Esquire Latinoamerica, August 2011 Text and Photos by Tracy L. Barnett
For the Huicholes, the region known as Wirikuta, in North-Central Mexico, is sacred; for a Canadian company it is the base of its next great mining project. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the village of Real de Catorce, at the heart of Wirikuta, are divided among those who need jobs and those who see the mine as a threat. The debate grows with every day and has reached as far as Canada and the United Nations.
To see the entire article (in Spanish), download here: PDF Huicholes
To the President of the United States of Mexico Felipe Calderón Hinojosa
To the People and Governments of the World
We come personally from the Western Sierra Madre to deliver this urgent letter to demand that you keep your word that you publicly announced when you committed to respect and protect our sacred places in the pact of Hauxa Manaká in 2008 and to do so according to the fundamental laws of our country and the agreements, decrees, pacts and national and international conventions that the Mexican State has subscribed to guarantee the respect of our living and millennial culture.
We are a commission of agrarian and traditional authorities from the Wixárika People, who together form the Regional Wixarika Council in Defense of Wirikuta, and we bring the word that unites the sentiment of the councils of elders, of the wise chanters, of the pilgrimage groups entrusted with sustaining the arduous work of more than 500 community ceremonial centers and family ranches; we bring the word that together is one united decisive expression of the feelings of the families of all the communities in Jalisco, Nayarit, Durango and Zacatecas where the Wixaritari live and we want you to respond respecting our rights according to your commitment.
The Federal Government of our country granted 22 concessions that span more than 6,000 hectares in the Sierra of Catorce to the mining company First Majestic Silver Corp. and Real de Bonanza, S.A. de C.V. But the Sierra of Catorce and the whole of Wirikuta, Mr. President, is one of the altars of major importance where our pilgrims balance fertility and the equilibrium of the world for all its creatures and we have evidence that the mining operation would affect in a deep way the ecology, contaminating the zone and drying out our sacred springs.
In these times of extreme violence in our country, which are destroying our social fabric, with this megaproject you are kidnapping and want to assassinate our mother, The Earth, which you have threatened, and seek the forced disappearance of an entire people, the Wixarika People.
For this reason we demand that you immediately cancel these concessions and any others that have as their goal the extraction of minerals or the destruction of Wirikuta in any other way because if the object of all of this tragedy is money, with conviction we inform you that it will be infinitely cheaper to cancel these concessions than to lament the ecological, spiritual and social tragedy that digging and extracting the entrails of Wirikuta could provoke.
Wirikuta is the heart of our essence. If it ends, we die as a people. We have been making pilgrimages to Wirikuta for thousands of years and we know the Ancestors who live in each hill, each stony glade, each rocky crag, and each flower by their names and we have for that reason, according to international standards, the right of traditional, ancestral possession. We respect nevertheless, the communities and farmers who live in the area and we pray also that they may sow and reap their food, so that they may live well, care for and be protected by this sacred land whose vocation is not mining but the enlightenment and renovation of the heart of the world.
We see with much concern that despite the aforementioned Pact of Hauxa Manaká and despite the public opposition of our people to the mining operation in Wirikuta, you have maintained an inexplicable silence in the face of our demand, while our territorial rights have been violated, similarly our previous, free and informed consent, in addition carrying out this mining project will violate the environmental laws of our country, because the area is a Natural Protected Area by governmental decree with its management plan.
The fundamentals of our claim are in the first terms of Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, in its articles 2, 6, 7, 14 and 15; likewise, in Article 2 section b subsection IX, article 27 section VII, second paragraph of the Political Constitution of the United States of Mexico and its related laws.
It worries us even more, that some members of the federal government and the mining company itself are trying to convince us to accept the mine in exchange for granting us one of the sacred places from part of the expanse of Wirikuta, the Cerro Quemado o Raunaxi.
We have already explained that the Sierra of Catorce is a whole unit, where the spiritual energy and power of our ancestors, who allow us to live our lives now and in the future, resides between the lowlands and the highest peaks of the mountains and throughout its interior, and it coincides best with the area of more than 144,000 hectares of the natural protected region. We will not accept for any reason that this type of activity be developed in the area as it is too great an affront for our people, for Mexico and for all of humanity, besides the obvious illegalities that these concessions represent.
Mr. President, we are the original people of this country, we are the ancient root and we reiterate, don’t destroy our Wixárika culture, don’t destroy yourselves for the ignorance of not knowing what these valleys of Wirikuta contain, and the mountains which illuminate the world.
For this reason our commission comes all the way here to deliver this written statement to you. We bring you our urgent word in a timely fashion. We are chanting pilgrims, cultivators; we are the legitimate authorities of our people of corn, deer and sun. We are Mexicans and we dress ourselves with flowers because we chant of peace.
Cancel the mine in Wirikuta, raise to the federal level the environmental and cultural protection and all of our descendents will thank you, otherwise the present generations will walk a difficult but firm path in the conviction of detaining this threat, we await your formal answer in your capacity of the Chief Federal Executive and the one principally responsible for the economic, environmental and social policy of our country.
Regional Wixarika Council for the Defense of Wirikuta
Mexico, D.F., May 9, 2011
Sunday’s National March in Mexico City and throughout the country drew headlines around the world. A delegation of Wixarika authorities who had traveled from their communities in the faraway Western Sierra Madre were convened in Mexico City for a meeting, and they decided to join the protest in solidarity for the 35,000 victims of the drug war that began 4 1/2 years ago when President Felipe Calderon brought out the military to fight the narcotraffickers.
Tears of sadness and of rage were visible in the crowd as speaker after speaker who had lossed loved ones to the violence shared stories of their loss and horror and demanded a shift in government policy. Tens of thousands stood together in a long moment of silence, followed by the ringing of bells in the colonial cathedral.
The message of the Wixarika marchers: Toxic mining is violence, too. Stop the mine in Wirikuta.
Here are the words they delivered in a letter to President Felipe Calderon the next day:
“In these times of extreme violence in our country, which are destroying our social fabric, with this megaproject they are kidnapping and want to assassinate our mother, The Earth to which they have incarcerated, and they seek the forced disappearance of an entire people, the Wixarika People.”
(Photos by Gerardo Ruiz Smith) Editor’s note: The declaration of the Wixarika Regional Council in the Defense of Wirikuta is a powerful commentary on the increasing frequency of natural disasters and the lack of understanding in our contemporary cultures. May we heed their call before it’s too late.
Declaration of the Wixárika Regional Council for the Defense of Wirikuta
To the Wirikuta Defense Front of Tamatsima Waha’a
To the Civil Society in General
To the Three Powers of the Mexican State
Will they understand in time? Will the governments and corporations that control the material order of the world be capable of understanding in time that the disasters like earthquakes or tsunamis, which they only manage to define as natural phenomenon, are the furious words of those our people know as kaka+yarixi, deities or fundamental forces of nature that feel, think and have the word that permits us to live?
For us, these disasters have an urgent message, calling on humanity to try another way of relating with nature. We don’t know if government officials will be capable of listening and attending to the call in time, because they don’t show any signs of being good at dialog.
After our sacred site of Wirikuta was ordered by governmental decree and a management plan that protects it, the government granted concessions to a Canadian mining company that threatens the Sierra of Catorce and the desert lowlands that comprise this sacred zone, in the municipalities of Charcas, Villa de la Paz, Villa de Ramos, Zacatón, Catorce, Matehuala and Villa de Guadalupe.
We have been for more than seven months demanding that the government of our country cancel the concessions of the mining company First Majestic or Real Bonanza in the Sierra of Catorce and we have heard no response from any of the municipal, state or federal institutions. So what good, then, are the agreements, the decrees, the management plans and the word of Felipe Calderón dressed as a Wixárika promising the protection of our sacred places at the hour of signing the pact of Hauxamanaka just two years ago?
We have been demanding for more than seven months and once again, we make our demand:
That the federal government cancel the 22 mining concessions to the Canadian company First Majestic Silver Corp. and its Mexican “prestanombres” (one who loans his name in order to conduct business), Real Bonanza S.A. de C.V. Mining, in this sacred place not only destroys a fundamental pillar of the Wixárika culture, it is an attack that brings as a consequence many natural disasters and death.
The mining company asks us to let them extract minerals from the sierra in exchange for giving us the Cerro Quemado. We explained to them that the Sierra of Catorce is a sacred whole and therefore it is impossible to mine the area and to respect the Quemado. From the South to the North, the sierra is a collection of kaka+yarixi or fundamental ancestors and the springs that are essential for the rain and the fertility of our country. Wirikuta free of mining and of projects that destroy her natural fragility is what we are demanding that the government enforce.
We are not alone in this struggle. Every day more support is growing for the defense of Wirikuta. The Tamatsima Waha’a front, of which we are the point of the arrow, is constituted of numerous Mexican civil organizations and from other places in the world who are working intensely to offer solutions and build alliances with other peoples and other movements that also defend the roots of life.
We appreciate the support of the indigenous people of the United States and Canada, organized in the Native American Church and of course our brothers of the National Indigenous Congress.
We have organized conferences, debates, festivals to spread the word of our right to be respected and we plan still more musical festivals and gatherings and creative activities so that this threat of extermination be detained.
This is the path of our struggle. In what other way does the government want us to remind it of its historic and moral constitutional obligation to respect our fundamental patrimony, the patrimony of all Mexicans and all of humanity?
Listen, ladies and gentlemen of the government and who dominate the corporations: Wirikuta is the matrix of life. Matrix of the rain and of fertility. A place to remember our origin and the natural future of humanity. There is no room there for either mines nor industrial tomato growers. There is room for other projects so that the ejidal campesino families who live in Wirikuta, and those of us in the Wirikuta Defense Front have proposals for that.
We salute with respect all of those who have put forward their dignity in the face of so many years of dispossession and discrimination that today Wirikuta has one of the zones with the highest emigration rates in the country. We salute with the same respect the campesinos of Wirikuta who await this criminal exploitation with hopes of an improvement in their living conditions and who await too with the pain of seeing their children go to the United States, Monterrey and other places to never return, and who await the beginning of the mining exploitation with the pain of seeing that the uncontrolled ambition for money wants to do away with the sacred rain that keeps us alive, to throw them off their lands or make them accept with humility the mining alternative, who await First Majestic with the pain of living with the contamination of heavy metals left behind by the mining activities of the past.
To you, our brothers, our proposal is to change from below, from the local organization of so much injustice that you are now living, reconstructing your social fabric. We have made your situation our own and we are working so that between us we may demonstrate that we are capable of constructing dignified alternatives.
We appreciate the initiatives that are being worked on in an organized manner for the realization of cultural festivals, especially the group of artists and intellectuals who have joined this struggle. We exhort them to continue with this historic force and to trust in our organizational structure headed by our assemblies and traditional authorities, projected in the path of the Wirikuta Defense Front of Tamatsima Waha’a.
We send our recognition and congratulations to the companions with whom, together, we are the Wirikuta Defense Front of Tamatsima Waha’a for the nomination of an international award in the category of Human Rights, which is our demonstration that civil society can organize using the tools of communication that we count on, for which we call on the civil society to support this nomination by voting for our website and the other campaigns that have been launched by our movement.
We wish to reiterate the need to maintain an interlocution and coordination of confidence through the Jalisco Association in Support of Indigenous Groups (AJAGI), and to avoid delays in communication in our communities, which is indeed complicated.
This is what we wish to communicate to the people of Mexico and the Mexican State. It is what we reiterate from the Colonia Rivera Aceves, locality of Waut+a, in this tenth reunion of the Regional Wixarika Council for the Defense of Wirikuta conformed by our traditional and agrarian governments, kawiterutsixi and mara’akate and this is what we communicate to all of our friends of the Front, the journalists, intellectuals, groups of artists, politicians and to the society and general.
Wirikuta is not for sale. Never again a Mexico without us.
Regional Wixarika Council for the Defense of Wirikuta
Tiway+la – Colonia Rivera Aceves, C.I. San Sebastián Teponahuaxtlán on April 9 of 2011
For Waut+a San Sebastian Teponahuaxtlan and Kuruxi Manuká
Gracias a Gerardo Ruiz Smith por su colaboración fotográfica. Vea su hermosa colección entera aquí.
REAL DE CATORCE, San Luis Potosí, México – Rodolfo Cosio prays he’s not the last generation of a dying tradition.
As a jicarero, he is one of the keepers of the ancient pilgrimage of the Wixaritari or Huichol people of western Mexico. Each year he travels to the sacred sites of his ancestors in the five directions, offering up prayers and ceremonies that his people believe are essential to balancing the energies of an increasingly endangered planet.
Each year he explains to his children the importance of living a simple life, of maintaining the traditions, of fasting and pushing oneself far beyond the limits of comfort to keep the ceremonial fires burning as his ancestors have done for more than 1,000 years. He prays this won’t be the last year his people will receive the teachings of their sacred plant, hikuri, or peyote.
Just a few months ago, Cosio and other members of his community received the news that Wirikuta, the most important of their five pilgrimage sites in the state of San Luis Potosí, near the UNESCO-recognized site of Real de Catorce, has been concessioned to a Canadian mining company for a silver mine – despite the fact that the mining concessions lie within a federally protected cultural and natural preserve. The news was met at first with shock and disbelief.
“What they are talking about means the annihilation of our culture,” Cosio said. “It’s like a spiritual death for us.”
At the heart of Wirikuta is Leunar, or Cerro Quemado, the site where the sun rose for the first time, according to Huichol tradition. The region is home to several sacred springs, where their ancestors are buried and important ceremonies must be conducted each year. Here is the desert where they collect the sacred hikuri that they use for their prayers and ceremonies. And here will be the site of Mexico’s next resource battle, as the Wixaritari are not likely to let their ancient ceremonial site be mined without a struggle.
Santos Carillo de la Cruz, a Wixaritari leader, at Real de Catorce, Wirikuta.
The Wixarika communities published a call for support from the international community in September. Since that time, they appointed AJAGI, the Jalisco Association in Support of Indigenous People, to lead their legal defense, and AJAGI has joined with several organizations throughout Mexico to create a coalition called the Frente en Defensa de Wirikuta, or the Wirikuta Defense Front. AJAGI has supported the Wixarika communities for two decades in reclaiming their lands from illegal invasions and in a wide range of development projects.
Those organizations are now working together on the legal challenge and are organizing to raise awareness about this threat and to build an international campaign to support the Huicholes in their efforts to protect their sacred sites.
“In the face of these enormous challenges that humanity is confronting right now with environmental destruction, climate change and industrial contamination, we cannot let economic ambition carry us to the extreme of destroying sacred places of such great spiritual, cultural and environmental value, even disregarding laws and the most elemental of human rights,” said Carlos Chávez, founder of AJAGI. “We must support this cause, which is the cause of all humanity, because to do otherwise would bring us one step closer to the cancelation of our future.”
In this excellent video interview, recorded at the recent Call of the Eagle – Vision Council gathering by Leticia Rigatti and Ryan Luckey of the Común Tierra project, Huichol marakame (medicine man) Julio Parra shares his thoughts about the proposed mine in Wirikuta. For a version with English subtitles and blog entry, and to learn more about Común Tierra, check out their website here.
How you can help
There are several ways you can support the Huichol people in their struggle to protect their culture and their traditional pilgrimage site.
First, you can join the Wirikuta Defense Front by dropping a line to AJAGI1@prodigy.net.mx and asking to be added to the mailing list. If you want to receive information in English only, please specify. Also, please indicate if you have particular skills that you can share: translation, background in environmental sciences or other relevant skills, connections with organizations that might be able to write a letter in support or help in other ways. The group is in the process of translating Spanish-language materials into English; please let us know if you’d like to help. Meanwhile, the Spanish-language blog is SALVEMOS WIRIKUTA (Let’s Save Wirikuta) and there’s also a SALVEMOS WIRIKUTAFacebook page. Also, the Wixarika Resource Center has a Wirikuta page with frequent updates here.
Second, you can organize a letter-writing campaign among your friends and contacts to Mexican officials; personal letters sent through the mail are the most effective, but if you prefer, there is a website where you can just fill out a form and press “send.” Cultural Survival, an international organization dedicated to raising awareness about indigenous rights, has launched an international letter-writing campaign with a sample letter and addresses here, as well as an alert that lays out the issues in detail. Rainforest Rescue has another that goes to even more public officials. Please do both.
Meanwhile, the Wirikuta Defense Front is working to bring international pressure on the Mexican government to shut down the mine before it starts. The group is working to raise the money to send a delegation of Huicholes to Canada to lobby against the proposed mine at the company’s Canadian headquarters, through its stockholders and through the Canadian government.
If you are interested in contributing to the Wirikuta Defense Front to help with this and other expenses related to stopping the mining operations in Wirikuta, please make a tax-deductible contribution to The Esperanza Project via the Paypal link on its website, with WIRIKUTA in the special instructions space, or through the AJAGI bank account in Mexico, c/o CARLOS CHÀVEZ REYES, at HSBC, Branch # 00701, Account #02132 00403 92525 721.
Most importantly, help spread the word – and join Rodolfo and his people in their prayers for a healthier, happier and more balanced planet for us all.
CHALMITA, Mexico State, Mexico – Long before the sun appears over the towering white cliffs all around us, this temporary village comes to life. The guardians of the ceremonial fire are stoking the flames for the temezcal; the kitchen crew is chopping and peeling and stirring; smoke is rising from the women’s tipi. Suddenly the resonant call of the conch rings out over the valley, calling us to the salutation of the sun, and the cry of an eagle pierces the air like a blessing.
We are gathered in this enchanted valley for the Call of the Eagle, the tenth intercontinental gathering of a group of dreamers and doers who are quietly changing the world from the inside out: the Consejo de Visiones – Guardianes de la Tierra (Vision Council – Guardians of the Earth).
Some 500 visitors from as far as Australia and as near as neighboring Chalmita – filmmakers and farmers, psychologists and shamans, artists and teachers, spiky-haired punks and lyrical poets – are learning to live together under the blue skies and bright stars of an itinerant ecovillage conceived more than a decade ago under the banner of the Rainbow Caravan for Peace and the Mexican Bioregional Movement. By the end of the week, this event will have touched the lives of more than 1,000.
This tenth gathering is a very special event for many reasons, chief among them that it is seen as the fulfillment of an Inca prophecy. When the Eagle and the Condor fly together, according to the prophecy, this will signal the dawn of a new era – the Eagle representing the North, and the Condor representing the South. Here in this sacred valley, lying in the shadow of an ancient pyramid amid the fertile Bosque de Agua, a high-energy group of visionaries, artists, and activists from North and South has come full circle.
Fourteen years ago, a now legendary group of them, led by among others Alberto Ruz Buenfil, otherwise known as the Subcoyote – cousin of Fidel Castro and son of the archaeologist who discovered Palenque’s fantastic hidden treasures – set off from this region for an epic journey that was to create the foundation for an intercontinental environmental, spiritual and social movement. After holding the first intercontinental congress of the Vision Council, they headed off in a bus painted like an ear of corn through the Zapatista territory of Chiapas, through the volcanic highlands of Central America and the tropical lowlands of Amazonia all the way to the tip of the continent in Patagonia. Using theater and the arts to plant seeds of hope, peace and sustainability in conflict zones, indigenous villages and crime-ridden barrios, they connected and nurtured social movements throughout the continent.
Their second international event, the Call of the Condor in 2002, brought some 1,300 activists and artists to the Sacred Valley of Machu Picchu in Peru to begin the work of consolidating a vision for a transition to a new age. The third, Call of the Hummingbird, was held in Brazil in 2005 and drew more than 1,500.
Now, after 13 years, that caravan has finally come back to its roots, and the seeds they planted here in Mexico and across the continent have come full bloom in an astounding event that is awakening even the most cynical and reserved among us. Tears flow freely in the circles of dance, in the darkness of the temezcal, in the embraces of long-lost friends who have only just met.
But this is far from a feel-good encounter group. In fact, it’s far from anything I’ve experienced. These folks are facing the future with their eyes wide open, painfully aware of the resource and climate crises that loom on the horizon. It’s also not a hand-wringing session. No one here is waiting for government to resolve these pending crises, although government leaders are here to participate in the forums, workshops and demonstrations in areas encompassing ecology, health, spirituality, appropriate technology, and education among many others. Local schoolchildren, too, are brought in to participate in panels teaching self-reliance; local youth participate in forums organizing political and social action preparing for turbulent times in a post-petroleum world. Gaia University is here, sharing a revolutionary model for participatory education, granting diplomas, bachelor’s and master’s degrees while its students are engaged in planetary transformation.
One team is building an oven from mud and bricks, while another is building a solar clock; another group is learning about native herbal healing techniques, while still another is raising the ceremonial tipi that will be the headquarters of a powerful women’s healing circle, and another is discussing strategies for protecting this valley, a strategic but highly vulnerable center for water conservation. Another initiative is gathering momentum to support the Huicholes in a struggle to save their most sacred site, Cerro Quemado in Real de Catorce or Wirikuta, from a transnational mining operation.
Sacred rituals from the world’s great traditions mingle with dance and creations of art and song to raise the energy throughout the week to a level I never thought possible. Activities run from sunup to 3 a.m., but sleep seems superfluous.
The culmination of the event comes after an all-night vigil to greet the dawn; a spectacularly feathered and painted group of Aztec dancers await us around a blazing fire, and a mandala of dance and rhythm and song erupts.
As I sit down to try and put this phenomenon to words, I recall those of Coyote Alberto as we stood together on the last day.
“It’s all so perfect,” I told him. “My only regret is that it’s just impossible to put into words.”
He laughed knowingly – the author of several books about the caravan and its Rainbow Warriors, and now involved in a project to bring the lessons of the caravan home in Mexico City, he has struggled with this problem daily.
“Nobody believes you when you try to explain it,” he said. “They say, ‘You’re just writing what you want it to be.’ There’s no way to explain – you just have to live it.”
Never has a human being lived his words more authentically, more powerfully, more beautifully than the man at the heart of this vision turned reality. I can do no better than to end with some of those words, which Alberto shared with us during the closing ceremony.
“Two hundred years ago these lands were the scene of bloody battles; much blood was shed among our grandfathers and grandmothers to make a step forward in the process of evolution, of growth, toward our liberty as individuals, as a people, and as a nation…. A hundred years ago, again in these lands, much blood was spilled once again among our people, with the same goal, to be able to walk with a bit more liberty, a bit more strength.
“Today we are here together for the same cause, but together we are creating our own liberty, not just for Mexico but for the entire planet. Two hundred years ago we began the process of our independence. Today, what we have realized is that we are interdependent. Everyone for everyone… independence doesn’t exist. We are creating a planetary nation, interdependent.
“This day will be carried in the hearts of each of us as we take one more step on this road to liberty, this road toward dignity and justice. Everyone is responsible for everyone else. Our commitment is to this struggle, no longer with weapons of war but with weapons of dance and music, art and ceremony and ritual.
“If a hundred years ago a process of revolution began, today we also come to take a new step forward; we come to celebrate a re-evolution. We are standing here today, people from all over the planet, and each of us carries with us all our ancestors, all our traditions, all our grandparents, all those who struggled in the past to create a better future. Each one of you is the fruit of all the blood that was shed in these struggles, so that today we could be here present, celebrating, together in the same circle, with one heart and with one vision, on this day.
“Our grandparents spoke of prophecies. Today they are watching, and they see in us the ones they were waiting for.”
MEXICO CITY, Mexico – Thanksgiving day – I awoke this morning far from home and family but filled with a profound sense of gratitude.
Grateful for the sun that was just beginning to brighten the sky outside my window; grateful for the dear friends who have given me a home in this city of cities. Grateful for the health and the support of my family, who continue to love me faithfully despite my wandering ways.
Most of all on this day, I’m grateful for the path I’ve been given this year, a path that has led me from inspiration to inspiration as I traveled from Mexico to Argentina, seeking to learn from those who are each changing our world in their own way.
I began the year with grave doubts about the future of humanity, indeed, the future of all life on this planet. Peak oil, climate change, food insecurity, financial crises, water crises – ominous reports were being released from leading scientists around the world, saying we have passed the point of no return. We have not managed our inheritance well, and turbulent times loom – of this we can be sure.
I also harbored fears and doubts about my own future as a professional journalist who dedicated most of my professional life to an industry that is now shedding journalists like a maple tree in an autumn windstorm.
So I set off for the South on a search for inspiration in this troubled world, among the people who have always given me hope – Latin Americans, an astoundingly diverse collection of peoples who have for centuries cultivated the flame of joy amid the crises, a civilization born from crisis. I founded The Esperanza Project to document the stories of some of these people, and I began working on a book, “Looking for Esperanza.”
I found that inspiration, at countless kitchen tables and gardens and streets from Mexico City to Iguazú, from Guatemala’s Mayan highlands to El Salvador’s tropical forests, from Paraguay’s campesino movement to the artists and permaculturists of Colombia. Everywhere I went, I found people embracing the coming transition of our world with hope and joy.
I began my journey in January, and came full circle last week, with a powerful network of dreamers and doers who form the Vision Council – Guardians of the Earth. I will share more about this amazing network in my next piece. Among this network were representatives of the Huichol people, an indigenous group that is struggling to save its sacred lands from countless invasions large and small and now from a transnational mining corporation, and I will be writing a great deal about this, as well.
Somewhere along the thousands of dusty, sweaty miles I traveled, watching the landscape unfold through the windows of buses and semi-trucks and airplanes and from the backs of pickup trucks and oxcarts and motorcycles, a wider vision of me began to emerge, as well. Every departure became more difficult; I wept as Colombia’s lush green mountains receded into the distance, feeling the bonds I had made tightening around my heart. What was this force that kept pushing me forward? When would it be my time and place to plant my own roots, my own seeds? Where would be the soil that I would cultivate? Where would be the family whose future I would share?
Always the answer came back the same. You are a child of the cosmos. Your home is this planet. The seeds you plant are in the human consciousness, and they will bear fruit for all. Your family is everywhere… just look around you.
Yes, yes, I answered impatiently. But I want those seeds to make a difference. Like those whose stories I tell, I want my own work to matter. I want to be a midwife of hope in these transition times, a light along the way to that transcendent new world we are all dreaming of.
In those green mountains of Colombia, in an ancient ceremony conducted by Amazonian shamans, I surrendered my consciousness to the Pachamama, to the earthly manifestation of God himself. Allow me to be an instrument of thy will, I pleaded. Show me my path. Thy will, not mine, O Lord.
There in the darkness, surrounded by the chants and drums of the shamans, I saw my path. It was green and lined with trees. A soft breeze was blowing. Not a car, not a building, not a person to be seen.
Solitude. Silence. Spirit-filled reflection in the inherent wisdom of the Mother.
Three things that had eluded me in the constant movement of my journey. Three things that I will be seeking now.
During the three-day ceremony I visited at length with the tribal leaders of the Cofan people, learning of their struggles in the Amazon to reclaim and protect their lands from the invasions of cattle ranchers, oil companies, developers and all manner of threats. Struggles that echoed those of the Huicholes of the Mexican Sierra Occidental, who had left their magical mark on me at the beginning of my journey. Struggles that called to mind those of the Mayan peoples of Guatemala, risking and sometimes losing their lives in confrontations with the mining companies.
I have watched over the year as these struggles have continued to emerge and intensify: the Belo Monte Dam in Brazil, mountain-removal mining projects in Peru, massive agroindustrial plantations in Paraguay. As the free trade agreements signed over the past decade break down the barriers to transnational exploitation in the remotest corners, the native peoples who have guarded their lands for millennia are being called to sacrifice their lives in a last stand for their peoples and the Mother Earth.
All of these struggles unfolded before my eyes, the beautiful soulful faces of their protagonists burning their way into my consciousness. It was then that I knew that the next part of my journey would somehow, some way, be at their sides.
“The Madre is furious with us,” Maracame Julio Parra, a Huichol shaman, shared with me on our last night together. “We are not practicing the rituals of protection in the sacred sites as she has guided us for thousands of years. We must go back and make our peace with her.”
Peace with the Mother. Peace for the Guardians of the Earth. Peace for us all.
SAN ISIDRO MAZATEPEC, Jalisco, Mexico – It was harvest season when I visited Teopantli Kalpulli, and the colorful native corn was spread out on the ground, drying in the sun. Children played in the grassy schoolyard as Levi Rios stopped from his rounds for a moment to watch them.
Not so many years ago, this young ecovillage leader was learning to read in this same schoolhouse; now a college graduate with several years’ experience in the city as a professional architect, he’s returned to his pastoral roots to help lead his community into a second generation.
Past, present and future meet at Teopantli Kalpulli, an intentional community/ecovillage about an hour south of Guadalajara. These families live close to the earth but still enjoy modern comforts. Conceived in the late 1970s by a small group that included Levi’s parents, Carlos Rios and Beatriz Cardenas, the community has grown to become Mexico’s largest intentional community of its kind.
Teopantli Kalpulli, a Nahuatl phrase which, loosely translated, means “Village of the Sacred Standard,” was an outgrowth of the founders’ search for an earth-centered lifestyle that incorporated the sacred traditions of their ancestors. They were part of a network called the Universal Grand Brotherhood, practitioners of yoga, meditation and vegetarianism.
“They realized that the Americas had their own traditions that are as sacred as those of the East, so they decided to build their community on those traditions,” Levi explained.
The prehispanic kalpullis, he explained, were villages that shared a series of disciplines and cultural practices such as the traditional sowing of corn, the practice of sacred dance and the temezcal – the indigenous Mexican version of the sweat lodge ceremony. Teopantli, Levi said, was one of the first spaces in Mexico that opened its doors to the indigenous leaders to share their teachings, and those teachings were incorporated into the ecovillage structure.
Community members try to grow as much of their own organic food as possible, and they revere the corn and the Mother Earth as their ancestors did.
Teopantli is a paradise for the children, who have the run of the place. Twenty-one families make their homes on these 92 acres, concentrated on 17 acres of homes and common space. The rest of the land is used for cultivation of their traditional maize, for organic gardens and fruit trees, and forest.
Ownership of the land is collective, Levi explained, with members being granted permits to construct their housing.
“What we are doing here is assuring that the earth belongs to the community,” he explained. Another key goal of the community is to ensure that a healthy, cooperative, earth-based lifestyle can be accessible to people regardless of their income level.
The tour began at the center of the community, where a giant ceiba tree, sacred to the Maya and other prehispanic peoples, spreads its leafy branches over a ceremonial circle.
The community itself is laid out along the four cardinal directions, with sacred spaces in each of the four points: In the north, a small pyramid constructed in the way of their prehispanic ancestors; in the east, a sanctuary for yoga and meditation; in the south, a calihuey, the sacred temple of the Huichol ancestors, and in the west, a temezcal. In each of these four spaces, they hold different celebrations throughout the year.
“We learned from the Huichol people to link the planting of the corn with a calendar of activities throughout the year,” Levi said. The planning of activities in different parts of the community is important, he explained, as it “keeps the energy moving” throughout the community.
One of the top priorities as to community enters its next phase, he explained, is to expand the school to create different classrooms for the different age groups. Currently the 14 children who belong to the community all study in a common classroom, but the group is continuing to grow, with an additional two families joining in the past year.
One change the village has seen over time is an increase in the educational level, Levi explained. His parents were fortunate to attend college, he said, but most of the founders did not, and it was always a struggle to earn enough money to support the community.
Part of that herculean effort involved rebuilding the soil, depleted from years of slash-and-burn agriculture and overgrazing, and reforesting what had become deforested pasture.
“If I showed you the photographs from this place when the community first bought the land, you wouldn’t believe it – there wasn’t a tree or a bush to be seen,” he said. “If you’ll notice, the land all around the community is pasture.”
It’s true, I realized – we had entered a lush oasis of hardwood forest and abundant garden spaces.
Nowadays, as the community enters its second generation, Levi was explaining, more members of the community have gone to college and have brought to the community a variety of skills. Nowadays, 90 percent of the residents are able to earn their living from businesses based in the community; 10 percent of them commute to town to do other jobs.
Next was a tour of the prolific permaculture garden. Nine hectares (20 acres) are plowed with the antique tractor and planted as a traditional milpa – corn, beans and squash – in the traditional way of the ancestors.
Levi exchanges vegetables from his garden with other families who produce whole-grain baked goods, honey, soymilk, tofu and a variety of other items.
“Barter is something that’s come about naturally,” he said. “The people have workshops in their homes, and we just exchange.”
On the edges of the common areas are the homes, built by each of the owners themselves. All are built with materials available in the local area; some with adobe, others of brick. We pass one that has been abandoned and the owner has put it up for sale.
“It’s just that life is not easy here,” Levi explained. “You have to be able to make the economy work for you; you have to be able to live isolated from the economic system. If you can develop a professional activity isolated from the city, you can make it work – but it’s not for everybody.”
Few communities like this one have survived for this long, he said. “There are about five like this one in Mexico, but none of them with as many people as we have now in Kalpulli.”
The tour commenced to a comfortably spacious community dining area, where Beatriz and her neice and nephew, Yuma and Maya, were enjoying the sun on the patio. Beatriz is Swiss and her husband is Mexican; they are one of the new families in the community.
Maya and Yuma are hard at work coloring, and Levi stops to admire their handiwork – and also that of Beatriz, who, Levi informs me, designed and knitted the beautiful sweater she is wearing, which is made of organic linen.
Beatriz has made a business of selling these sweaters. This one, she says, took about 80 hours to make, and will sell for 700 pesos – a little over $50.
We continue on our way, meeting Celia Rubalcava, who has a soymilk business in her home, and Isaac, who is using a hand-powered mill to shuck the dried corn. His children are playing at his feet, making what looks like elaborate meals from mud.
“Saulima, what are you doing? Making little balls?” Levi queries. Saulima proudly displays her creations.
At the next house, I meet Jose Luis and Angelita Gutierez, who operate a small whole-grain bakery and tofu factory in their home. They showed me around and shared with me a little pinole de maiz – a powder made of cinnamon, brown sugar and toasted ground corn, eaten as a snack or mixed with hot water for a delicious drink.
Next we went on to the temezcal area, where small, domed structures awaited the next sweat lodge ceremony. Some of these ceremonies are open to the public, and others are just for the community.
Finally Levi takes me to his home, a cool adobe brick house with simple, clean lines, a front porch with a hammock and a beautiful altar looking out onto the fields.
He shared with me a bit about his decision to return to the community after eight years in Guadalajara, four years at ITESO, a Jesuit university, and four more working with local architectural firms and construction companies.
“I believe all people have a mission in life – or if they don’t have one, they should! – but for me, growing up in a community has marked me with a special vision of community,” he said. “I wanted to go to the university precisely to broaden this concept of community.”
By Tunuary and Cristian Chávez
Translated by Ken Hoyt
Editor’s note: I met Tunuary and Cristian Chávez and their father, Carlos Chávez, in February and March, when I accompanied Cristian and Carlos to Huichol territory and worked on a documentary about their work. Their organization, AJAGI (Jalisco Association in Support of Indigenous Peoples) has been at the forefront of the struggle to defend indigenous and environmental rights in Mexico and beyond. Here I republish with permission a translation of this article, which originally appeared in La Jornada of Jalisco.
A series of events in recent months has attracted international concern from civil rights organizations, the National Human Rights Commission, academics and members of the National Indigenous Congress, regarding harassment and destruction that has been directed toward indigenous peoples over their ancestral traditions and their sacred sites. Such things are happening throughout Mexico and in an especially alarming way towards the Wixárika (Huichol) people, who have denounced a series of attacks against their “other” fundamental territory—that which is spiritual and gives meaning to the framework of their internal politics and the fabric of their social organization, and defines their relation to the environment and other peoples.
It is a large territory, stretching from the sea to the desert in San Luis Potosi, where a group of jicareros* from the Wixárika community of Tuapurie-Santa Catarina Cuexcomatitlán were harassed by state police and municipal police from Station Fourteen while performing ancient rituals at the communal land of Las Margaritas. This harassment was described by the Indigenous National Congress as “an aggression against all peoples,” because it was an assault against something very fundamental—the collective spirit of a people.
However, this harassment is nothing new. Six years ago the intentions of the government of San Luis Potosi were made clear to the public, with their development plans to create corridors for mining production, agribusiness and sweatshops, megaprojects entirely upsetting the pilgrimage to sacred sites in the desert of San Luis Potosi. In parallel the government launched a campaign of criminalization and regulation of the ancient practice of collecting Hikuri (peyote).
The disintegration of collective land ownership through the Certification Program of Ejido Rights (PROCEDE) played a key role in this plunder, handing over huge areas of this great plain to multinational companies for use in agro-industrial production. The unaccommodating climate and soil will necessitate excessive use of agrochemicals and the overexploitation of aquifers.
Recently a new threat to Wirikuta ancestral territory arose in the form of a document presented by the transnational Micon International Limited, who published the results of mineral exploration carried out since July 2007 by Norvec, a Canadian mining transnational that has 22 mining concessions adjacent to each other and joined 6,326.58 hectares (translation from Diana Negrin of the Micon International Report) The geographical center of the concessions is the Cerro del Quemado or Leuna, the place where, according to Wixárika worldview, the Sun was born in the first times, where the ancestors walked creating the world and where today, Wixárika communities continue to make their pilgrimage recreating this ancient walk year after year.
On Sept. 14, 2009, the rights of the 22 concessions belonging to Norvec were purchased by an even larger transnational, First Majestic Silver Corp., who is seeking a monopoly on the production of silver in Mexico. First Majestic currently owns three operating silver mines in Mexico, La Encantada, La Parrilla, la mina de San Martin Silver Mines, and a project known as the Toro Silver Mine, and is now ready to exploit more than 13 million ounces of silver from Real de Catorce mining district.
Totally irresponsibly, and with disregard to the official designations as a Protected Natural Area as well as a UNESCO designated Historic and Cultural Heritage Site, along with those who call the area sacred, the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection, the National Institute of Anthropology and History and the National Water Commission have all granted permits to the mining company to make their operation possible and have promised to pay $7,500 a year to communities as compensation for access their collective territories.
This is a major threat to the environment and cultural practices of indigenous people of Mexico. Among other issues, the projected operating method of “open pit” — distinct from drilled shafts for the use of dynamite on surface, destroying entire hills while the crater is washed of minerals.
While this happens, the state continues to restrict and repress the Wixárika pilgrimage citing “harvest cuotas”, while peyote dealers operate with impunity as they process large quantities of the drug known as mescaline with the active complicity or disregard of government authorities, who in the media maintain an alleged war against organized crime, which in reality is a war against the people and militarizes and paramilitarizes the entire country.
The government’s supposed “concern” about crime has led to many instances of oppression such as that denounced by autonomous Wixárika community Bancos de San Hipólito, Durango. Recently during their ceremonial practice of the deer hunt, which is of tremendous religious importance, the Mexican Army cited their concerns about small arms to interrupt the ceremonial practice and confiscate the low caliber weapons that have always been used for this purpose.
What about the destruction of the sacred site known as Paso del Oso due to the illegal imposition of the highway project-Huejuquilla Amatitán-Bolaños in Jalisco, which today continues to be halted by legal processes and strong community mobilization by the Wixárika of Tuapurie.
The plunder dresses in very aggressive colors, on one hand unprecedented pressure was exerted for the implementation of multinational megaprojects by way of development plans and land ordinances. The violent aggression of paramilitary and narcoparamilitary groups and (with protection from State bodies) only grows in intensity. This is an attack on those that have maintained their indigenous identity for thousands of years, that which is tradition, the sacred sites and traditional practices.
Maybe it’s because global capitalist power knows that if the indigenous peoples have 80 percent of the natural resources necessary for global industrialization it is because they are one with nature, with the universe. And so that unity must be destroyed — and that is the official strategy.
* Jicarero is the name for those who are chosen to perform the sacred ritual each year of the pilgrimage to Wirikuta and the other sacred sites, and the collection of the Hikuri, or peyote.
(Above: Encampment of Santa Catarina Huichol community at site of Bolaños-Huejuquilla highway construction, 2008)
HUEJUQUILLA, Jalisco, Mexico – Tensions between the Huichol community and local government are high after police officers fired at a vehicle full of Huichol community members, injuring two, members of the Jalisco Association in Support of Indigenous Groups (AJAGI) reported today.
The vehicle was headed down the Mezquitic toward Huejuquilla near the town of San Antonio de Padua with seven members of San Andrés Cohamiata community aboard, including a child. According to the Huicholes’ testimony, they began to be followed y a vehicle that flashed its lights at them. Fearing an assault, the driver sped up; the police responded by shooting at the vehicle and wounding Rosendo Parra López, who was in critical condition, and Matea Tizano de la Cruz, whose legs were grazed by the bullets.
The neighboring Santa Catarina community, which was in the midst of a general assembly at the time, decided together with the authorities of San Andrés and another nearby Huichol community, San Sebastián, to make an appearance at the municipal building in protest of what they see as a wave of repression against the Huichol community.
The attack occurs in the context of increased trafficking by organized crime groups in the area, who disguise themselves as police officers, making it increasingly more dangerous to stop when a vehicle signals with its lights, AJAGI reported in a press release.
Additionally complicating the matter is the upcoming meeting of the 27th National Indigenous Congress, scheduled to be held in a few days in the Huichol community of Bancos de San Hipólito, a community that is part of a territory that was taken from them in 1968 and which is gaining ground in a landmark legal battle that could set an important precedent in the indigenous land rights movement worldwide.
Tensions have already been heightened since late last month, when a group of Huicholes from Santa Catarina on their traditional pilgrimage to Real de Catorce were accosted by another group of police during their annual peyote ceremony, a situation that provoked an immediate outcry from concerned citizens, and state police responded by providing the Huicholes with an armed escort to the next province on their pilgrimage trail.
Santa Catarina community members say they have been the victims of frequent harassment since they began their protest and legal battle of the Bolaños-Huejuquilla highway, part of an important trade route facilitating the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Community members say the highway construction has proceeded without their consent in their territory and through their sacred sites, and has resulted in environmental and cultural degradation. They point to a pattern of human rights violations throughout the country, including assassinations, forced disappearances, persecution and imprisonment against indigenous people involved in land rights issues.
AJAGI cites recent acts against the Nahua communities of coastal Michoacan and from the mountains of Manantlán, and the group requests that concerned citizens write to the authorities to urge an immediate stop to the police repression of Huichol and other indigenous communities throughout the country.
Letters can be sent to:
Lic. Fredy Medina Sánchez, Municipal President of Huejuquilla, firstname.lastname@example.org
And to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico, email@example.com,
And to the Jalisco State Commission on Human Rights at firstname.lastname@example.org.