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Indigenous Rights

Protection for Indigenous Peoples Runs Up Against Hurdles in Mexico

Wirikuta, in the northern Mexican state of San Luis Potosí, is a sacred site for the Wixárika people, threatened by mining concessions and large-scale agriculture. CREDIT: Wixárika Research Center

Wirikuta, in the northern Mexican state of San Luis Potosí, is a sacred site for the Wixárika people, threatened by mining concessions and large-scale agriculture. CREDIT: Wixárika Research Center

MEXICO CITY, Feb 14 2023 (IPS) - Tatei Haramara, one of the sacred sites of the Wixárika indigenous people in the state of Nayarit in northwestern Mexico, has shrunk in size from its original area and is suffering from a lack of legal protection.

Also known as Isla del Rey, off the port of San Blas, six hectares are under protection as sacred, although the San Blas city council approved another 29 hectares. But now the ancestral land faces the threat of a ferry dock and other tourism projects.

The problem is not exclusive to Tatei Haramara, the name of the mother of five-colored corn and of the sacred gateway to the fifth world, represented by the white stones Tatei Waxieve and Tatei Cuca Wima, which rise up in front of the island.

“If the resources we need are not allocated, the justice plan will not be completely fulfilled. We are concerned that this will happen. We are facing difficulties in how to get resources in order to work, with respect to all of the issues. The plan must come up with something fair. We don’t just want it to be empty words." -- Paulita Carrillo

Abandonment of ceremonies, lack of legal protection and budget, as well as poverty, violence and environmental damage undermine the application of the Mexican government’s Justice Plan for the Wixárika, Na’ayeri and O’dam peoples, who are from the states of Durango, Jalisco, Nayarit, Zacatecas and San Luis Potosí.

This is stated in the document “Systematization of proposals: Justice Plan for the Wixárica, Na’ayeri and O’dam peoples”, drawn up by the government’s National Institute of Indigenous Peoples (INPI), and seen by IPS, which was among the thousands of emails from the ministry of national defense that the hacktivist Grupo Guacamaya leaked in September.

The assessment, dated July 2022 and 102 pages long, identifies insufficient coordination and communication between the authorities of the Wixárika people to make offerings in sacred places and the Na’ayeri people for the management, protection and conservation of their sacred spots, as well as deterioration and difficulties for the use of sacred places and the tangible and intangible heritage of the three groups due to lack of physical and legal protection.

In Mexico, justice plans for indigenous peoples were created in 2021 by the current government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as a mechanism to identify and respond to the just demands and historical needs of native communities, including the issue of sacred sites.

But although it is a public policy, it is not legally binding.

Since then, the government has promoted six justice plans for the Yaquis, Yoreme-Mayos, Seris, and Guarijíos in the state of Sonora, the Rarámuris in Chihuahua, and the Wixárika, Na’ayeris, O’dams and Mexikans. But very few of them have been published.

Paulita Carrillo, who has participated in the process of debate and drafting of the plan for her people, the Wixárika, said the programs are not moving forward but are barely dragging along.

“They are moving slowly. It’s not like we thought it would be, it’s a lot of work. There are several factors: you have to engage in dialogue with the institutions of each state; the strength is in the protection of sacred places, and they are located in the four states. And it is difficult to do that,” she told IPS from San Andrés Cohamiata (TateiKie, in Wixárika), in the municipality of Mezquitic, some 460 kilometers from Mexico City, in the western state of Jalisco.

With regard to the Wixárika, “we drew up the proposals, they were gathered in each community,” she added, explaining that for their part they carried out the necessary work.

According to official data, there are nearly 17 million indigenous people belonging to 69 different peoples and representing 13 percent of the population of Mexico, the second-largest Latin American country in population and economy after Brazil, and the third in size, following Brazil and Argentina.

The program for the Wixárika, Na’ayeris and O’dams represents an update of the Hauxa Manaka Pact for the preservation and development of the Wixárika culture, which the governments of the five states involved, the federal administration and the indigenous leadership signed in 2008, but which has remained dead letter.

The Wixárika people have 17 sacred sites, the O’dam and A’daum groups share 17 and the A’daum have another 10.

The federal government has not yet published the decree for the defense and preservation of the sacred places of the Wixárika, Naáyeri, O’dam and Mexikan peoples, because the survey has not been completed of the Tee ́kata site, place of the original fire, where the sun was born, located in Santa Catarina Cuexcomatitlán (Tuapurie) in Mezquitic, a protected area covering 100 hectares.

Irene Alvarado, an academic with the Intercultural Indigenous Program at the private Western Institute of Technology and Higher Studies of the Jesuit University of Guadalajara, told IPS that the plans are aimed at creating a different kind of relationship with native groups.

“You have to understand how systematically the native peoples have been made invisible. We are in a system that denies and imposes its own culture and does not recognize that they are ancient cultures. The plans are an exercise in analysis and discussion with authorities and representatives of the peoples to examine problems and propose collective solutions. They have emerged to meet these ignored demands,” she said from the city of Guadalajara.

The plan for the Yaquis includes the construction of an aqueduct for water supply, the creation of an irrigation district and the installation of an intercultural university under their management.

 

Recognition of sacred sites constitutes a fundamental element of the Wixárika, Na'ayeri, O'dam and Mexikan Justice Plan, created by the Mexican government and these indigenous groups. The photo shows a ceremony held on Nov. 25, 2022 at the Hauxa Manaka site, located in Cerro Gordo, in the community of San Bernardino de Milpillas Chico, in the northern state of Durango. CREDIT: INPI

Recognition of sacred sites constitutes a fundamental element of the Wixárika, Na’ayeri, O’dam and Mexikan Justice Plan, created by the Mexican government and these indigenous groups. The photo shows a ceremony held on Nov. 25, 2022 at the Hauxa Manaka site, located in Cerro Gordo, in the community of San Bernardino de Milpillas Chico, in the northern state of Durango. CREDIT: INPI

 

Fragmented

But ancestral territory is a fundamental element for native groups, and without it the exercise of their rights is limited. For this reason, five communities in the states of Durango, Jalisco and Nayarit have denounced the invasion of 91,796 hectares of land of which they say they were dispossessed by third parties.

In these same states, eight communities are demanding the adequate execution of judicial sentences and presidential resolutions for the recognition and titling of 23,351 hectares.

In addition, 27 communities maintain conflicts over the limits of communal “ejido” lands in this area and another 15 are engaged in border disputes between the states of Durango, Jalisco, Nayarit and Zacatecas.

The question of territory has an impact on the sacred sites. For example, Xapawiyemeta, located on Lake Chapala in Jalisco, only measures 377 square meters due to the reduction of the original site. In the north-central state of San Luis Potosí, the Wixárika people have 140,212 hectares under protection, but suffer from mining concessions and large-scale tomato and chili pepper production.

Three copper, gold, silver and zinc mines operate in the Wixárika zone and another five projects are in the exploration phase in San Luis Potosí. In this state and in Zacatecas, there are 203 mining concessions.

But some native communities have set conditions for participating. For example, San Sebastián Teponahuaxtlán, in the municipality of Mezquitic in Jalisco, will participate when 10,500 hectares are returned to it. Meanwhile, the Bancos de San Hipólito community, in Durango, is about to recover 10,720 hectares, in compliance with a 2008 court ruling.

 

The Mexican government and indigenous peoples have been drawing up six justice plans since 2021 to remedy the historical injustice and neglect suffered by these groups. The photo shows Mayo-Yoreme indigenous people dancing during a working session with government representatives on Jan. 27, 2023 in the northern state of Sonora. CREDIT: INPI

The Mexican government and indigenous peoples have been drawing up six justice plans since 2021 to remedy the historical injustice and neglect suffered by these groups. The photo shows Mayo-Yoreme indigenous people dancing during a working session with government representatives on Jan. 27, 2023 in the northern state of Sonora. CREDIT: INPI

 

Constitutional reform – a bogged-down promise

However, the government initiative for constitutional reform on the rights of indigenous and Afro-Mexican peoples, also drafted in 2021, has not advanced in the legislature.

But the measures contain contradictions. In the south and southeast of the country, the government is building the Mayan Train, the administration’s flagship megaproject, which has brought it into confrontation with native Mayan groups in that area.

In fact, the office in Mexico of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said the indigenous consultation undertaken by the Mexican government in 2019 failed to comply with international standards.

In the southern state of Oaxaca, the government is pushing for an industrial corridor to connect the Pacific coast with the Gulf of Mexico in the Atlantic, which has brought it to loggerheads with indigenous populations in the area.

 

Funds are declining

The justice plans depend on the budget allocated both to native peoples and to the plans themselves.

Since 2018, INPI funds have steadily shrunk, from 316.52 million dollars that year to 242.07 million dollars in 2023.

In 2020, the programs for economic empowerment, education, infrastructure and indigenous rights totaled 77 million dollars, the execution of which was affected by the COVID pandemic that hit the country in February of that year. The following year, the amount had dropped to 39.63 million and in 2022, to 27.26 million dollars.

At a round table held on Jan. 17 in Durango, it was agreed that 382,803 dollars were needed from four institutions for the protection of sacred places, culture and identity of the Wixárika, Na’ayeri, O’dam and Mexikan peoples.

Carrillo said the lack of budget funds jeopardizes the execution of the plans.

“If the resources we need are not allocated, the justice plan will not be completely fulfilled. We are concerned that this will happen. We are facing difficulties in how to get resources in order to work, with respect to all of the issues. The plan must come up with something fair. We don’t just want it to be empty words,” said the Wixárika activist.

In 2021, INPI did not examine whether the Program for the Comprehensive Well-being of Indigenous Peoples assisted the development of indigenous and Afro-Mexican communities, according to an analysis by the government’s Superior Auditor of the Federation.

Alvarado said there is a large variety of challenges to provide justice for indigenous people.

“It is difficult to address complex issues,” said the researcher. “There are many good intentions, but the question is how to bring them to fruition. In the justice plans, most of the projects focus on infrastructure, but you can’t just think about that. The development vision is broader; it involves building a model based on the conception of native peoples.”

 
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