Vancouver’s First Majestic Silver plans to mine for silver in the heart of Mexico’s peyote country. For the Huichol people, the project is an environmental risk—and a spiritual crisis
Under a heavy afternoon sun, the desert landscape in central Mexico lays long into the horizon, interrupted only by railroad tracks, roadrunners racing beside cars, and every once in a while, a cluster of houses and shops. But towards what some consider the sacred heart of the desert, new features begin to emerge: new age hippies and fellow travelers compete for rides on the side of the road, and in the distance, a dramatic mountain range rises from the plane.
Stretching from Arizona to San Luis Potosí, the Chihuahuan desert wraps around two of Mexico’s largest mountain ranges, laying claim to over 450,000 square kilometers of territory. While at first glance the topography might appear dry and barren, it is in fact home to a fifth of the world’s species of cacti, as well as a host of birds and other creatures.
But there’s one plant in particular that’s an essential part of the region’s draw: peyote. A small, circular cactus, divided into sections that look like a light green cross section of a mandarin orange, it pushes its way out from under the hard dry earth, sometimes into the direct sun, other times under the sparing shade of gobernadora plants.
In the southern reaches of the Chihuahuan desert is an area known as Wirikuta, a sacred site for the Huichol people. Every year, hundreds of Huichol people, whose name for themselves in their own language is Wixáritari, leave their communities in Jalisco, Nayarit and other parts of Mexico and begin a pilgrimage to Wirikuta.
“For us it’s like a temple,” says Marciano de la Cruz Lopez of Wirikuta. He’s one of the few Huichols making a home in the small, mining-cum-tourist town of Real de Catorce.
Wirikuta’s 140,000 hectare site was recognized by the state government as a Natural Protected Area and Sacred Site in 2000. It also includes a 146-kilometre path through the landscape named the Historic Route of the Wixárika People. In 1998, UNESCO declared Wirikuta as one of the world’s 14 natural sacred sites in need of protection.
“It’s a sacred site where we can leave our offerings when we do ceremonies there in the mountains, or when the pilgrims come,” says de la Cruz. “It means everything to us, as Huichol people.”
Read more at This Magazine
Photo: José Luis Aranda