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San Francisco Carnaval to have Nobel Peace Prize winner lead parade as grand marshal

Nobel-winning Indigenous rights activist named Carnaval Grand Marshal
Nobel-winning Indigenous rights activist named Carnaval Grand Marshal 02:57

The grand marshal of San Francisco Carnaval will be a champion of indigenous rights who has won a Nobel prize. And people in the Bay Area cite her as an inspiration in their own fights to preserve indigenous cultures.

Ancient dance traditions passed down from the Maya and Aztec are kept alive by people like San Jose's Lidia Doniz. Doniz is a Guatemalan-American whose family was forced to flee the genocide of indigenous peoples in her home country in 1975.

And today, Doniz credits Rigoberta Menchu Tum, who became the face of Guatemala's human rights movement and who will be honored as this year's Carnaval Grand Marshal, with saving the ancient traditions and restoring pride in indigenous cultures.

"She has allowed us to acknowledge the importance of our culture and our ceremony.  And even though we are not in Guatemala we can still practice these traditions that have been passed on for thousands and thousands of years," Doniz said.

Menchu Tum won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 after dedicating and risking her life to publicize the plight of indigenous peoples during the Guatemalan civil war in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed or vanished.

She lost her own mother, father, and brothers to the violence.

"She said the quiet things out loud. She spoke up about the killings of indigenous people, the violence against indigenous women in a country with political unrest. That was a dangerous thing to do, to have that courage. And not withstanding all of the trauma her own family experienced. The fact that she kept going despite her own tragedy is a really important piece, as a woman to be able to speak up," Doniz said.

Menchu Tum is still speaking up. Although she was forced to leave her home country and come to the U.S. for a time, she was able to return to Guatemala and uses her platform to continue to fight for the rights of her people.

Doniz said Menchu Tum's influence has resulted in good in the Bay Area. There are now places like the Indigenous Healing Center in Marin, dedicated to the special needs of indigenous families.

"Everybody matters and everybody deserves to be safe. Her work is a testament to that.  That someone can speak out loud and really make movement and change," Doniz said.

Rigoberta Menchu Tum will be celebrated at Carnaval, and remains a source of pride for the Bay Area's indigenous community and supporters.

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