A clarification: FMSO and México Indígena
Because the Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO) has been one of several sponsors of the first Bowman Expedition México Indígena, there has been some understandable confusion regarding the project's aims.
The FMSO is a small research facility which sponsors open-source academic studies. They give complete freedom to the academic team to develop the research focus and methods. México Indígena, like upcoming Bowman Expeditions, does not rely on this one funding source, but rather a range of sources, including several in the host country.
FMSO's goal is to help increase an understanding of the world's cultural terrain, so that the U.S. government may avoid the enormously costly mistakes which it has made due in part to a lack of such understanding. During several periods in U.S. history, academic geographers have had important roles as advisors to government through their own local, place-based research worldwide.
The first Bowman Expedition, México Indígena, is led by Peter Herlihy of the University of Kansas. Dr. Herlihy was instrumental in the laborious fieldwork, community organization, and training of indigenous people which allowed the Emberá and Wounaan of the Darién region of Panama to secure permanent rights to their land, and he helped guide similar work in and around the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve of Honduras, where indigenous Pech, Sumu, and Miskito communities established official recognition of their natural resource use areas in the face of rapid internal colonial agricultural expansion. All involved with México Indígena have benefited from Dr. Herlihy's experience in helping indigenous people defend their own territories by expressing their own culture through maps.
The U.S. and Mexican professors, students, and indigenous participants who make up the México Indígena team are now exploring and refining the truly participatory methods to embrace the power of geographic information systems (GIS) techinology. As in Panama and Honduras, a key to successfully defending indigenous territorial rights and spatial concepts is to transform each community's sketch maps into standardized maps, while painstakingly preserving every detail of the indigenous people's concept of their geography. The resulting maps show anything the community decides is important for them to locate themselves with GPS -- examples may include indigenous-language place names, local concepts of land tenure, or community-managed natural resource areas. Always, every item in every map is repeatedly verified by the communities through multiple visits by the México Indígena team.
Experience has proven that, when communities themselves give the world their understandings of their land, the world is better equipped to respect these alternative understandings. The PROCEDE program can be seen as an excellent illustration of an attempt to disregard these alternatives. Some Mexican indiegnous communities have rejected the PROCEDE-initiated property regime, and México Indígena gives them an opportunity to express the robustness of their local property regimes. Other communities have accepted PROCEDE's initial survey work, but are creatively adapting the legal structure it imposes to suit their own needs. Again, México Indígena has pioneered the documenting and analysis of these adaptations in the academic world, as well as providing the tools (training and completed initial maps) for the indigenous communities to strengthen their practices, and to communicate them to government entities and other communities. Without the on-the-ground research which México Indígena does, it will be impossible to adequately analyze the impacts of PROCEDE.
The México Indígena team is well aware that some people are suspicious of the fact that FMSO is one of its sponsors. We ask only that such potential critics keep an open mind, that they learn a little about what we really do, and that they reconsider their assumption that any action which involves any part of the U.S. government must necessarily be bad. We do appreciate the hard questions which our work generates, and are happy to discuss or debate these questions with anyone who is willing to acknowledge how deeply our respect for indigenous communities permeates everything we do.