Between the Sacred and the Mining Wealth: The Defense of Wirikuta

Entre lo sagrado y la riqueza minera: la defensa de Wirikuta

In the heart of Mexico, the Wirikuta region is not only a territory, but a symbol of spiritual and cultural connections that the Wixárika people (commonly known as Huichol) maintain with the land, a subject that is little talked about, but that it is necessary to know.

Wirikuta and the greater Chihuahuan desert is an invaluable national heritage. In 1999, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized it as one of the world's 14 sacred natural sites. Therefore, protecting the site and its culture is essential to ensure and contribute to its preservation. Wirikuta is a region that crosses several states of Mexico, located in the desert of San Luis Potosí, comprising the municipalities of Real de Catorce, Charcas, Vanegas, Villa de la Paz and Villa de Ramos.

For the Wixaritari, Wirikuta is not only the birthplace of the sun, but also the home of their most important deity, Tamatsi Kauyumarie, and the center of balance of the world. Wirikuta represents the nucleus where spirituality, history and traditions are intertwined, constituting the essence of its cultural and religious identity. Pilgrimages and rituals take place here, vital not only to maintain their connection to the divine, but also to preserve their culture and ancestral ways of life (Wixárika Regional Council, 2024); that is, the land in this worldview acquires a meaning deeply intertwined with its religion, where each symbolic element of the place aligns with its cosmogony (Salazar-González, 2013).

But the territory is not only important for the Wixaritari, since it is also attractive for large foreign mining companies – especially Canadian ones – since the area has valuable natural resources such as gold and silver, among other minerals. As the presence of transnational corporations expanded due to the granting of concessions (which has increased exponentially since 2009), ancestral struggles in defense of land by indigenous people and peasants are strengthened, while new forms of mobilization and citizen participation emerge (Cohen, 2015).

The global economic crises have caused countries to have to take refuge again in the reserves of precious metals, which has increased their price and made the extraction and profit of gold and silver profitable, so that transnational companies seek to exploit the mines – the vast majority in Latin America. with the focus on minimizing investment and maximizing profit at the expense of the irreversible social, economic, ecological and cultural impact of ecosystems, due to their aggressive exploitation techniques.

In 2010, the Mexican government granted 22 mining concessions to the Canadian company First Majestic Silver Corp., which has impacted 70% of the more than 6,000 hectares of the Wirikuta Reserve. A year later, the Universe Project was announced, a mining initiative granted to Revolution Resources, also a Canadian mining company, whose objective was the extraction of open-pit resources of more than 59 thousand hectares in the Natural Protected Area, which represents 42.56% of the total area of Wirikuta (Conesa, 2020).

The conflict over the delivery of a mining concession can be analysed from different perspectives. On the one hand, it is considered an imposition that, in many cases, is granted without the knowledge or approval of the inhabitants, in addition to occupying a large part of their territory. On the other hand, long-term environmental impacts are not always analysed, and while there is a promise of economic "development" and job offers to local communities, they tend to be short-lived, as there is no balance between the value of work and the hour paid.

It is worth mentioning that in Mexico there is no tax of any kind applied to the mining industry, with the exception of a symbolic fixed quota per hectare. Likewise, the amount of ore extracted and the commercial value of the minerals exploited are not taken into account, but only the area of land that was given in concession and, therefore, not enough can be done in terms of environmental compensation or reparation of damages.

Despite the fact that the current government, headed by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, suspended the granting of mining concessions, he himself has emphasized that those that are currently approved will not be canceled, if they are managed with "responsibility", which leaves the door open to the continuation of the extractivist scheme, harmful to hundreds of communities such as the Wixárika people.

Wirikuta is not for sale

It is necessary to make visible the struggle of the Wixaritari, who have defended themselves from dispossession by organizing to create the Wixárika Regional Council for the Defense of Wirikuta, which holds demonstrations to speak out against the irregular delivery of mining concessions, which, in the midst of an unfavorable context (situation of poverty, lack of employment, poor living conditions of housing and with deficient or non-existent public services, emigration of young people and insecurity), seek to be heard.

In January 2024, ejidatarios in the Wirikuta region of San Luis Potosí asked federal authorities for a decree to protect this sacred area for Wixaritari communities. The petition arose in response to the actions of agribusiness entrepreneurs who promote the division and sale of land to expand their production.

The Observatory of Socio-Environmental Conflicts of the Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de México (OCSA, 2023) has compiled numerous information related to the Wirikuta movement and the struggle for the defense of the territory, addressing aspects of cultural and environmental relevance, where community participation in the protection of these values stands out: "The Wixárika community San Sebastián Teponahuaxtlán, Jalisco, through its traditional authorities, initiated an amparo lawsuit (lawsuit 819/2011-vi), in the face of the omission of the Mexican State to guarantee our rights and with the aim of the comprehensive protection of the sacred territory of Wirikuta in the face of mining threats" (Ojarasca, 2019). In the extension of the injunction, carried out in 2013, the violation of the right to a healthy environment and the breach of contracts were added.

The documented cases show the permanent resistance and commitment of local and indigenous communities to the preservation of their territories and traditions in the face of threats, harassment, invasion, dispossession and (neo)colonization.

The complete notes on the Wirikuta mining concessions are available for public consultation and free of charge on, by accessing, it is possible to learn more about how they carry out ceremonies and organize themselves to continue fighting against mining concessions and how they dialogue with the federal government1, as well as much more information about the news coverage that is framed in the defense of their territory.


Cohen, M. A. (2015). Socio-environmental conflicts: mining in Wirikuta and Cananea. The Daily, (191), 97-108.

Conesa, A. D. A. (2020). Altiplano-Wirikuta: The Threatened Dawn: Mining Megaprojects and Social Resistance in the Place Where the Sun Was Born (PhD Thesis, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid).

Wixárika Regional Council (2024). Retrieved from  

Gavilán, I. (2018). Cultural movements in defense of the territory. Extractivism and megaprojects in the Wirikuta Altiplano. Mexico: Jorge Alonso Interinstitutional Chair.

Hernández Navarro, L. (2011, February 8). Wirikuta and devastating mining. The Journey. Retrieved from

Jimenez, N. (2023, January 11). Ejidatarios ask for a decree to protect lands in the Wirikuta region. The Journey. Retrieved from…  

(2023). Wirikuta Mining Concessions. Retrieved from…
Ojarasca (2019) Not a step backwards in the defense of Wirikuta. Retrieved from…

Salazar-González, G. (2013). The cultural territory in Real de Catorce-Wirikuta. Jangwa Pana, 12(1), 129-149.

1 Select "File" at the top left and then filter by Megaproject Name

*Dalia Morquecho Teniza, Student of the Doctoral Program in Communication at the Universidad Iberoamericana Mexico City, and collaborator of the Program of Interculturality and Indigenous Affairs of the same educational institution

Originally published in IBERO

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