Sep 152010

The remote Copper Canyon region in northern Mexico is the home of 50,000 Tarahumara Indians who have preserved much of their distinctive culture (language, dress, customs, beliefs) into this century, partly because of their extreme remoteness. Many live untouched by the trappings of modern civilization, moving between caves just below the canyon rim and warmer, winter shelters at lower altitude near the Urique River.

Modern hotels are encroaching on the Copper Canyon

Modern hotels are encroaching on the Copper Canyon, and changing the views in this wilderness region. Photo: Tony Burton; all rights reserved.

Their radically different lifestyle and extreme isolation beg many questions. Their ancestral homelands are already being invaded by marijuana-growers and trampled on by outside developers who have very different notions of property rights and very different customs.

Questions to think about:

  • Are the Tarahumara Indians really in any position to make informed decisions about their future?
  • Should we leave them entirely alone and let them decide entirely for themselves?
  • Should we offer education about what we would consider the benefits of the modern world?
  • Should we improve their access to health services and hospitals?
  • Should we encourage them to acquire computers and internet access?
  • Might these progressive elements destroy their existing lifestyle, break down their social and political structures and ultimately wipe them out?
  • What do YOU think? Now, imagine you were a Tarahumara Indian – would you think the same?
  • Who should decide the future of this region?

Previous Geo-Mexico posts related to the Copper Canyon:

Chapter 10 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico is devoted to Mexico’s indigenous peoples, including the Tarahumara Indians. If you have enjoyed this post, please suggest to your local library that they purchase a copy to enhance their collection.


  One Response to “Can the Tarahumara Indians who live in Mexico’s Copper Canyon region survive?”

  1. Change is inevitable. How that change occurs and the impact it has on the Tarahumara is a point of debate. Tourism can be positive (although I am personally sickened by the idea of a tramway near Divisadero), and can possibly offer stability and alternatives in a region where so many are being recruited to particiapte in harvest of marijuana and illegal logging. In any scenario, the Tarahumara are pawns.
    In a perfect world they would be left alone to live as relics form the past and thus preserving a truly unique and somewhat ancient lifestyle which also includes times of hardship and painful suffering. In a perfect world it would be they who could choose and there would be balance. But their world is far from perfect and I’m afraid external forces, whether they be with good intentions or evil, will in time lend to the distruction of what is truly the sprit and the “life” of this region of Mexico.

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