, and the spiritual realms. Nature is not so much outside since it unfolds from our own relationship with it. Humanity is not in Nature, but our human nature is part of the land we cultivate and live in. Sacred places are therefore like enchanted landscapes where the signs of such relationship can be seen by the unveiled eyes opened by spiritual practice. The repository of social knowledge and wisdom is not merely in people’s minds, but in the very landscape and the plant world that inhabits and pervades the environment.

Mapu Huni Kuin, the founder of the Huwã Karu Yuxibu Center in Acre, Brazil.

With the establishment of the Huya Ania Institute, the intention of Boa and Aniwa, in concert with the spiritual and environmental leaders who have guided us, is to give the forest frame back to the desert, to counter the desertification carried out by careless human intervention. Following the tenets applied at Yorenka Tasorentsi and the Huwã Karu Yuxibu Center in other pre-served areas in the world, Boa will fund the reforestation of lands acquired for the institute, always in consultation with the local indigenous peoples so as to guarantee the greatest possible biodiversity. In this way, Boa and Aniwa hope to preserve indigenous cultural heritage, the environment and a space for the continuity of some of the strongest living practices of spirituality.

Boa would also like to establish a new space for spreading the work of established as well as new spiritual and environmental indigenous leaders.We have cultivated a relationship and partnership with many such leaders indifferent parts of the world, the time now is ripe to begin integrating them, by creating new venues for the spread of their teachings to those interested in learning from indigenous cultures. The Huya Ania Institute will therefore be a place for encounters and gatherings, as well as a therapeutic space for cure and transformation.

Like the Yorenka Tasorentsi or the Huwã Karu Yuxibu Center, the Huya Ania Institute will be a place for health, education, and the transformation of human minds conditioned to destructive forms of living. It will eventually have its own autonomous community to implement reforestation, agriforestry techniques, as well as social actions to further promote the integration of local indigenous cultures and their exchange with other cultures in the world. Residents and visitors will be able to reconnect to Nature, practice diets with indigenous guidance, learn and experience plant medicine and other therapeutic techniques for strengthening body and mind, as well as participate in curing rituals with local indigenous peoples or with the Ashaninka, the Huni Kuin, or other visiting indigenous cultures from elsewhere in the world.

Boa has already acquired the first 18 acres of land in the Meseta de Cocaxtla in order to begin this project. The idea is now to acquire another310 acres available for purchase in the region in order to begin a widespread effort in reforestation so as to recover the traditional selvas, allowing a come-back for plant and animal species, as well as to have a focal site for the development of the relationship between conservation and spirituality which indigenous peoples find to be fundamental for the transformation of humanity and the world.

Project conceived by Vivien Vilela and Oscar Matzuwa (Yoreme). Matzuwa Oscar comes from the Yoreme community of Sinaloa, Mexico.He has been learning within the Yoreme, Yaqui and Wixarika traditions since a young age. He has taken the sacred oath as a Marakame (spiritual guide) in Wirikuta, a sacred site he has been a pilgrim to for over 13 years. Oscar has undergone his cultural and spiritual initiations among these peoples and has undertaken several vision quests, as required by these traditions. These have granted him the knowledge to run Inipa (Sweat Lodges). A traditional singer and musician, Oscar is also a member of the Native American church and a carrier of the Half Moon Altar. He is equally trained as an anthropologist with specialties in the traditional culture and medicine of indigenous peoples ofSinaloa and Sonora regions. His thesis is on the traditional and medicinal uses of the Peyote. He is a founding member of the cultural association Raíces del Corazón de la Tierra, active in both Mexico and Catalunya, Spain.

Vivien Vilela has dedicated her life for over ten years to studying with indigenous peoples spiritual leaders in her native Brazil, in Mexico and the United States. A founder of the Boa Foundation and the Aniwa Gatherings, she is equally committed to the preservation of indigenous culture and the environment. Vivien has been initiated in the ancient healing traditions by some of the most respected indigenous elders from South, Central, and North America. In Amazonia, Brazil, she has been studying, dieting and practicing spiritual traditions under the guidance of Benki Pyãnko since 2015. In Mexico, Vivien has taken a sacred oath and commitment in the Wixarixa tradition, under the guidance of Don Eustolio Rivera De La Cruz, a world-renowned spiritual leader, to serve her life as a “Marakame”, one that can heal, sing and dream. This has led her to commit to the protection of sacred places and ancient traditions in Mexico as she has done in the Amazon and elsewhere.