While some of us may dream of self-government – especially in the era of Trump – it’s probably just a pipe dream. But for the town of Cherán in the Mexican state of Michoacan, it’s their reality.
Back in 2011, the town took part in a violent dispute over its forest, which illegal loggers associated with local crime groups cut down. In response to the decimation of the forest, townspeople in Cherán opted to fight back and become self-governed. The fight went beyond the battle over this forest, reaching Mexico’s Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the self-governed state in 2014.
Cherán’s mission is not so simple; it aims to have a future with no deforestation and corruption. As more foreign companies harm and threaten local communities trying to protect their homes and way of life, the Mexican town provides an usual, but optimistic result. And with its new government in place, the people of Cherán will have the opportunity to do more.
Inducted this year, the 12-person council elected to govern follows the Indigenous principles of Purépecha. Although the town received federal and state funding, the council, as well as campfire town hall discussions, inspire the town’s decision making. This government model is free of political parties or campaigns.
In fact, it’s women who have built up Cherán’s self-governing state and removed illegal loggers from the area. “Before the government didn’t take [women] into account, until we were the ones who started this new government seven years ago,” Patricia Hernández, who’s one of four women in the council, told NBC News. “We said ‘Ya Basta!’ to put an end to this violence.” The group of Indigenous women rose up against the loggers, who were heavily armed, in 2011.
The Mexican constitution recognizes Cherán as a self-governed town, and because of the Supreme Court’s ruling, it has also its own police and councils focusing on culture, health, security, social programs, infrastructure, and education. The community also runs small businesses, which includes a greenhouse, a sawmill, and a concrete factory.
In May 2017, when local elections were held, the town of Cherán didn’t participate. Moving forward, it doesn’t plan to join Mexico’s political system, even as the president elect Manuel López Obrador has made promises to work closely with Indigenous communities.