Accepted paper:

Huichols and the cosmopolitics of mining in Mexico


Paul Liffman (El Colegio de Michoacán)

Paper short abstract:

In a crisis over mining, ontological actors and boundaries shift as Huichols open their relationship with the ancestors who control climate and landscape. They display ritual practices and share indigeneity in return for more of the territorial governance and economic agency they had relinquished.

Paper long abstract:

I discuss the scandal over agribusiness and planned gold and silver extraction in and around the Huichol (Wixarika) pilgrimage region of Wirikuta in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, where for centuries these indigenous people have left offerings and gathered peyote. In a newly mass-mediated ontological politics, the divine ancestors in the paramount sacred peak of Paritekïa (the birthplace of the sun) would be so devastated by mining that underground water flows, rain patterns and the whole planetary climate would suffer. Despite these cosmopolitical and environmentalist discourses, Wixarika journeys to Wirikuta coincided with the 18th-19th century mining economy surrounding Paritekïa: part of a wider symbiosis with capitalism. Wixarika sacred histories claimed silver as an ancestral patrimonial substance like peyote yet ceded control over it and other economic relations in return for recognition of an exclusive and indispensable eco-ceremonial role. But now that the official ethnic assimilation policy of mestizaje has crumbled and globalized capitalism grows more unpopular, Huichols build widespread support by critiquing it and instead proposing an alternative regional development model of ecotourism in Wirikuta and an identity politics that opens the door to the global public's desire to indianize itself through ceremonial participation. Therefore, in a historical crisis ontological agents and boundaries shift as Huichols open up their exclusive relationship with the ancestors who control the climate and landscape: instead, they display previously guarded ritual practices and share their indigeneity in return for more of the economic agency and territorial governance that their sacred narratives had seemingly relinquished.

panel W053
Shifting ontologies and contingent agencies