The Utz’ K’aslimaal Collective Story

Natural Living, Indigenous Epistemologies and the Good Life

We understand our privilege, and don’t try to hide the fact that, at the most basic level, we are in some ways continuing a history of dispossession and violence towards the Mayan people of Guatemala. The piece of land where Utz’ K’aslimaal Collective is located was originally forcefully appropriated from the Tz’utujil people by a coffee baron at the turn of the 20th century. The land was then sold off to some of the wealthiest families in the country who privatized the land in hopes of turning the land into an exclusive country club for the oligarchy.

Today, thousands of foreigners come to the beautiful Lake Atitlan area and purchase the best pieces of land in order to create projects or businesses from the ample financial resources they have. In the vast majority of cases, these privileged foreigners never make an effort to belong to the reality of the indigenous communities around the Lake, but rather impose their values, ideas, worldview, and financial influence onto communities that struggle to maintain some sense of autonomy and sovereignty.

We have seen time and time again that that the tendency for these types of local/non-local relationships is to be exploitive, oppositional and ugly; offering meager employment opportunities at the cost of a more fundamental and structural dispossession of indigenous communities and their ancestral territories.

One of the guiding values of the Utz’ K’aslimaal Collective, then, is to purposefully and resolutely attempt to embody a new pattern and archetype of local/non-local relationships; one that first acknowledges the historical privilege from which we’ve come in order to conscientiously construct relationships based on a profound respect and esteem for the community that has so graciously accepted us to form a part of their reality.

As we develop an educational program around the themes of natural building, ecological design, indigenous epistemologies, and place-based development, we want to exemplify a different model of local/non-local relationship that doesn’t just passively benefit the community via menial part-time employment and periodic bursts of income, but actively seeks to create spaces for local decision-making, voice, profit-sharing, and power.

This new model of local/non-local relationships is possible because of the way in which we have been formed over the years by indigenous communities and the real relationships that we have built. We don’t look at the indigenous communities of Guatemala and see need, privation, and poverty. Rather, we admire and respect their wisdom and way of life, seek to learn from them, and build meaningful relationships of trust and justice.

Our Team


Yasmin Mendez

Yasmin is originally from El Salvador, but spent several years in Guatemala working with the Mayan Ixil indigenous community and exploring her own Nahuat-Pipil roots. Currently, she and her family run a small agro-ecology/permaculture farm in the mountains of Chalatenango, El Salvador, near the Honduras border. Yasmin specializes in ecological design, gender issues from indigenous worldviews, and natural medicine.


Juan Ramirez

Juan is a Tz’utujil community leader from the small village of Panabaj, located on the outskirts of Santiago Atitlan. After Hurricane Stan devastated his community in 2005, Juan was fundamental in starting ANADESA, a small, locally-run community development organization that helped his community to rebuild after the natural disaster. Juan brings a passion for teaching about his Tz’utujil culture and a wealth of knowledge about sustainable living to the Collective.


Tobias Roberts

Tobias came to Central America in 2006 and worked with several small NGOs in El Salvador and Guatemala before eventually moving to his family’s farm in the mountains of El Salvador. His vision for right livelihoods has been shaped by his time amongst Salvadoran peasants and the Mayan Ixil people of the Nebaj region of Guatemala. Toby is a writer and farmer that specializes in natural construction, permaculture methods of land design, and indigenous epistemologies.


Nate Howard

Nate currently lives in Bogota, Colombia where he has been working for the last five years as a development worker and social entrepreneur. Previously he spent six years in Guatemala accompanying indigenous communities around Lake Atitlan and in the far-western highland department of San Marcos. Nate is committed to encouraging base communities to pool together their local resources in order to overcome common challenges