By Duncan Tucker
Source: VICE News (Excerpt:)
As dawn broke on a sacred mountaintop in northern Mexico, a group of indigenous pilgrims dragged a sacrificial calf into their stone circle and slit its throat. They then dipped candles in the warm blood still gushing from the animal’s throat and lit them, creating a circle of light.
The heart was next. The tribesmen cut it from the calf’s chest, cooked it in campfire ashes, and ate it as a gesture of respect for the dead animal.
The ceremony was a plea to the tribe’s gods to defend their ancestral lands from transnational mining companies and their people from displacement at the hands of predatory drug cartels. The Wixárika have inhabited this region of northern Mexico that stretches across four states to the Pacific coast. Today, the Wixárika number 45,000, and they worry that these emerging threats signal the erasure of their culture.
Ceremonies like this one are fueled by peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus sacred to the Wixárika, or Huichol, people, and vital in facilitating conversation with their gods. But thanks to a booming illegal peyote tourism industry nearby, even that part of their culture is in jeopardy.
STANDING UP TO THE CARTELS
The Wixárika have taken practical measures against these existential threats but they believe they need divine intervention to ensure their survival. VICE News accompanied the indigenous group’s leaders on their annual pilgrimage to the Cerro Quemado, a cactus-covered mountain in San Luis Potosí where they believe the sun was born. This year’s voyage took on added urgency as it came just days after two Wixárika activists were murdered in nearby Jalisco state.
Miguel Vázquez, a prominent land rights activist, was fatally shot by gunmen believed to work for the Jalisco New Generation cartel in the town of Tuxpan de Bolaños on May 20. His brother Agustín was killed after visiting him in the hospital that night.
A NATIONAL ISSUE
The Wixárika are not the only native group tired of being on the receiving end of government corruption and lawless drug cartels. Last month Mexico’s National Indigenous Congress and the Zapatista National Liberation Army — Mayan descendants who led an uprising in 1994 and still control parts of Chiapas state — nominated a Nahua medicine woman to represent them in next year’s presidential elections.
María de Jesús Patricio Martínez is the first indigenous woman to run for president, and her campaign is focused on drawing attention to the threats that the government, corporations, and criminal gangs pose to indigenous communities across Mexico.
“They’ve displaced us and appropriated our lands,” she said. “We’ve seen complete destruction carried out by those at the top.”
Patricio’s chances of winning the presidency are slim, but her symbolic run is aimed at creating a national support base to defend Mexico’s indigenous communities.
Greater destruction looms over the Wixárika in the form of lucrative concessions to companies to mine their land. Despite the San Luis Potosí state government declaring it a Sacred Natural Area in 2001, Mexico’s federal government has continued handing out the concessions.
The most prominent beneficiary, Canada’s First Majestic Silver Corp, owns concessions that cover 12,298 acres in the area. First Majestic says it “recognizes the need to protect the cultural heritage of the Huicholes” and “has worked with government to ensure that operations on the property will not disturb these sacred zones.”
But members of the Wixárika Regional Council, who have filed injunctions in a bid to revoke at least 78 concessions, said that mining causes severe environmental damage that puts their heritage and local ecosystems at risk.
“We demand that the Mexican state cancel each and every one of the mining concessions in Wirikuta,” said councilor Aukwe Mijarez during the mountaintop ceremony.
First Majestic’s Mexican subsidiary Minera Real Bonanza responded to these concerns, saying the company was “committed to supporting the preservation of the sacred sites of the Wixárika culture,” and was building wastewater treatment plants and had ceded 1,880 acres of concessions in the area closest to the Cerro Quemado.