INTERVIEW WITH SUSANA
THE FOLLOWING AREA FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS CONDUCTED DURING AN INTERVIEW WITH THE DRUGS, PEACE INSTITUTE AS PART OF THEIR FORMAL NOMINATING PROCESS FOR THE 2019 NOBEL PEACE PRIZE OF THE WIXARIKA (HUICHOL) PEOPLE AS DRUG PACIFISTS
Why have you and your organization, the Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and Traditional Arts, been selected by the Drugs Peace Institute to represent the Wixárika people for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize?
The Drugs Peace Institute in the Netherlands is an organization that is qualified to nominate candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize. Their sponsorship of the humanitarian foundation that I founded and direct, the Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and Traditional Arts, highlights the contributions stemming from my anthropological background and the accomplishments of my life’s work with the Huichol (also known as the Wixárika) people. My representation of the Huichol people for their Nobel Peace Prize nomination attests to my steadfast commitment to mitigate the ominous threats that face the endangered Wixárika people and their enduring spiritual traditions. The DPI holds in high regard my forty-year commitment after marrying into the culture in 1977, to a problem- solving strategy that addresses the paramount importance of safeguarding the existence of the Wixárika First Nations people as a dynamic ancient Mexican tribe in the modern world.
I have succeeded at this by living among and collaborating with the Wixárika people to defend and strengthen their right to cultural, spiritual, political and economic self-determination. My focus has been on providing assistance to those in need, while implementing measures that help chart the course for present and future generations. These priority strategies include indigenous education with Wixárika language curriculum at the Huichol Center School and teaching valuable skills and ecological imperatives at our permaculture farm to produce our own food and put an end to hunger. Economic self-sufficiency is fostered by skill training in a variety of trades with culturally relevant jobs in native arts, and other professions including archival work in cultural documentation, and computer graphic design work to conserve the Wixárika spoken and visual language of symbols.
Susana, you are a non-Huichol outsider who married into the indigenous Wixárika tribe in 1977. Does the fact that you have participated in the culture for so many years, and that you are now the family matriarch of three children and two grandchildren qualify you to be the honored recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the entire Wixárika nation?
From my perspective, I am a person who is in the unique position of having successfully triumphed over many of the obstacles involved in bridging the gap between the Wixárika people and their ability to adapt to the invasion of the dominant culture. My efforts have contributed greatly to their continued existence as an important cultural legacy that is interwoven into the fabric of contemporary Mexican and global society. In other words, my dual existence as a US born outsider who has lived for decades as a Wixárika insider has placed me in a solid position of acceptance and strength to work on their behalf in the global arena, which I have done in good faith and to their satisfaction for decades. The Huichol Center is a well-known and beloved institution that does good humanitarian work and has endowed a great gift to posterity in the remote geographical region of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. We are a non-governmental, non-denominational organization, devoted to the cause defined in our articles of incorporation, which states,
“The goal of the Huichol Center is to create sustainable life-lines between tradition and the future, life-lines that allow traditional wisdom to thrive in the 21st century by empowering the people who carry its spirit and substance.”
I would define the word “empowerment” in the case of the Huichols as the means by which they may develop the skills and the desire to envision, and actually attain, a better quality of life while simultaneously sustaining their ancient ways. Starvation is a formidable foe, and I can speak to that from my personal experiences of cradling far too many mal-nurtured infants and children. I have made it my life’s work to fight for those babies and for their babies to follow. I am thankful to my descendants who have also stepped up to the challenge and continue to carry the torch for the causes I set in motion.
It is a great honor that the Huichol Center has been selected to be the conduit for obtaining the NPP on behalf of the Wixárika people. In doing so I will continue to utilize every area of expertise and all the resources I have gathered over the years to make sure that this nomination will be a powerful platform to advocate for their greater good, including their much-needed participation in inter-tribal dialogs and global forums regarding the protection and decriminalization of peyote.
Is the ceremonial use of peyote already legal for the Wixárika people in Mexico?
The use of peyote in Mexico was outlawed in a religious edict dating back to Colonial times, in spite of its medicinal properties that were well known to indigenous cultures before the arrival of the Europeans. Nowadays, according to Article 245 in Mexico’s federal penal code of the General Health Law, peyote is still classified as an illegal drug, devoid of any therapeutic value. Thus, anyone in possession or doing investigations into the medicinal properties of the prohibited peyote cactus is subject to sanctions, with the exception of indigenous groups such as the Wixárika, Cora and Tarahumara people who may legally use it in ceremonies.
Absolutely. The nomination extols the virtues of the Wixárika tribe as an exemplary model of a First Nations’ civilization that has survived into the 21st century against all odds, with their spiritual traditions for the most part intact. Their staying power to endure the test of time is due in large part to their unparalleled cultural legacy that centers on their ritual use of the psychedelic peyote cactus. Medicine people, shamans and the Wixárika population at large, use it for its spiritual, transformative and salutary properties. The central core of their magico-religious belief system is rooted in the ways in which this revered plant ally teaches its human caretakers, through visions and dreams, to utilize the powers of peyote to benefit the common good. The Nobel Peace Prize would introduce the Wixárika people to the world and give voice to their age-old peyote traditions within the global community. This in turn would catalyze more debate about how the diverse positive effects this psychedelic mandala shaped cactus may prove to be of benefit to all of humanity.
Given the vital role that peyote continues to play regarding the sustenance of the Wixárika culture, the Drugs Peace Institute´s nomination of the Huichol People is a tribute to the success of this resilient culture at beating the odds against extinction. Especially in a world where the use of their peyote sacrament has been stigmatized in a very negative context. The Drugs Peace Institute strongly advocates for the legalization of peyote and other psychotropic medicine plants, which they believe the global community has erroneously categorized as dangerous “drugs”. This nomination is a wakeup call to the world to re-evaluate the illegal status of this benevolent cactus. It is based upon the evidence of the many ways the sacramental “plant of the gods” contributes to the well-being of the Wixárika people, to the collective health of their communities, and, by extension, may contribute to the spiritual well-being and the peaceful coexistence of all of humanity on our war-torn planet.
For example, in western culture, limited research has already proven the efficacy of psychedelic plants for treating conditions such as opioid and alcohol addictions and curing many societal ills such as depression and PTSD. Once prohibition ends, researchers in the fields of psychology, sociology, medicine, pharmacology and others will have the freedom to explore the broad potential for curing physical, mental and social disorders with these beneficent plant remedies. The medicinal properties of peyote are well known to indigenous cultures that use these plants to increase physical stamina for walking or running long distances, and to treat a wide range of ailments such as bone and joint pain, to neutralize the effects of scorpion stings and many other maladies. Once it is legal for scientists to study them, and people have the religious freedom to awaken to the transformational properties of this sacred cactus, the world will be thankful to the Wixárika and other First Nations people who already venerate these gifts from nature. The exalted role that peyote plays in contemporary Wixárika culture provides great insight into the ways that visionary plants such as peyote may cultivate seeds of human consciousness with ecological imperatives needed to protect our planet. In doing so, these cultures and their indigenous wisdom have been safeguarding the seeds to humanity’s future.
As a Western anthropologist who has participated and documented the inner circles of the peyote shamans and the deeply held beliefs at the core of Wixárika traditions, what benefits are derived from the use of peyote for the Huichols and humanity at large?
The Wixárika people are custodians of a cultural worldview and spiritual aesthetic that is fast disappearing from human memory and being overwhelmed in most 21st century indigenous cultures. They believe that peyote enables them to form alliances between humans in the mundane physical world, with the supernatural entities inhabiting the invisible metaphysical realm. These benevolent life forces are invoked during the peyote rituals and collaborate with their human caretakers by revealing the survival knowledge the Huichols depend on for sustenance in their rugged habitat. The relationships of reciprocity between humans and nature that have evolved over the millennia, and the indigenous knowledge they have compiled to sustain their lives through their direct communication with Mother Nature´s plant kingdom, provides great insight as a model for the survival of the Wixárika and other threatened indigenous cultures.
My documentation into Wixárika plants, visionary art and sacred traditions have shed light on the deeply moving spiritual insights experienced by people in peyote induced altered states of consciousness. The communion with the forces of nature that occurs during their psychedelic experiences reveal the interconnections in the web of life between all human beings, plants and animals. These realizations lead to more loving relationships and promote a more peaceful world. While gazing at the stars, or looking deep into the flames of the ceremonial fire where the boundaries of ordinary reality dissolve, peyote enlightens them with soul knowledge, stored deep within the inner core of their minds. The hallucinatory effects of the alkaloids and mescaline unveil the numinous metaphysical realm, where the truth of their existence and higher knowledge result in epiphanies about the mysteries and meaning of life.
These revelations are passed down to each new generation by their plant medicine teachers, who initiate humans into a belief system based on the ethics of planetary stewardship. For example, a fundamental principal of the earth-friendly agricultural techniques practiced by the Wixárika people is the awareness that their farms in and of themselves are living organisms, made up of fields, orchards, plants, animals, soils, compost, people, and, most importantly to them, the spirit of the place. These views are in alignment with the rhythms and cycles of the earth and cosmos, and their influence on the growth and development of their plants and animals. The shamans channel communication with their creators, such as Grandmother Growth, Father Sun and the Rain Mothers, who reveal information about the optimal times for sowing, transplanting, cultivating and harvesting, and what offerings need to be made to thank their deities in exchange for the blessings of healthy crops and good weather. Peyote is an ally of Mother Earth, of humanity, and if given the opportunity, the Wixárika and other indigenous cultures who are well aware of its powerful curative and spiritual properties will enlighten the way to global environmental and spiritual healing.
What wisdom may be garnered by people who heed the knowledge they receive from exploring psychedelic plants?
In a world that in recent times has experienced record-breaking natural disasters, the near future may be facing scenarios including more fires, hurricanes, global drought, water scarcity and famine. Thus, there is a great need to draw upon the many natural ways to insure abundant food and water security. The peyote shamans convey these messages to the Wixárika people in their ceremonies, by channeling conscious entities from the spirit realm in their chants and songs. The empathic communication that occurs between the consciousness expanding plants and their loyal human caretakers provides insights about the best practices for protecting the world we live in. These messages urge people to adopt a code of ethics that obligates humans to assume custodial roles in the caretaking of each other, and Mother Earth. The lessons obtained from peyote insights are ecological incentives that may prove to be useful in global populations far beyond the secluded Wixárika homeland. While these peyote revelations are rooted in Wixárika culture and language, they are not exclusive to the Huichol people. Once these understandings about interconnections between humans and nature are revealed to larger populations throughout the world, more people will adopt the ethics of planetary stewardship. Both within and beyond the Wixárika homeland, the wisdom from transcendental plants will guide people to realign their priorities as global citizens, dedicated to the protection of our environment and the healing of the many social ills that plague, or threaten to destroy, the quality of life on planet earth.
An example of this is practiced in our own backyard at the Huichol Center, where we maintain a permaculture demo site, located on the grounds of our school. At this farm we practice and teach young people valuable survival skills that intertwine the age-old spiritual practices with contemporary sustainable agriculture techniques. Permaculture, aquaponics and biodynamic farming are eco-friendly methods that are put into practice to teach people to thrive as farmers. This “inter-marriage” between traditional wisdom and contemporary methodologies for growing good organic food, fertilizes the seeds that the children plant into the ground, while simultaneously germinating the seeds of consciousness needed to restore equilibrium between modern society and nature. The children assume the role as caretakers in a setting that encourages love of nature, plants, trees and animals for the rest of their lives.
Are you advocating that once peyote is legal that the global population should appropriate the spiritual practices of the Wixárika and other indigenous traditions in order to access peyote wisdom?
Absolutely not. I must adamantly state that is not at all my position on the matter. Legalization will give non-indigenous people the religious freedom to transform their lives with the help of psychoactive plants. However, they must be able to acquire these plants without posing a threat to the natural habitats and the spiritual heritage of the indigenous cultures that currently use them. That is to say that when prohibition ends, extreme measures must be implemented to promote the greatest respect and privacy for native practitioners and tribal members holding ceremonies in their homeland or at sacred sites such as Wirikuta. In addition, the pristine biodiverse ecosystem of the Wirikuta desert must be carefully administered with regulations and a sustainable management plan that would shield the peyote fields from the onslaught of tourists and outsiders in search of exotic hallucinatory experiences with native practitioners. The over-harvesting of these rare cacti in their endemic Mexican habitat would result in their extinction. Indigenous leaders from the Mexican, US and Canadian tribes, and great minds from scientific, spiritual and multi-disciplinary expertise must come together in think tanks to analyze the challenges and propose regulations to insure the integrity and protection of Wixárika traditions and their peyote sites.
With regard to the appropriation of indigenous peyote traditions, it must be made clear to outsiders that while psychedelic plants impart great universal knowledge, obtaining this wisdom is not contingent upon learning and adopting the sacred ways of other cultures. In my opinion, rather than appropriating the sacred practices and spaces that pertain to people whose customs may have originated from paleo hunter-gatherers, people from contemporary society and diverse ancestral lineages must form their own alliances and meaningful rituals with these beneficial plants. While native practitioners may wish to provide helpful guidance, the bottom line is that non-indigenous people must find ways to adapt that knowledge in ways germane to one’s own life experiences, language and worldview, while surrounded by the people, elements, symbolic objects and icons that hold personal meaning, with the upmost respect in ceremonial settings.
Fortunately, the Wixárika people and Native American cultures have forged the partnerships with these plant medicines, and may now, if they so desire, share their knowledge to guide others to form these alliances. Over the ages, these cultures have given so much to the betterment of humanity and have gotten so little in return. If and when people worldwide have legal access to this magical cactus, they would obtain an awareness of the omnipotent powers of peyote and would honor and protect the plants and the First Nations people who have discovered and utilized their many beneficial properties for centuries. The Nobel Peace Prize for the Wixárika people would be a win for all contemporary indigenous cultures who practice the ceremonial use of visionary plants, because it would provide past and present native tribes with the long overdue recognition for all of their great knowledge and contributions to the betterment of humankind.
There are countless destructive forces that put the survival of the Wixárika people in peril, but is there one in particular that in your opinion overshadows the rest?
Throughout the years I have lived and worked among family members and friends, I bear witness to what may be the final years of an astonishing pre-Colombian civilization that is now hemorrhaging as it loses its grip on the future. In addition to a large array of social ills that plague the communities and attack the core of their culture, the Huichols are also in a continuing struggle against the effects of poverty, disease, mal-nutrition, evangelism, language loss, alcoholism, destruction of habitats and demolition of sacred sites. To put it mildly, my fingers have been plugging the holes in the dike for years, as the rapids of change are sweeping them into the abyss. I cannot imagine living in a world where the Wixárika spiritual legacy that I have so meticulously documented and admired for so long, may soon succumb to the destructive forces of extinction. It is a sad scenario to envision a world where the sounds of their Uto-Aztecan language become echoes of the past, where the beating of the drums and percussion rhythms of the peyote dances go silent, where young people fail to find meaning in their language of art and symbols, where the mysteries revealed by the shaman’s fire go up in smoke and the Rain Mothers cry as clouds of doom lurk above the future existence of the Wixárika people.
That being said, there is still one impediment that rises above them all that I consider the kill shot, stabbing at the jugular vein of Wixárika spirituality and existence. The biggest threat they face today is the systematic destruction of their peyote grounds in Wirikuta, the aforementioned endemic region in the state of San Luis Potosi, which is one of the only deserts on the continent where this rare cactus thrives. Over the last decade, Huichol pilgrimage groups who follow the footsteps of their ancestors, travel long distances to collect their venerated peyote in Wirikuta only to find that the harvesting areas that they have frequented for eons are no longer there. The sacred desert fields where in mythical times the heart of the deer magically transformed into peyote, have now been ploughed up and plundered at alarming rates by developers, such as foreign mining companies, the agro-industrial tomato growers, poachers and drug cartels. The economically challenged local Mexican landowners also contribute to the destruction of these sanctuary sites, by selling their land to companies who promise to generate jobs for their families as miners or farm workers. There are no Mexican or international laws to protect the violation of these Huichol sacred ancestral lands, whose destruction is imminent.
How would winning the Nobel Peace Prize help to diminish the threats to Wixárika spirituality and sacred sites, and insure sustainable futures for the tribe?
In one word, protection. The Nobel Peace Prize would bring awareness to the global community of the important indigenous wisdom and the highly evolved spiritual and artistic aesthetic this First Nations culture has gifted to the world. This recognition would thereby help to shield them from the ominous forces of extinction that continually threaten to wipe them off the face of the earth. Their living, vibrant culture would be embraced and appreciated by the world, rather than nostalgically remembered with artifacts tucked away in museum storage containers created by people who have ceased to exist. The Nobel Peace Prize would inevitably garner the international support needed to fast track the innovative solutions needed to protect the survival of the Wixárika people and preserve their tangible and intangible world patrimonial heritage. Once there is global consensus for the need to implement these protections, it is imperative that the Huichol pilgrimages to the bio-diverse peyote habitat in Wirikuta be included in the UNESCO Register of Best Safeguarding Practices. This UNESCO acknowledgement would be a godsend, because it would lay the foundation for an ingenious culture rescue strategy that would provide groundbreaking solutions to so many of their problems. The grand design would encompass a state-of-the art biosphere reserve in Wirikuta. The compound would include: a futuristic interactive museum, an awe-inspiring multi-media Wixárika cultural and native arts center, a botanical garden that conserves and educates about the bio-diverse species of the region, a spiritual retreat and healing site for exploring peyote induced altered states of consciousness, and a center for accessing the vast amount of ethnographic information contained in the Huichol Center database.
This master plan would offer the mestizo residents in the area options for an entirely new array of economic alternatives and diverse opportunities to acquire high paying, culturally relevant jobs, instead of selling their peyote habitat lands to the mining companies and agro-industrial mega projects. An intrinsic component of this sustainable community development project pivots on empowering the local community to make informed and appropriate decisions about the benefits of creating an ecotourism destination location that would hinge upon the legalization of peyote. Imagine a world where peyote is not only legal, but through the innovative use of technology and biodynamic farming, is revived from a critically endangered species into an abundant renewable resource. Biodynamic gardening techniques would be utilized to replicate the endemic eco-system, optimizing the environmental conditions for propagation and growth both inside and outside the native peyote regions. This would insure abundant regenerative sources of peyote in the regions that have already been destroyed by developments while also deterring non-indigenous peyote seekers from descending upon Huichol peyote sanctuary sites in Wirikuta. For those people who want to experience peyote in its natural habitat, special areas for ceremonies would be created within the endemic region adjacent to Huichol pilgrimage sites, with enough quantities grown in the greenhouses to supply the popular demand.
How do you propose to use the Huichol Center Ethnographic Archive and other anthropological documentation you have amassed over the last forty years to create this educational center and museum to protect the peyote desert and the Wixarika culture?
The Huichol Center’s interdisciplinary repository of cultural documentation are the building blocks that would lay the groundwork for an unprecedented learning and investigation center in Wirikuta. The information resources available for the creation of an educational institution with permanent and traveling exhibits would come from the encyclopedic collections of peyote history, myths, folk knowledge and art that are conserved in the Huichol Center´s Ethnographic Archive. These learning platforms include such things as The Blue Corn Mother School language curriculum, the Ethno-Botanical Investigations of plants, medicines and food, the Traditional Art Archive that consists of thousands of exquisite art objects, the Dictionary of Wixárika Language and Symbols, the Photo and Video Archive and a diverse collection of Wixárika music and dance.
There is another essential component be considered in the creation of the biosphere compound to protect the imminent threat to the peyote pilgrimage habitat in San Luis Potosi. That is the fact that the biosphere in Wirikuta could function as a replicable model to be installed in proximity to the Wixárika communities, at the Huichol Center site in northern Jalisco. There are innumerable advantages to creating a Wixarika cultural, educational and spiritual institution that would become the interface between the Wixarika people in their homeland and the world. First and foremost, this institute would provide opportunities to share their culture in a location that does not pose a threat to the people living in the remote communities. It would be situated in a location that is accessible and conducive to accommodating tourists and researchers, who would create the need for tourist facilities and provide jobs to this impoverished region. It would greatly benefit the current generation of Wixárika graduate students who would be able to practice their professions close to, but not within their home territory in the Sierra Madres and help stabilize the economy and well-being of their mountain villages. And of course, it would be a huge economic boost to Wixárika artisans who would have plenty of opportunities to create and market their artwork and products close to home.
Modern technology provides the means by which to digitally duplicate the multi-media content of the exhibits at the desert proto-type location and install them in a sister facility within the Wixárika region, and perhaps, in part, at other locations throughout the world as well. The futuristic design of the museum would provide an interactive, multi-lingual facility that would allow visitors to enrich their lives with the diverse aspects of the real “Treasure of the Sierra Madres”, a thriving contemporary Wixárika Nation that has safeguarded many innovative solutions to bring peace to the world.