Manataka American Indian Council
Great Yaqui Nation
Submitted by MAIC Member Ted Glines, Yaqui - from the official Yaqui Nation Website.
Native Americans are the true experts about Indian travels and ways of life. The Yaqui people have used oral traditions to pass their rich history from one generation to the next. This is the history of the Yaqui as told by Ernesto Quiroga Sandoval, Historian, Pascua Yaqui Tribe.
The Creator made ocean animals and allowed some to emerge onto land. Some evolved into a short human form: the Surem. These are the early ancestors of the Yaquis. The Sureni lived in a time out of mind and were a peace-loving, gentle people who had no need for government. Life in the Sonoran desert was a harmonious perfection for the Surem until God spoke through a little tree and prophesied about new horticultural techniques, Christianity, savage invaders, and disunity. The Surem became frightened about parts of this message and transformed into taller, defensive farming people called Yaquis (Hiakim) or Yo'emem (The People).
The Yaquis were well accustomed to the many parts of North America. By 552 AD, Yaquis were living in family groups along the Yaqui River (Yoem Vatwe) north to the Gila River, where they gathered wild desert foods, hunted game and cultivated corn, beans, and squash. Yaquis traded native foods, furs, shells, salt, and other goods with many indigenous groups of central North America. Among these groups are the Shoshone, the Comanche, the Pueblos, the Pimas, the Aztecs, and the Toltec. Yaquis roamed extensively in pre-Columbian times and sometimes settled among other native groups like the Zunis.
It is said, "We had been told in a revelation from Heaven, that God had given to the Yaquis a homeland around the Yaqui River." The Yaquis trained themselves to fight, withstand pain, and die if necessary to protect God-given land and family life. By 1414, the Yaquis were organized into autonomous, yet unified, cultural and military groups.
In 1533, the Yaquis saw the first white men: a Spanish military expedition searching for slaves. The Spanish who initiated warfare were soundly defeated, but took thousands of Yaqui lives. Between 1608 and 1610 the Spanish repeatedly attacked the Yaqui people. The Yaquis proved they could raise a fighting force of 7,000 within a few hours to successfully defend Yaqui land and cultural integrity.
Nevertheless, the Yaquis preferred peace. They asked the Jesuits to enter Yaqui villages to do missionary work and economic development. Most of the 60,000 Yaquis settled into eight sacred towns or "pueblos" and built churches: La Navidad del Senor de Vikam, Santa Rosa de Vahkom, La Asuncion de Nuestra Senora de Rahum, Espiritu Santo (Ko'okoim), Santa Barbara de Wiivisim, San Ignacio de Torim, San Miguel de Veenem, and La Santisima Trinidad de Potam.
Silver was discovered in the Yaqui River Valley around 1684. The Spanish, who treasured the silver stone, began moving into the area, began taking sacred Yaqui land, and treated the Yaqui people disrespectfully.
In 1740, the Yaqui allied with the neighboring Mayo tribe to force the Spanish out of the God-given Indian lands. For the next 190 years, the Yaqui people continued to fight the Spanish, and then the Mexicans (after they won their independence from Spain).
Juan Banderas was one Yaqui leader who tried to unite the Mayo, Opata, and Pima tribes with the Yaqui tribe in attempt to force the Mexicans out of Indian country. He was caught with an Opata chief in 1833 and was executed.
By this time, the Yaqui people had suffered greatly. Many Yaquis left the Rio Yaqui area to fight in the Vakatetteve Mountains; others relocated to Yaqui communities in Arizona. Many more died in battles or were executed. In 1868, 600 Yaqui men, women, and children were captured near Vahkom Pueblo by Mexican state and federal troops. Their arms (bows and arrows and rifles) were taken, and 450 were locked in a church. During the night, the church was shelled. 120 of the people inside were massacred. But still, the Yaquis continued to believe in and fight for the right to land, autonomy, and freedom from harassment.
The Mexican government tried various tactics to defeat the Yaquis. Many were killed. Mexican troops would occupy Yaqui pueblos to keep watch over them. Yaquis were also deported to work as slaves in many distant areas of Mexico, as Yucatan, Oaxaca, Vera Cruz, Mexico City, and Guadalajara. The deportation of Yaquis extended past the borders of Mexico to include Bolivia, the islands of the Caribbean, and the United States.
The Yaquis continued to resist subjugation. By 1887, the Mayo tribe had stopped fighting. Smallpox disease had killed off many members of the Yaqui tribe so that only 4,000 Yaquis remained in the Rio Yaqui area. There were yet Yaqui who continued to battle the Mexicans. These were led by Cajeme, meaning "He Who Does Not Drink", and Juan Maldonado, who was also called Tetabiakte, "Rolling Stone". The Yaquis in Arizona sent guns and supplies to help the battle.
Significant Yaqui relocation occurred from the United States to Sonora and from Sonora to the United States during the 1880s. In 1897, a peace treaty was signed at Ortiz, Sonora between the Yaqui people and the Mexican government. But, after two years, war and deportation of Yaquis continued.
Yaqui families lived in the Gila and Santa Cruz River valleys since time immemorial. Around the turn of the century, these families, encouraged by farmers, politicians, and internal preferences, began moving into larger communities. Guadalupe took early form in 1880. Old Pascua Village was established in 1903. The Sonoran Governor Izabal had a policy to arrest and deport both peaceful and rebel Yaquis. This forced Yaquis to relocate to the Arizona communities and to join old family groups already in residence. Many Yaqui families moved to escape the violence of the 1910-1920 Mexican Revolution.
In 1916, Mexico had a constitutional governor named Adolpho de la Huerta, who was one-quarter Yaqui. He made the first attempts to restore Yaqui land and stop the bloodshed. But, the next president, Alvaro Obregon, changed the policy, and the Yaqui-Mexican wars continued.
The last Indian battle with the U.S. Cavalry happened on January 8, 1918, at Arivaca. Troop E of the Tenth Cavalry, intercepted a group of American Yaquis on their way to render aid to Yaquis of Sonora, who were in the midst of unrelenting war. The Yaquis fought their last major battle at Cerro del Gallo (Hill of the Rooster) in 1927. They were defeated physically, and Mexican garrisons were established in all Yaqui pueblos and villages. But, even now, Yaquis say that morally, they are still undefeated.
In 1939, Mexican President Cardenas changed the attitude about the Yaquis. He granted the Yaqui tribe official recognition and title to their land.
The autonomous Arizona villages became larger, and by 1952, were surrounded by urban communities. In 1964, with the aid of Congressman Morris K. Udall, the Pascua Yaquis were recipients of 202 acres of desert land where Indian identity and sovereignty can be asserted and maintained.
On September 18, 1978, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona became federally recognized: the Pascua Pueblo Pueblo of the Pascua Yaqui Indian Reservation officially came "into being". The Pascua Yaquis have a status similar to other Indian tribes of the United States. This status makes the Yaqui eligible for specific services due to trust responsibility that the United States offers Native American peoples who have suffered land loss.
EDITORIAL NOTE: Human Rights groups have asked that the United States and Mexico honor treaties which are supposed to permit travel across the US-Mexico border for tribal members. They have had difficulties attending events between the two modern nations. Every time immigration efforts increase on the US-Mexican border, the Yaqui, Tohono O'odham, Cocopah and the Kickapoo find it more difficult to reach each other.
For non-Yaquis it is difficult to fully grasp the blend of ancient Yaqui beliefs and the religion taught to them by Jesuit priests in the 1500s, but they successfully melded the two into a unique belief system that includes their beloved deer dancer.
Worldwide, the Yaquis may be best known for these men highly trained in an ancient religious ceremony in which the dancer wears a headdress depicting a deer's head and whose steps imitate movements of a deer.
The deer dancer is prominent in the Pascua Yaqui logo and Tribal symbol. The successful merger of ancient Yaqui traditions with Catholicism allows the deer dancer to remain a central feature of the spiritual lives of today's Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona. Pascua is Spanish for Easter, and it is during the Easter season that the deer dancer is most prominent, participating in ceremonies that depict events of this holy period.
Flowers are important to the Yaquis' daily lives and ceremonies. They combine the ancient belief that the deer dancer is from a flower-filled spiritual world of natural beauty with the belief that Christ's grace is symbolized by flowers that grew from blood that fell from Jesus' wounds during the crucifixion. Flowers are believed to be powerful weapons against evil and are a prevailing symbol seen in elaborately embroidered floral designs on traditional Yaqui clothing.
Credits: Pascua Yaqui Tribe
Amalia Reyes, Language Department
Go to the official website
Pascua Yaqui Tribe
Pascua Yaqui Tribe. 7474 S. Camino De Oeste. Tucson. Arizona 85746
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