Photo by Jon Vorpe.

On Nov. 18, the Huichol Foundation made its public debut. The organization, dedicated to preserving the lifestyle and survival of the Huichol people, an indigenous group in Mexico, held a launch party at the Museum of Art & History (MAH) to present their ambitious project.

Founded in Santa Cruz five years ago, the Huichol Foundation is a registered non-profit led by Nico Secunda. His father, Brant Secunda, had previously established an organization called the Dance of the Deer Foundation, which also aimed to help the Huichol people. Now, Nico wants to take his father’s mission further and push to involve a strong public support for the Huichol people.

“This gathering is meant to let people know who the Huichol are,” said communications coordinator Lauren Lindstrom. “We want to educate people about the Huichol [people] and let them know what the foundation is all about.”

For two months, the foundation eagerly planned the event. During the final five weeks, Lindstrom and her coordinating crew came to the MAH three days each week to plan the event.

Offering a glimpse into the life of the Huichol people, the launch party included a series of impassioned speakers who advocated for the foundation.

It also featured a room dedicated solely to the Huichols’ vibrant artwork. Filled with elaborately adorned yarn-paintings, an array of brightly-colored beadwork — including miniature animal figurines — and entirely handcrafted jewelry, the room was bustling with interested patrons. All of the artwork on display was purchasable, and all funds went toward the foundation. Other artwork featured in the main atrium was also available for purchase in a silent auction.

The event pulled in over 350 people. Lindstrom said the number of patrons pleasantly surprised her.

“We had expected about one to two hundred attendees,” Lindstrom said during the party, “but we prepared for this many.”

Many Santa Cruz businesses attended to offer their support. Whole Foods, El Palomar, Verve Coffee Roasters and the Penny Ice Creamery helped with catering responsibilities while simultaneously endorsing the foundation.

Near the end of the night, speakers talked about the importance of the foundation.

Darlene Gross, deputy director of education and outreach at NASA’s Ames Research Center, discussed her experience with the Huichol people.

“There was such joy in the Huichol village,” Gross said. “The children were holding hands, and running and playing … it was so beautiful. Tonight is about building a connection between you and the Huichols … with your help and support, the Huichol Foundation can carry a message both locally and globally.”

Gross encouraged patrons to educate themselves in the rich history of the Huichol people by looking at their artwork and getting more deeply involved with the foundation.

Mark Allen, a six-time Hawaii Ironman World Champion and board member of the Huichol Foundation, went on a retreat hosted by Brant Secunda in 1989. Inspired by the spirituality of the Huichols, Allen quickly joined forces with Brant to help support the Huichol people.

He spoke about the need to preserve the Huichols’ health at the launch party.

“There are forces that are slowly coming into [the Huichols’] culture,” Allen said, “that are threatening their lifestyle. They are starting to be exposed to some of the food that all of us know we shouldn’t be eating. We know the bad results of this kind of food and the Huichols aren’t immune to these results either.”

Allen said the Huichol Foundation would be committed to helping the Huichols return to a more traditional way of agriculture and food development to avoid these growing health risks.

The last speaker, co-founder Nico Secunda, gave a detailed speech outlining the Huichol Foundation and its intentions. He said the primary goal of the foundation is to preserve the Huichols’ rich history and to maintain their traditions.

“We can’t keep the modern world away from the Huichols,” Secunda said. “They’re not going to live in a box. They still live without electricity, without running water, but that might not be the case in five or 10 years. But what we don’t want to happen is for them to lose their values. In that process of assimilation, we don’t want them to lose their sense of heritage.”

Secunda said the foundation operates based on five “vital values”: health, education, culture, art and environment. All of the foundation’s work strives to preserve these five areas of the Huichol lifestyle.

Secunda said the launch party was the first step in connecting the public to the vibrant culture of the Huichols. He said he hoped the audience would take the Huichols’ way of life into consideration as the foundation moves forward.

“Tonight, you’re getting a glimpse of something very rare,” Secunda said to attendees. “I hope you all can take the message of the Huichols forward and make this vision possible.”


For more information on the Huichol Foundation, visit