Celebrating Wirikuta: A Milestone in Indigenous Activism and Environmental Conservation
Wirikuta is a sacred and ecologically significant region located in Mexico, in the south of the Chihuahuan Desert – one of the most biologically diverse deserts in the world. It´s unique ecosystem contains mountains, forest and deserts with dramatic scenery, deep canyons, and vast expanses of cacti.
Wirikuta is situated in the State of San Luis Potosi, a state which has historically been the lands of the Náhual (Chichimeca) and Huasteco people. The Chichimeca tribes were known to live as travelers who roamed in a nomadic way of life, never taking up residence in any location year round. They are also known to have been fierce, having outlasted the Aztec Empire, which fell to the Spain in 1521. The Huachichil Chichimecans held their territory and famously fought the Spanish from 1550 to 1590 in what is known as the Chichimecan war. More about these native groups more about them can be found in this (fascinating) article.
When Wirikuta is spoken of today it is largely in reference to the Wixáritari (often called Huichol) people. They, along with other native groups of Mexico travelled to Wirikuta on spiritual pilgimages throughout history – a tradition which the Wixáritari have managed to kept alive to this day. One aspect that has made the Wixáritari people unique is that they have held on to their spiritual traditions in relation to the land throughout millennia as they continue take pilgrimages to the sacred sites in the region, and connect with the sacred medicinal hikuri plant.
Indigenous Activism in Wirikuta: 360 years of Resilience and Resistance
In addition to its cultural and environmental significance, Wirikuta has also been at the center of fervent activism and preservation efforts over many years. The area where the town of Real De Catorce is now situated lays just next to the Wirikuta reserve. The earliest records of the townsite show it to have been granted to the native people by Marqués de Cadereyta, Viceroy of New Spain in 1693.
It was almost immediately at the center of conflict, with records of the Guachichiles and Chichimecas people having invaded the town site in 1744 and burned the land titles given to them in protest of the extermination campaign carried out by Spanish conquerors against the indigenous people native to Mexican soil. By 1767 the town of Real De Catorce had secured legal land titles from Spain and 3 years later, in 1770, silver mines were already up and running in the region. At the height of it´s mining history the Real De Catorce townsite and Wirikuta had as many 50 mines in operation. The mining industry in Real de Catorce continued until 1910 when the Mexican Revolution erupted, leading to the suspension of mining activities.
The townsite of Real de Catorce was nearly abandoned over 3 day period, in 1910, leaving behind ruins of the mining age in a ghost town. Today It is considered a Magic Town of Mexico, a mystical place where ruins of the mining age are situated high on a mountain plateau in the heart of sacred indigenous lands.
The ecological threats to Wirikuta have continued to present day. Despite being recognised by the World Wild Life Fund and the State of San Luis Potosi as a Natural and Cultural Reserve by the mid 1990´s plans were in place to construct a major highway through Wirikuta.
Wirikuta has earned international recognition as a unique example of a place where indigenous traditions endure and their profound connection to the land and sacred sites persevere. In 2009 Wirikuta became recognized on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage. Much of the work involved in
In The protection of their sacred lands have not come easily however, with the struggle for the ecological protection of their sacred sites continuing more than 360 years after it was first “granted” to them by the Viceroy of New Spain (now Mexico) in 1693.
about their history and wars with the Spanish mining and Other native groups through central and northern Mexico did not take up residence in the area of Wirikuta but throughout history have made pilgrimage journeys to the area, with the Wirárika people having continued this tradition to this day. The Chichimeca people were known to have been incredibly fierce, having fought the interests of Spanish
A Presidential Commitment …
On the International Day of Indigenous Peoples (August 9, 2023) the President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, signed a decree to recognize, protect, preserve, and safeguard the sacred places and pilgrimage routes of the Wixáritari (Huichol), Náayeri (Cora), O’dam or Au’dam (Southern Tepehuan), and Mexikan (Mexicanero) peoples in the states of Jalisco, Nayarit, Durango, and San Luis Potosí. The signing of this decree was televised and can been watched here. The original decree can be found in Spanish here. An English version (maps excluded) can be found here.
This decree represents a historic milestone in the realms of indigenous activism and environmental conservation as it marks a major step forward in a story with more than 360 years of Indigenous land issues and activism activisim in the town area of Real De Catorce and Wirikuta.
At a national level in Mexico it is also the first ever official recognition acknowledgment of sacred sites which establishes the creation of a permanent interinstitutional commission, which will serve as a special working group responsible for designing, implementing, and evaluating policies, programs, and actions for recognition, protection, preservation, and safeguarding of Wirikuta along with 4 other sacred sites. This interinstitutional commission will report directly to the President of the Republic of Mexico
A Future Vision …
Real De Catorce is currently a tourist town attracting tourists for the deep spiritual significants that Wirikuta plays in the lives of many, for the patron saint San Francisco, and for the historic remains of the mining age set in a dramatic landscape.
This sacred land has faced a multitude of threats, including mining operations, toxic waste dumping, agricultural projects, and even plans back in the 1990´s for a highway to traverse its delicate terrain.
These threats have galvanized not only the Wixáritari people but also a broader network of environmentalists, indigenous rights advocates, and concerned citizens who recognize the urgent need to protect Wirikuta from exploitation and destruction. The dedicated activism and mobilization in defense of this sacred space have garnered underscores the power indigenous resistance and environmental conservation.
Real De Catorce is a picturesque mountain town nestled beside Mount Quemado and the esteemed Wirikuta Natural and Cultural Reserve.
Over the past two decades, the Wirikuta Reserve has garnered increasing recognition, culminating in a significant milestone on International Indigenous Day in August 2023. On this day, Mexican President Lopez Obrador signed a historic decree designating it as ‘Nationally Protected Land’ in Mexico.
This decree has come to the relief of many who have participated in the struggle to protect the sacred lands of the Wixaritari people, including Foundations such as the CHAC Organization.
There are many things which make Wirikuta special and worthy of protecting for the future of humanity, from the both the historic native cultural significants to the unique medicinal plants the area carries…
Despite this victory, ongoing efforts are needed to ensure the effective conservation of Wirikuta. Continued vigilance and collaboration between indigenous communities, environmental activists, and governmental authorities are crucial to protect this unique and sacred landscape.
Wirikuta’s importance lies in its role as a sacred space deeply intertwined with Wixáritari rituals and ceremonies.
The area is also home to unique flora and fauna and is characterized by its rugged, arid landscapes as it borders the southern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert, there are a number of endangered species in this region.
Over the years, Wirikuta been under the thumb numerous threats – from mining and agricultural projects that would harm its ecological integrity and disrupt the cultural traditions of the Wixaritari people.
Efforts to protect Wirikuta have gained international attention, and it was designated as “Nationally Protected Land” in Mexico in 2023 to safeguard its cultural and environmental significance.
The Golden Eagle is an important bird for Mexico, so central to the history of the country that it is on the center of the national flag, which features an iconic image of an eagle perched on a cactus, gripping a serpent in it´s beak and talons.
The Golden Eagle and Indigenous Symbolism in Mexico
The roots of this image on the national flag originates from the Aztec migration story, which dates back to the 14th century. According to the legend, the Aztecs, also known as the Mexica people, were instructed by their gods to seek a new homeland. They were told to settle in a place where they would encounter an eagle perched on a cactus, devouring a snake. After a long journey through Central Mexico, the Aztecs finally encountered this prophesied sign on a small island in Lake Texcoco. The location is now the site of modern-day Mexico City.
Today the Mexican flag, with its emblematic eagle is a symbol of national pride, history, and unity for the Mexican people.
The Golden Eagle is now endangered in Mexico, with numbers dropping each year.
The latest estimated number of reproductive eagles is 101 pairs (eagle couples, who mate for life) left in the entire country. A staggering 20% of these remaining eagles are found in Wirikuta and the Wixarika Bio-cultural Corridor.
The Real De Catorce Foundation´s mission is to celebrate our history through the preservation of Heritatge, care for the Environment and investment in Education in Real De Catorce and the surrounding areas.
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