Tracy Barnett –
Audelina Villagrana has run her ranch in Mexico’s Western Sierra Madre mountains on her own since the death of her husband 23 years ago, herding livestock, hiring local Huichol people and even raising a young Huichol boy like a son.
Now she and other ranchers are locked in tense confrontation with their indigenous neighbours over land that has been in contention for centuries. A series of recent legal decisions has brought the dispute to a boiling point.
“It’s a strange situation, when on the one hand I share my home with them, and on the other, they’re suing me for my land,” Villagrana said.
At issue are vast stretches of property that ranchers want for intensive agriculture and grazing, but the Huichols — also known by the traditional name of Wixarika — want it for subsistence farming and to practise their traditional ways of life.
Each side wants the Mexican government to settle the dispute, but so far it has failed to do so.
The Huichol people hold land grants dating back to the 1700s from the Spanish crown, but the ranchers hold titles from the Mexican government, dated before the decade-long national revolution that began in 1910.
Now, after a series of lawsuits were decided in favour of the Huichols, they are moving in to claim 10,500 hectares in the state of Nayarit.
Since September, hundreds of Huichols have organised themselves to take turns camping on the land and standing guard.
“This land is an inheritance that the ancestors left to us,” said Luis Sánchez Carrillo, a Huichol elder.
The Huichols object to the ranchers’ intensive grazing and planting, and use of chemicals and deforestation practices. They prefer subsistence farming and reforestation efforts.
The Huichols also practise rituals to honour sacred sites such as the Cerro Cuate, a towering peak, where they leave offerings for ancestors and deities believed to reside there.
The conflict echoes the Standing Rock dispute in the US state of North Dakota, where Native American activists and supporters have camped on federal property to demand a halt to an oil pipeline project, said Paul Liffman, a professor of anthropology at Rice University in Texas and a Huichol expert.
Indigenous groups have been making land claims more forcefully since a 1989 United Nations convention provided them with a legal framework, Liffman said. —Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tracy Barnett –