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Drug cartels, mining firms and peyote tourism are threatening Wixárika culture

June 16, 2017

A Wixárika elder looks out at the sacred lands of Wirikuta at dawn.

As dawn broke on a sacred mountaintop in northern Mexico, a group of indigenous pilgrims dragged a sacrificial calf into their stone circle and slit its throat. They then dipped candles in the warm blood still gushing from the animal’s throat and lit them, creating a circle of light.

The heart was next. The tribesmen cut it from the calf’s chest, cooked it in campfire ashes, and ate it as a gesture of respect for the dead animal.

Aukwe Mijarez dips candles into the warm blood of the sacrificial calf.

The ceremony was a plea to the tribe’s gods to defend their ancestral lands from transnational mining companies and their people from displacement at the hands of predatory drug cartels. The Wixárika have inhabited this region of northern Mexico that stretches across four states to the Pacific coast. Today, the Wixárika number 45,000, and they worry that these emerging threats signal the erasure of their culture.

Ceremonies like this one are fueled by peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus sacred to the Wixárika, or Huichol, people, and vital in facilitating conversation with their gods. But thanks to a booming illegal peyote tourism industry nearby, even that part of their culture is in jeopardy.

Dawn breaks over the mountains where the Wixárika believe the sun was born.

The Wixárika have taken practical measures against these existential threats but they believe they need divine intervention to ensure their survival. VICE News accompanied the indigenous group’s leaders on their annual pilgrimage to the Cerro Quemado, a cactus-covered mountain in San Luis Potosí where they believe the sun was born. This year’s voyage took on added urgency as it came just days after two Wixárika activists were murdered in nearby Jalisco state.

The rocky Cerro Quemado mountaintop serves as an altar for the pilgrims’ elaborate offerings.

Miguel Vázquez, a prominent land rights activist, was fatally shot by gunmen believed to work for the Jalisco New Generation cartel in the town of Tuxpan de Bolaños on May 20. His brother Agustín was killed after visiting him in the hospital that night…

Click here to read this feature in full at VICE News

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