Columbus Day Wood Walk 

Getting attention for advocates for indigenous peoples

click to enlarge David Durica, Ryan and Matt Harter carry 90 lbs. of firewood on their backs on Momument Circle. - PHOTO BY LORI LOVELY
  • David Durica, Ryan and Matt Harter carry 90 lbs. of firewood on their backs on Momument Circle.
  • Photo by Lori Lovely

David and Jenny Durica devised a unique visual demonstration to educate people about what it looks like for the typical Guatemalan to provide for his family. They staged a "Wood Walk" through the streets of downtown Indianapolis on Columbus Day to honor the indigenous peoples—particularly the Maya— of Guatemala, where the couple has traveled and volunteered since 2007. "By honoring indigenous peoples in this way, we are advocating for positive change in the community," says the Indianapolis native.

"We intentionally chose Columbus Day to bring attention to the controversy [of honoring him]," Durica explains, adding that the intention of this attention-grabbing moving display is to raise awareness of the history of oppressive behavior toward indigenous peoples. "We want to engage people, make them think and help them to relate to a different culture and all the hard work required for these people to care for their families."

In the rural villages of Guatemala, men stack and carry wood for miles through mountainous terrain in order to provide fuel for cooking and heat. Replicating their journey in a flatter urban landscape, Durica, along with Ryan and Matt Harter, brothers who have joined the couple on missions to Guatemala, carried 90-pound stacks of firewood in the traditional manner.

The trio walked from Monument Circle to the City Market and back, attracting notice with each laborious step. "It's more difficult than I thought it would be," Durica admits. His only previous attempt at carrying wood in this fashion occurred several years ago in Guatemala, but he was determined to put himself in their shoes, with the hope of inspiring the people of Indianapolis to action.

click to enlarge Ryan Harter helps David Durica strap his woodstack on his back. - PHOTO BY LORI LOVELY
  • Ryan Harter helps David Durica strap his woodstack on his back.
  • Photo by Lori Lovely

"Gandhi said to be the change you want to see," Durica paraphrases. "We created Claim to Change ( as an avenue for people to identify changes they want to see."

The change Durica wants to see is a better life for the indigenous people of Guatemala, which is why he and his wife founded Las Casas, named in honor of Bartolome de Las Casas, the 16th-century Spanish historian, reformer and Dominican friar who chronicled the colonization of the West Indies and the abuses meted out to indigenous peoples by European settlers.

The mission of Las Casas is to promote justice and the beauty of the Latin culture. Translated, las casas means "the homes." Not only have the Duricas and the Harter brothers helped build a house for a Guatemalan man, but their goal is to improve the home life of the Guatemalan artisans and back-strap weavers. "We believe we can make a long-term impact in the lives of the impoverished in the Lake Atitlan region," he explains.

Since 2012, the Duricas have been selling Guatemalan textiles and Mayan goods through retail sales online and at local fairs, providing expanded markets through which the artists can sell their goods.

"I've learned so much about Mayan culture," Durica reflects. "I admire their way of doing things."

After carrying 90-lb. stacks of wood Guatemalan-style, they all have even greater admiration. "I have such respect for the Guatemalans," Jenny says. "They're so strong."

"They use the bigger muscles of their necks and legs to carry," Durica recognizes. "We use our arms too much." The trick is to stack the wood so it's evenly balanced, but any way you pack it, it's hard work, as they learned firsthand.

Hoping that they raised awareness and reached at least a few people on a sunny Columbus Day, they plan to continue to advocate for minority rights and cultural reconciliation in the hope of making life better for all.

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Lori Lovely

Lori Lovely is a contributing freelance writer. Her passions include animal rights, Native American affairs and the Indianapolis 500.

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