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What Is the Pascua Yaqui Tribe?

By Melissa Barrett
Updated May 17, 2024
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Now located in the United States, the Pascua Yaqui tribe is a group of Native Americans who claim tribal lands just southwest of Tucson, Arizona. In the Yaqui language, Yoeme means “the people.” Many members of the tribe refer to themselves as such.

The Yaqui, ancestors of the modern-day Pascua Yaqui tribe, lived in the Yaqui River valley of Mexico. In the 1530s, early Spanish explorers encountered the tribe, and negotiations with Spain commenced. A formal peace treaty between the Spanish government and the Yaqui nation was signed in 1610. Soon after, the first catholic missionaries were established.

During the 1700s, the Yaqui began to fuse many of their traditions with Christian teachings. The celebration of Pascua, the Spanish word for Easter, became an intricate part of the tribe’s culture. The Deer Dance, traditionally used by the Yaqui to encourage the deer to sacrifice themselves for the good of the tribe, merged in meaning with the sacrifice of Christ for the good of humanity.

Although the Yaqui accepted the religion of the Spanish settlers, they were far more reluctant to endure their rule. By the mid 1700s, the tribe had begun to resent increasing incursions by the Spanish into their lands. Teaming with neighboring tribes, the Yaqui nation set upon the Mexican government.

Hostilities between the factions varied in intensity over the next century but never completely abated. The Yaqui were essentially at war with Mexico until a formal peace treaty was signed in 1897. By that point, many of the Yaqui had been driven into neighboring Arizona.

Over the next two decades, the number of Yaqui moving into the United States continued to increase. Despite the peace treaty, the Mexican government continued to forcefully eject members of the tribe from its borders. In addition, numerous Yaquis voluntarily came to the country to rejoin their families and escape persecution. Many settled into a settlement they dubbed Pascua.

Although the people still faced adversities, the newly formed Pascua Yaqui tribe began to flourish. They began the long struggle for reorganization. Their first victory came in 1964 by application for lands under nonprofit status. At that time, the United States government was still unwilling to formally recognize the official status of the tribe. Nonetheless, the tribe, operating under the very thin guise of the Pascua Yaqui Association, was granted 202 acres of land outside of Tucson, Arizona.

In 1978, the Pascua Yaqui tribe was formally recognized as a created tribe. Although the distinction was imperfect, it provided important protections and rights to the tribe. Those rights were further enhanced by the United States’s formal recognition of the Pascua Yaqui tribe as a historic tribe in 1994.

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