“It is an act of violence to mine that mountain”

The Huichol resist Canadian mining interests in Mexico

“It is an act of violence to mine that mountain.” This statement, made in the film Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians, summarizes the sentiments of the Huichol people of the sacred territory of Wirikuta, in Mexico. Cinema Politica St. John’s screened the film on February 18th at Memorial University.

Gold, silver, and other metals are mined in and around the traditional territory of the Huichol people (self-described as ‘Wirikuta’), a group that resisted many of the cultural elements brought by the Spanish conquest to the Americas and continues to practice their traditional culture of sacred rituals, ecological safeguarding, and intergenerational pilgrimages.

In the film, the Ramirez Family takes us through their sacred region, offering sacrifices and performing ritual ceremonies to provide the deities “their nutrition.” A cleansing practice for the Huichol mortals and a nourishing feast for their gods, ceremonies of song, dance, and spiritual enlightenment are rooted in a very basic premise: “The equation is very simple: caring about nature feeds us.”

Western influences have left the Huichol people, and countless other indigenous groups around the world, in a very modest economic situation. While trade agreements and resource extraction projects promise an improved life for workers and local communities, this promise rarely manifests in reality. As one of the interviewees for the film says, instead of the evident poverty and droughts threatening subsistence farming, “after hundreds of years of mining, the Wirikuta people should be millionaires!”

Cinema Politica St. John's screened Huicholes on Feb. 18, 2015. Photo by Paula Graham.
Cinema Politica St. John’s screened Huicholes on Feb. 18, 2015. Photo by Paula Graham.

Not only are the Huichol people not millionaires, they crawl through barbed wire to access their traditional lands and must lobby their own government to respect the status of the Wirikuta area as a tentative UNESCO World Heritage site. While some Mexicans are generally supportive of international mining projects on their land, one of the film’s subjects tells us that “they are for the mine because they see no other choice.” “They are not for the mine,” he says, “they are for jobs.”

NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), which came into effect in 1994, has opened the door for non-Mexican companies to exploit the land for natural resources. Mineral extraction in the Huichol territory would jeopardize the ecological value of the area, threatening the Huichols’ sacred plant, peyote, and the aquifers that supply drinking water to the region.

Since the production of the film, Vancouver-based IDM Mining LTD (formerly Revolution Resources) has withdrawn plans to mine in Wirikuta and this victory is being used to pressure other Canadian mining companies to halt their plans for the region. One of the film’s participants reminds us that “culture is an inheritance, a present for future generations” and when mining companies destroy the lands on which the Huichol culture is based, they also destroy the Huicholes culture.

Huicholes is part of the 2014-2015 Divine Interventions programming. Divine Interventions “explores the intersection of social justice and spirituality in documentary cinema” and is sponsored by The Inspirit Foundation, DOC, The Canada Council for the Arts, Le Conseil des Arts et des Lettres due Quebec, and Le Conseil des Arts de Montreal.

Learn more about Huichol culture here.

For info about upcoming Cinema Politica St. John’s film screenings, click here.

Editor’s note: If you would like to respond to this or any article on TheIndependent.ca, or if you would like to address an issue we haven’t yet covered, we welcome letters to the editor and consider each of them for publication in our Letters section. You can email yours to: justin at theindependent dot ca. Not all letters will be printed, but all will be read.


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