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The Wirikuta of Mexico - Narcos, Peyote, and the Battle for Silver

The Wirikuta of Mexico - Narcos, Peyote, and the Battle for Silver

April 24, 2016

Photojournalist William Kaner takes us on a journey of discovery, documenting the annual peyote pilgrimage of the Wixarrica Huichol, and tells of their battle with the mining company that threatens their sacred land.  

I travel often. My job is something in between a documenter of disappearing cultures as well as a travel editor for a men’s magazine in New York. The two aren’t as at odds as you would think. I only found out about the Wirikuta after meeting a Mexican journalist on the coast of Uruguay. He told me of a culture over 7000 years old that uses peyote and makes an incredible, almost unbelievable pilgrimage every year crossing the country of Mexico. The entire time they fast, collect and consume peyote. I found the idea immediately romantic and filled with adventure. To cross the desert and live with an indigenous culture - the only indigenous culture in Mexico to successfully escape the Spanish conquistadors and Catholic conversions. But in the end, Irving Penn and many others have already covered this topic and what does the world need with one more portrait of a native? It is what he told me next that hooked me. The journalist explained that a Canadian mining company had acquired the rights to the lands that the Wirikuta gather peyote in and are going to begin open-pit mining, destroying all the peyote in search of their own sacred object to their culture - silver. What followed was the last thing I needed to hear before I immediately booked my ticket to meet him in Mexico. Nobody had photographed them before.

So here I am. In Mexico driving through Narco lands trying to meet up with the Wirikuta who are in need of help to explain their side of the struggle to keep their lands unharmed. We drive hours out of the way from Narco checkpoints and cities that are known as hot beds for violence. We never drive at night. We are heading 12,000 feet into the Sierra and there isn’t exactly a “road’ that can just get you there.

We often forget that for thousands and thousands of years there were cultures living independently. Each one represents an example of how a community of humans can live. There is no one correct way. As we push the American version of this on the world more and more of these cultures are disappearing. But we are just one example of how to live. And it isn’t right or wrong. Every culture has positive and negative aspects. What I have tried to do here and always am striving for, is to simply document other examples of how communities can live, so if we hit a time when we need to make a dramatic change in our own culture, we have the resources to look back on and see other examples and take what we can to better our own future. 


william kaner photographer

About William: Born in a suburb of Seattle, Washington, William Kaner studied print journalism before going to the Middle East to finish his education. Infatuated with the landscape and political climate of the region, Kaner began a long freelance career before abandoning his life in the west to begin an itinerant life. Traveling with little more than the medium and large-format gear he shoots with, he began collecting images of cultures around the world. In 2009 he made New York City his home base and began making music videos as well as documentary and feature films. However, remaining faithful to the still medium of film photography, Kaner joined At Large Magazine as their travel editor and  continues to travel the world shooting foreign cultures.

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