Wirikuta: Birthplace of the Sun and the Corporate Moral Imperative?

By: James Hudson, Managing Editor

Deep within the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range of central western Mexico—an arid region of the vast country’s interior—a ferocious, grass-roots battle to preserve the ancestral home of the Huichol Indians from the illegal silver mining operations of North American companies rages with abandon.[1] The Huichol people have for centuries considered Wirikuta, a sprawling landscape within the mountains, as the origin of the world and the birthplace of the Sun.[2] In addition to its most-holy designation, Wirikuta is the home of “numerous plant and animal species that live only in this region and others that are in danger of extintion [sic], such as the golden eagle, symbol of México.”[3] Nevertheless, Wirikuta remains under the threat of annihilation from strip-mining and the silver-lined pockets of an increasingly combative and ineffectual Mexican government more concerned with corporate investment than the maintenance of the country’s cultural heritage.[4]

Despite UNESCO’s declaration in 1999 that Wirikuta is one of the planet’s fourteen sacred natural sites that must be protected, in 2009 “the Mexican government granted [thirty-six concessions [mining permits] to the Canadian mining company, First Majestic Silver, [seventy] per cent of which are within the Wirikuta zone.”[5] Furthermore, First Majestic Silver, in conjunction with local politicians, has launched a defamation campaign against the leaders of the Huichol people in order to stir tensions between the indigenous and mestizo populations who would, presumably, benefit greatly from mining jobs in the economically-stagnant region.[6] According to Santos de la Cruz, President of the Autonomous Commission of Communal Property of Bancos de San Hipolite, in addition to the immensely wasteful and environmentally detrimental use of water for strip-mining in an already water-strapped region, First Majestic Silver has disseminated claims amongst the mestizo population that designation of Wirikuta as a Biosphere Preserve would force hundreds of farmers from their lands and livelihood—claims that de la Cruz asserts are entirely false.[7]

Since March 1, 2013, “the Wixarika Regional Council for the Defense of Wirikuta has been petitioning the Mexican government to intervene to stop the current exploration that is occurring in the region without the required permits, but they have received no response to date.”[8] As a result, the Huichol turned to the only remaining source of justice, the courts, and filed a petition with the federal court in early July for an injunction against exploration drilling for gold and silver.[9] On September 12, 2013, proponents of the preservation of Wirikuta garnered a monumental victory when the court issued a suspension of over forty mining concessions within an area representing roughly forty three percent of the Wirikuta region until the legal case requesting an injunction is resolved.[10] Such an order has the effect of prohibiting any government entity—local, state, or federal—from issuing new concessions in the contested area. Furthermore, such an order impels the government to protect the region against any third-party violations of the order.[11] However sweet, the victory is merely momentary relief from what is, undoubtedly, an up-hill battle against the intrusion of corporations with pockets deeper than preservation proponents care to contemplate.[12]

In the face of obvious government ambivalence, the struggle for control of Wirikuta—although immense in its own right—raises issues far larger than the Huichol people. The plight of the Huichol is not a new phenomenon by any stretch of the human conscience; in fact, indigenous groups throughout Central American, Africa, and Asia are “under threat of despoliation of their land, removal of their resources, and even personal displacement, due to the rising global demand for mineral and natural resources.”[13] In the wake of the Citizens United decision, the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and the U.S. Subprime Mortgage Crisis, it is absolutely tantamount that we, as an increasingly global citizenry, start demanding the corporate moral imperative. Unfettered corporate exploitation begins with the seemingly defenseless, like the Huichol, but could eventually reach as far as the insulated lives of Westerners, and, by then, judicial recourse will be a bygone fantasy.


[1] Wirikuta Defense Front, Mexico Judiciary stops all mining operations in the sacred territory of Wirikuta, Intercontinental Magazine (Sept. 13, 2013), http://intercontinentalcry.org/mexico-judiciary-stops-mining-operations-sacred-territory-wirikuta/.
[2] Wirikuta Defense Front, Wixarika People and the Desert, Tamatsima Wa haa (Jan. 25, 2011, 1:00pm), http://frenteendefensadewirikuta.org/wirikuta-en-bk/?page_id=59.
[3] Id.
[4] Tracy L. Barnett, Campaign Update – Mexico: Injunction filed to halt illegal exploration drilling in Wikiruta, Cultural Survival (July 5, 2013), http://www.culturalsurvival.org/news/campaign-update-mexico-injunction-filed-halt-illegal-exploration-drilling-wirikuta#sthash.aBFTUZv6.dpuf.
[5] Lilian Palma, A struggle for sacred land: the case of Wirikuta, Resilience (Oct. 3, 2013), http://www.resilience.org/stories/2013-10-03/a-struggle-for-sacred-land-the-case-of-wirikuta.
[6] Iracema Gavilan & Adazahira Chavez, The Urgency of Wirikuta, Americas Program (Feb. 23, 2013), http://www.cipamericas.org/archives/9090.
[7] Id.
[8] Barnett, supra Note 4.
[9] Id.
[10] Id.
[11] Wirikuta Defense Front, supra Note 1.
[12] Palma, supra Note 5.
[13] Id.

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