Note: This guest post is from Paula Palmer, Director of the Global Response Program at Cultural Survival — an organization that partners with Indigenous peoples to defend their lands, languages and cultures.
Stop Silver Mining on Mexico’s Sacred Mountain, Leunar
For more than 1,000 years, the Wixárika (we-SHA-re-ka) people have made pilgrimages from their ceremonial centers in the Sierra Madre mountains across the Chihuahua desert to Leunar, the sacred mountain where the sun first rose. The Wixárika pilgrims traverse over 300 miles to reach Leunar, stopping to give offerings and prayers at dozens of sacred places along the way – the natural temples of a deeply spiritual people. They undertake their journey, which they call their “essence,” to retrace the steps of creation, repeating the prayers of their ancestors in order to maintain the earth’s equilibrium and keep their culture alive.
The Wixárika people’s pilgrimage route and its destination are protected by state and federal law as well as international accords, but that hasn’t stopped a Canadian mining company, First Majestic Silver Corporation, from purchasing concessions to exploit the rich veins of silver that lie beneath the surface. In September, Wixárika communities issued a proclamation to stop the mine from desecrating their most sacred sites and endangering the fragile semi-desert ecosystem. In the US, the human rights organization Cultural Survival has launched a letter-writing campaign to support the Wixárika people and to stop the mine. You can send an email to the president of Mexico from their website, or write your own letter.
The Environmental Impact
Silver mining is nothing new in Real de Catorce, a colonial town perched on the side of the Wixárika people’s sacred mountain, Leunar, overlooking the Chihuahua desert. During the 18th and 19th centuries, 225 million ounces of silver were dug out of this region, an unregulated enterprise that turned a forest into a desert and contaminated the scanty water supply. Now First Majestic Silver Corporation’s CEO Keith Neumeyer says he expects to quadruple the plunder by using new methods (read cyanide) to extract silver from old tailings and by exploiting 12 miles of new veins.
If this huge project is allowed to move forward, its impacts will be equally huge. Whether they dig the ore out of tunnels or excavate open pits, the mine will produce enormous quantities of tailings which could leach acid into the environment for centuries and blight the landscape in a region whose primary source of income is tourism. Dust, noise, erosion, road construction, water pollution, and blasting all affect wildlife, and the region’s notable diversity of bird species – including 16 that are threatened – could plummet. Of most concern to the region’s peasant farmers is the mine’s potential impact on the water table in this semi-desert. Mines of this size use as much water in a day as a peasant family would use in 25 years.
First Majestic claims to be “eco-friendly,” but Mexico’s mining regulations are notoriously lax. Another Canadian company in the same state – San Luis Potosi – has been able to keep operating for years despite court orders to cease and desist. Disastrous cyanide leaks and spills occur too frequently.
So it is essential to stop First Majestic’s Real de Catorce mine before it starts.
Protecting the Wirikuta Cultural and Ecological Reserve
Seventy percent of First Majestic’s mining concessions are within the borders of the Wirikuta Cultural and Ecological Reserve, which was created to protect the Wixárika people’s pilgrimage route, their sacred sites, and the fragile semi-desert ecosystem that supports the highest diversity of cactus in the world. First Majestic’s richest silver vein runs within meters of the Wixárika people’s most sacred site.
State, federal, and international laws and accords for Indigenous rights, cultural preservation, and environmental protection were cited as justification for creating the Wirikuta Reserve in 1994. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the Reserve protects one of the planet’s three most biologically diverse desert ecosystems. UNESCO identified Wirikuta as one of only 14 potential World Heritage Sites of both cultural and ecological importance.
It is time to insist on real protection for the Wirikuta Reserve – not just words on paper. Please answer the Wixárika people’s call and send letters to Mexican authorities today.
Thank you for joining in this campaign! Pamparius!