Threatened by a mining company, indigenous women in the remote highlands of Guatemala are marching, increasing productivity, and planting trees.

At an elevation of nearly 4,000 meters above sea level, Comitancillo, a province in northwestern Guatemala, was a formidable place to farm. Maya-Mam communities had lived on these barren slopes in northwestern Guatemala for nearly 500 years. The Mam were one of 24 indigenous cultures in Guatemala, a country where although nearly 50 percent of the population were indigenous people, the country had never elected an indigenous president. The mestizo elite owned politics and power in Guatemala. Marginalized to the mountains in the northwest, the Mam survived on growing food and grazing livestock.

Looking down the mountainside, I witnessed how the Mam adapted to live on their mountain fortress: They’d carved steps into the mountainside, thousands of terraces that cascaded down to the bottom of the valley. I was awestruck by such architecture.