Recently, the National Indigenous Congress of Mexico (CNI) issued a brief but forcefully worded statement testifying to harassment of Wixarika (Huichol) people by the Mexican Army. Today on our blog, Paul Liffman provides comment and context on the statement. Liffman is a professor at the Center for Anthropological Studies at the Colegio de Michoacán and author of the forthcoming book Huichol Territory and the Mexican Nation (University of Arizona Press).
Comments on the Bancos de San Hipólito Manifesto
By Paul Liffman
This brief manifesto from a coalition of Wixarika (Huichol) activists, members of the Zapatista-inspired Congreso Nacional Indígena (National Indigenous Congress) and their allies in non-governmental organizations signals the multiple dimensions of Indigenous land claims in Mexico today. First off, there is its mixture of class-based rhetoric and strategic essentialism: the document pits non-Indigenous caciques (political bosses, incorrectly translated as “chiefs” in the English version), the army, and the rich against the Huichols’ sacred territory and more broadly, Our Mother Earth, a translation of Tatei Yurienaka, the earth deity. Such translations reveal how Huichols are mainstreaming their religion in a discourse of autonomy that relies on the category of “territory” (territorio) to anchor their political strategy; sacred territorio partly replaces the conventional sense of land (tierra) subject to the bureaucratic and legal procedures of the Mexican state.
Still, the manifesto’s main focus is a dispute over timber felled by a violent winter storm and then became yet another bone of contention between mestizo peasants based in San Lucas de Jalpa, Durango, and the Huichol ranchería of Bancos de San Hipólito, formerly the northwestern part of the Huichol comunidad of San Andrés Cohamiata. Such conflicts are central to my forthcoming book in the First Peoples series, Huichol Territory and the Mexican Nation (University of Arizona Press, April 2011). That is, mestizos from San Lucas and Huichols from San Andrés have fought for at least 40 years over Bancos and the 10,720 hectares (about 26,500 acres or 40 square miles) that surround it. This historical context is also the backdrop of the Wixarika installation in the Our Peoples Gallery of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington (see “Museums and Mexican Indigenous territoriality,” Museum Anthropology 30(2): 141-160, 2007). It’s no coincidence because that exhibit’s lead curator, Catarino Carrillo, is from Bancos and had been the gobernador of San Andrés. And once the standard legal avenues for reintegrating Bancos into San Andrés seemed to fail, he became a leader of the autonomous community movement that has put Bancos in the vanguard of the Congreso Nacional Indígena.
But beyond territory and local natural resources, the manifesto also points to the struggle for broader cultural rights and intermittent access to natural resources far beyond their rancherías. That is, the final sentences turn to the harassment of ritual deerhunters from Bancos, the ceremonial center of Hayukarita (San José) in San Andrés, and a third group from the neighboring community of Santa Catarina. The complexity of this problem is evident in the fact that some of the deerhunters had been detained in the Odam (Southern Tepehuan) Indigenous community of Santa María Ocotán, which borders the Huichols on the north.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning the most publicized current struggle of the Wixarika people: the movement against silver mining in Real de Catorce, San Luis Potosí, a high desert region that includes the cardinal sacred mountain, Cerro Quemado. Periodic mining has reshaped that landscape since the eighteenth century and in fact is part of the Huichols’ own sacred history, but the new possibility of open pit extraction, the draining of desert aquifers, and cyanide discharges by First Majestic Silver Corp could compromise sites and practices in place since centuries before the Spanish invasion.
To learn more see the following sites:
Background Information on Mexico: Stop Mining. Save Sacred Sites–Cultural Survival
Wixirika-An online archive of Huichol art, history and culture
Defensa de Wirikuta on Facebook
Salvemos Wirikuta on Facebook
No a la Mineria con Cianuro y a Cielo abierto en Real de Catorce Facebook
Salvemos Wirikuta – Tamatzima Huaha Blog
Centro de Estudios Antropológicos
El Colegio de Michoacán
Paul Liffman is a professor at the Center for Anthropological Studies at the Colegio de Michoacán and a member of the National Research System of Mexico. He has worked as a consultant and translator for the Wixarika exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. His book Huichol Territory and the Mexican Nation: Indigenous Ritual, Land Conflict, and Sovereignty Claims will be available from the University of Arizona Press in April.