By Tunuary and Cristian Chávez
Asociación Jaliciense de Apoyo a Grupos Indígenas
Where the Wixaritari (Huicholes) elders and mara’akate (shamans, plural) say the sun was born, Wirikuta, where Tamatsi Kauyumari lies, the wisest of our ancestors, Our Elder Brother Deer who keeps the knowledge of how the world was formed, of how there exist and are transmitted the answers for life to endure, in order for the world to continue. It is there where in 2003, while weeping, one mara’akame from the ceremonial center of Tierra Morada, heard Mother Earth speaking about the pain that she felt from the dynamite and chemicals that had been left by the mining in the Sierra de Catorce.
We who write these lines were witness to how the inhabitants of the communities of Wirikuta, today mestizo yet carriers of the Huachichil wisdom of hunting and gathering, also painfully remember their family members who died young because of the damage left in their bodies after dedicating several years of their lives to mining. Others still survive with amputations on some of their extremities or with chronic respiratory illness.
It is in this way that the mining activity of the mountainous area of the Sierra de Catorce only left the locals with death, sickness and poverty. To the local ecology it left erosion, drying and contamination of the soil. For the mining capitalists, the exploitation resulted in millionaire profits, for example, during a three year period between 1773 and 1776, the production of silver (150 million ounces) measured at current prices represented more than 2.7 billion U.S. dollars for the businessmen.
In this article we want to give a bit more information on the current threat that the transnational Canadian corporation, First Majestic Silver, now poses for the sacred site of Wirikuta.
The 22 concessions that were awarded to the transnational embark more than 6 thousand 326 hectares of which 70 percent lie within the recognized ecological reserve, and of which—according to the reserve’s norms—only 25 percent lies within an area that permits mining activities, but never of the characteristics of First Majestic’s project (details in “Mining in Wirikuta: And the Ecological Reserve?” published in La Jornada Jalisco July 23, 2010).
The totality of the concession is within the Area of Importance for the Conservation of Birds (AICA for its Spanish acronym) number 81, which comprises 101 thousand 683 hectares of the region with a longitude of 58 kilometers. Some of the reasons for declaring this AICA were that 156 bird species are registered in this area, including the Spizella Wortheni (Worthen sparrow) with the protected status of NOM-059-SEMARNAT-2001, declared as one of the 51 Priority Species by the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP for its Spanish acronym) and is one of the species that falls within the Program of Action and Conservation of Species (PACE). Another bird species is the Charadrius Montanus, considered a vulnerable species on a global level for which international programs have been developed to promote its conservation (Collar y Andrew, 1988).
The region is also the nesting ground of the Golden Eagle (Aquila Chrysaetos), a species that is central in Wixárika culture, having been present on the path of the ancestors for the formation of the world, keeping amongst his feathers the communication with the ancestors. The Golden Eagle also has cultural importance for all Mexicans (it is the eagle depicted on the national flag), being labeled NOM-059-SEMARNAT-2001 under the category of “endangered” and also being considered a “priority species” by the CONANP, as well as one of 51 species that counts with the PACE program.
The nature of the First Majestic project in the mining district of Real de Catorce has a high impact in its alteration of the bird habitat. Fundamentally, its impact is irreversible, continuous and synergistic affecting the physical environment (soil, geology, geomorphology and hydrology), as well as the zones of nutrition and refuge for all of the area’s flora and fauna. It would also impact the ecologies beyond its limits through the trophic chains typical of the region of the Chihuahua Desert.
Within these ecological systems stand the peasant communities of the region, specifically those who live and work in the six thousand conceded hectares: Agua Blanca, Ave María, La Hediondilla, El Potrero, El Refugio (La Luz), San Juan de Matanzas, El Verde, Socavón de Purísima, El Espolón, Puerta del Palillo, Mina de Concepción, San Gabriel and Real de Catorce. Of these populations, 12.5 percent fall under the rubric of “very high marginalization”, 50 percent are classified as living under “high marginalization”, and 25 percent are of “medium marginalization”. Only Real de Catorce is considered to have a low level of marginalization as it is where the economic dynamism of the tourist industry is concentrated.
In its totality, the concession falls within the regimen of collective property (of the ejido, or land grant type), in the agrarian centers of El Salto, Tahunitas, Las Palmas, Potrerillos, Agua Blanca and El Potrero.
If allowed to go through, these ejidos, localities and extended ranches will be faced with the direct impact of this mining activity, particularly those located as close as 19 kilometers from the principal veins of silver that were identified during exploration, and that are currently about to be exploited and in this way are poised to destroy and contaminate its surroundings: the Mother Vein with 5.1 kilometers will particularly affect the populations of Real de Catorce and Mina de Concepción; the Vein of San Agustín with 3.6 kilometers will affect the locality of Puerto del Palillo; the Vein of San Ramón with 3.4 kilometers will directly affect the localities of El Verde, Ave María and La Luz; while the other yet unnamed veins will affect the locality of San Gabriel.
At this moment, it is fundamental to articulate popular resistance to this project from all possible fronts. In the meantime, the Wixárika people continue their prayers, dances, chants and pilgrimages that follow the steps of the first peoples.
Originally published in La Jornada de Jalisco August 7, 2010
English translation by the Wixárika Research Center