Sacred Land News
A delegation of Wixárika (Huichol) people and their allies converged in Mexico City last week to urge the government to protect their sacred landscape, the Wirikuta Natural and Cultural Reserve in the northern state of San Luis Potosí, from imminent threats by mining and agroindustrial projects.
The Wixárika have sustained their millennia-old culture thanks to their resolve to maintain ancestral traditions, a key aspect of which is a 310-mile annual pilgrimage to Wirikuta, regarded as the birthplace of the sun and of peyote, the sacred cactus though which the Wixárika communicate with their ancestors and deities.
The 540-square-mile Wirikuta reserve — located in the Chihuahuan Desert, one of the world’s most biodiverse deserts — encompasses sacred sites and 86 miles of the pilgrimage route. It is unique in that it was explicitly designed to protect the area’s cultural heritage first, followed by its natural heritage. In 2001, the state government designated it as a sacred natural site under a landmark environmental protection law. And in 2004, the entire pilgrimage route was added to Mexico’s Tentative List for inclusion as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Yet despite these protections, the Wixárika’s sacred landscape faces significant threats. First Majestic Silver Corp. of Canada has been granted 22 mining concessions covering more than 23 square miles, 70 percent of which is within the reserve, while Minera Golondrina, an affiliate of another Canadian mining company, wants to build an open-pit gold mine. Toxic tailings, water pollution, ecosystem destruction, loss of wildlife, and depletion of the water table are among the potential impacts.
In addition, industrial tomato growers have razed miles of fragile desert ecosystem. Both agroindustry and mining threaten the habitat of the peyote cactus, essential to Wixárika spiritual practice.
Apart from the direct environmental impacts, Wixárika leaders say these projects endanger the integrity of the sacred landscape and their ability to practice their traditions. The UN’s special rapporteur on indigenous affairs is also investigating the Wixárika’s claim that their right to informed consent regarding the development of their traditional lands has been violated.
The Oct. 26-27 action in Mexico City, the latest effort in a battle that has been unfolding over the past year, included public marches and ceremonies, a press conference, and a meeting with officials of the federal environmental agency.
Wixárika leaders also entered the presidential complex to deliver a letter asking President Felipe Calderón to rescind the mining concessions, curb the agroindustrial megaprojects, and “implement an alternative plan that will generate jobs for local people while it converts Wirikuta on a protected natural area that is a world-renowned model of ecological conservation.” Wixárika are also calling on Calderón to uphold the 2008 Pact of Hauxa Manaká, in which the president and the governors of four Mexican states guaranteed the protection of the Wixárika culture and sacred sites.
What you can do
Support the Wirakuta Defense Front and visit their website for updates and more information about actions you can take.
Visit Cultural Survival’s Wirikuta campaign page for more information, a sample letter to send to Mexican officials, and other ways you can help.
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