Dozens of Wixarika, or Huichol, Indians are calling on the Mexican government to cancel 80 mining concessions - including two held by Canadian multinationals - at one of their sacred ceremonial sites.

Even though 140,200 hectares (346,170 acres) in Wirikuta, located in the central state of San Luis Potosi, were declared a protected natural reserve in 2001, mining operations and tomato plantations have proliferated there and threaten the region's biodiversity, spokespersons for the Wixarika Regional Council said Wednesday.

"We are carrying the severe pain of the sacred territories, primarily Wirikuta. The Mexican government is killing (that area), kidnapping it," council envoy Santos de la Cruz said at a press conference in Mexico City, where nearly 150 Wixarika Indians from several states have gathered.

De la Cruz especially denounced the operations of Canadian-based multinationals First Majestic Silver and West Timmins Mining in the Catorce highlands and lowlands.

First Majestic's Real Bonanza unit holds 22 mining concessions, 70 percent of which are located within the natural reserve, while two West Timmins subsidiaries, Golondrinas and Cascabel, also operate in the area and plan to use an open-pit method that is considered among the most highly polluting.

According to Wixarika Indian organizations, the impoverished residents of that region have allowed the mining companies to operate there in exchange for small cash payments.

The Indians are therefore demanding the cancelation of all concessions awarded within the sacred Wirikuta site, De la Cruz added.

The Wixarika Indians regard Wirikuta, declared in 1988 to be part of UNESCO's global network of sacred sites, as a "sacred, indivisible and continuous territory."

One area in particular, the Cerro Quemado, is "where the sun was first born" and is therefore a very important "altar" within the Wirikuta sacred territory, the Indians say.

The Indians and members of allied non-governmental organizations held a series of peaceful protests in the Mexican capital Wednesday and Thursday to press their demands, including a reception at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and a ceremony at the Cuicuilco pyramid on Mexico City's south side.

Protesters on Thursday also held a rally Thursday at Mexico City's emblematic El Angel column and marched from there to the Los Pinos presidential residence.

Mexican actor Daniel Gimenez Cacho, who was among a group of artists expressing support for the Indians during Wednesday's demonstrations, thanked the protesters for their activism because "they are teaching us to defend our house and what is ours."

In addition to Wirikuta, the Wixarika culture of west-central Mexico also have sacred pilgrimage sites in San Blas, a municipality in the state of Nayarit; the Tepehuana highlands of Durango state; and a zone near Chapala Lake in Jalisco state.