Yaqui Indians

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Yaqui Indians

The Yaquis (also called Yoemem) are a "cross-border" indigenous nation of northwestern Mexico (Sonora) and the southwestern United States (Arizona) that has stood out for its long and successful resistance to acculturation and assimilation into Mexican society. Since their "discovery" by Europeans in 1533, the Yaquis have insisted on retaining their own distinctive identity as a separate people and culture, and they have waged numerous wars to prevent the loss of their communities, land, water, and way of life in the Yaqui River Valley. They have steadfastly maintained some form of internal organization and government for more than four hundred years, including the exile barrios outside the Yaqui River Valley in both Sonora and Arizona.

On the Mexican side of the border, the Yaqui people do not identify themselves as Mexicans; instead they use the term Yoemem (people, humans). At times, the Mexican government has worked in favor of the Yaqui Nation. In 1916 then constitutional governor Adolfo de la Huerta (himself one-quarter Yaqui) made attempts to restore Yaqui land, and in 1934 President Lázaro Cardenas granted official recognition and land title to Yaqui peoples. On the U.S. side of the border, the Pascua Yaqui tribe of Arizona was given title to 202 acres of desert land in 1964 and was federally recognized in 1978.

An indigenous people with identity rooted in a land base, the Yaquis were primarily agricultural. During long periods of resistance in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, however, they were prevented from deriving much of their subsistence from the soil in their contested homeland; thus, many became temporary wage laborers in the haciendas, mines, and railroads of Sonora and Arizona. Nevertheless, unlike other frontier Indian communities, Yaqui participation in the larger economy did not result in their permanent assimilation into the larger society. For, even as they worked for wages, they struggled to preserve their autonomous communities—physically, politically, and culturally. For example, pre-contact Yaqui religious practices, such as the deer-dance, have evolved and melded with Catholicism, forming a prominent feature of yearly Easter celebrations. The dual characteristic of separatism and partial integration is the source of Yaqui strength and key to their survival as a distinct people and culture up to the present day.

See alsode la Huerta, Adolfo; Indigenous Peoples; Yaqui Rebellion, 1885–1898.


For an interpretive study of Yaqui culture, see Edward Spicer, The Yaquis: A Cultural History (1980). For a narrative history of Yaqui contact and struggle with the outside world, see Evelyn Hu-de Hart, Missionaries, Miners, and Indians: Spanish Contact with the Yaqui Nation of Northwestern New Spain, 1533–1820 (1981) and Yaqui Resistance and Survival: The Struggle for Land and Autonomy, 1821–1910 (1984).

Additional Bibliography

Fabila, Alfonso. Las tribus yaquis de Sonora: Su cultura y anhelada autodeterminación. Mexico: Departamento de asuntos indígenas, 1940. Repr., Mexico: Instituto Nacional Indigenista, 1978.

                                        Evelyn Hu-DeHart