The Sierra Madre Mountains of Northern Mexico are vast, rugged and beautiful. Ironically, that same beauty belies the underlying suffering of the region’s inhabitants. 90,000 Tarahumara, 20,000 Tepejuan, 5,000 Pima and 5,000 Guarajillo Indians occupy the valleys and plateaus of the largest canyon system in the Western Hemisphere. The people of this region are subsistence farmers plagued with drought, poor soils and inadequate agricultural techniques. Their economic opportunities are few. Their greatest natural resource, the vast forests of the Sierra Madre, is being systematically overtimbered with little of the profits returning to the traditional inhabitants of the region. The Sierra Madre is the largest drug growing region in North America and is known as the “Golden Triangle” of Mexico due to its opium production. Lack of other economic opportunities drives many of the Indians into the illegal drug trade.
Health problems are rampant. The region’s maternal and infant mortality rates are the highest in Mexico and the fifth highest in the world. An Indian mother can expect to lose as many as half of her children to infectious diseases and malnutrition. Congenital deformities such as cleft palate and clubfoot routinely go untreated. Adults are plagued by tuberculosis, alcoholism, and trauma.