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Benito Juarez re-loaded

20 February 2012

Aukwe, photo by Eduardo Loza, DR Emeequis

Threatened for centuries by outsiders, and presently by both Canadian mining operators, commercial agricultural farms and tourists, the Wixárika people (called Huicholes in Spanish and English, although the people themselves find the term insulting) have — as indigenous Americans find they have had to do so often before — adapted the superior opponent’s weapons and tactics to their own needs.

Through Proyecto Niuweme, forty of the most promising young Wixárikas have volunteered to go behind enemy lines, into a strange world where even food and water are considered commodities to be paid for with money,and where people live cheek by jowl, separated from the natural world.  The forty are enrolled in the University of Guadalajara Law School.

Photo: Maricarmen Rello, Milenio

Unlike Juarez, who had to sought to overcome his Zapotec lineage, Wixárika like Auke (aka Sofia Garcia Mijarz), have no intention of abandoning their traditions. For now, as Esiekame (Librado Benítez de la Cruz on legal documents) pointed out to Tataina Mallard of Eme-equis this creates some difficulties.  Although the Proyecto Nieuweme students are among their people’s best and brightest (and, as far as the outside world is concerned, best educated), only the community’s authorities can speak on the magazine that only the community leaders are “authorized” to speak on behalf of the people as a whole, and the students are not leaders, nor do they have the age and traditional experience to become leaders… yet.

Juarez, having built his practice on resolving the petty disputes that lead to lawsuits in small towns, said “Among nations, as among neighbors, respect for the rights of others, is the way of peace.”  For the 21st century Wixárika, neighbors and nations are difficult to define.  The people, who accept all nature as sacred, make their home in a water-poor, mineral-rich desert environment.  Surprising rich in desert plant life is threatened not only by the present drought, but the huge water demands associated with mining (the Wixárika territory in San Luis Potosí, especially around Real de Catorce, is home to several Canadian mining operations, notably First Majestic Silver) and commercial tomato farms… both major employers in a region where otherwise, Wizárika and other local inhabitants face chronic unemployment and hunger… forcing many to emigrate.  Adding to their woes, tourism has brought in a horde of outsiders, whose demands for services (like flush toilets) and ignorance or indifference to local culture, creates further conflicts and ecological difficulties.

The Wixárika are most famous for their peyote quests… misunderstood by outsiders as a search for personal enlightenment which has led to overharvesting of the delicate desert plant, wide-spread destruction of the environment, and anger over outsiders taking sacred objects or mindlessly desecrating them. The Wixárika themselves see the quests (and the peyote use) as a community service… the religious and personal sacrifices a means of bringing enlightenment to the community.

In a different way, the Neumeme scholars are on a vision quest for the good of their people as well… one that may serve not only the Wizáriki but us all… resolving the conflicts between a way of life that has always depended on harmony between people and their environment with a materialist culture.

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