All Lives Institute
All Lives Institute

Invisibilisation of the Yaqui (HIIN=37)

Delawares, Kickapoos, and Seminoles joined a flow of local southwestern Apaches, Kiowas, Comanches, Pimas, and others to cross south into Mexico and, along the 49th parallel, Nez Perce, Sioux, Iroquois and countless others entered Canada, for fear of their lives. However, there are two examples of Amerinds who, in the mayhem, went in the opposite direction and entered the United States.

In the 1880s Yaquis, from Mexico crossed into Arizona while Chippewas and Crees entered Montana from Canada. Following long, often hopeless efforts as, 'foreign Indians', they uniquely obtained tribal status and their own reservations.

The Yoeme (the Yaqui or Hiaki are other, incorrect names) now live in the Southwestern United States and in the Río Yaqui valley, in the Mexican state of Sonora. They speak an Uto-Aztecan language, called after the Ute tribe of Utah and the Nahuan/Aztecan languages of Mexico. The important Pascua Yaqui Tribe is based in Tucson. There are communities mainly in Chihuahu (the largest state of Mexico) and Durango, in the far west of Sonora, where the Las Quebradas area contains silver and gold deposits. From the 1800s, viruses carried by European miners killed native groups like the Acaxes and Xiximes. Statistics on the Yaqui are not available.

When the Spanish first came to the Yoeme pueblos, they saw only fertile lands and a free labour force. Forcing the Yaqui to accept an inferior position led to the purloining of native resources and the erection of physical and cultural borders. Indian nations were kept sundered and unable to organise. This policy has not changed.

Settler colonization and cultural genocide use administrative and technological capacities to suppress people. The existence of a unified Yaqui nation and their struggle to remain within the Yaqui homeland are prevented. Mexico takes pride in indigenous antiquities - such as the Aztecs and Mayans - whilst keeping their descendents under foot.

In line with 'Mestizaje' (the mixing ethnic and cultural groups), the Sonoran State has used Yaqui culture to promote national pride, taking the deer dancer as a symbol of the Aboriginal Sonora. Throughout the State, Yaqui guerrilla warfare leaders are placed to illustrate Sonoran history. However, in actuality, official policies suppress the Yaqui and Yaqui and ignore their legal rights. Today, the Yaqui do not struggle against an army but rather against invisibilisation - crushing social and economic impoverishment.

Under an accord with the Mexican government, signed in 1937 by President Lázaro Cárdenas, the Yaqui won rights to 50% of the water from the Rio Yaqui (and lost 60% of their land). The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, 1992) resulted in the replacement of traditional farms by agriculture on an industrial scale. The waters of the Yaqui River sustain the activities of large industrial, multi-billion-dollar corporations such as Heineken, the Ford Motor Company and Pepsi, while also producing electricity. A migrant Yaqui labour force was so produced and Yaqui territory depopulated.

The implementation of NAFTA and the loss of the communal land ejido system (ie commonage), in 1994, meant the safeguards which protected communal lands no longer existed. With the consequent sale and purchase of Yaqui land, which followed, a rift developed in the Yaqui communities, between those suffering from high rates of cancer, stillbirths, skin diseases, congenital disabilities and sterilization, and those who, no matter the cost, were committed to staying in the Yaqui homeland.

In 2006, Brenda Norrell drew attention to a study on mothers in Yaqui pueblos, which showed high levels of multiple pesticides in the umbilical-cord blood of new-borns and in their mothers' breast milk. Stillbirths, stomach ailments and cancer were common. There was a high price to be paid for unregulated, large-scale agricultural depredation. Women were disproportionately being affected by the community's dependency on polluted water. Rampant ill-health resulted from contaminated water. Many people were, once again, displaced to other regions in Sonora and Southern Arizona.

In 2010, Sonora began building the Acueducto Independencia, to supply water to the State Capital, Hermosillo, diverting in excess of 50% of the Rio Yaqui from southern Indians farmers. Mexico's Supreme Court affirmed Yaqui rights: the judgements were ignored.

In May, 2013, the Yaqui had to face the further diversion of Rio Yaqui waters. These, in any event, had become polluted with pesticides. There was no running water nor indoor plumbing. The Federal Highway 15 (built in 1952), was blockaded in protest, causing increased settler violence. Yaqui men have been targeted and imprisoned. Two political activists, Mario Luna Romero and Fernando Jimenez, were both charged with murder and jailed. With no evidence against them, they were released, after two years. Since 2014, Yaqui men have resisted further degradation of their land. Their womenfolk are demeaned and abused by Settlers. The criminalization and dehumanization of the Yaqui continues.

Poisons entering the River caused the total migration of local fauna. Indigenous communities were curtailed from practicing traditional, cosmological rituals, making up ancestral medicines and hunting. Yaqui men used to farm to make a living. Without clean water, many families had to relocate or work as hired hands on agricultural operations.

The traditional agriculture of the Yaquis is so affected, indeed, that cultivating crops may stop. In February 2018, Irrigation District councilor, and president of the irrigation Módulo 4-P-8, said: "We always said that the Independencia Aqueduct would affect us and this is already happening. The drought is hitting us hard... if it doesn't rain this summer, producers will have to forego planting seeds for the winter."

The other major threat is the Sonora Pipeline. The Mexican IEnova (Infraestructura Energética Nova) company wanted to run a gas pipeline through Yaqui land. In August 2017, after members of the Loma de Bácum faction of the indigenous Yaqui tribe removed a section of the pipe. In February 2018, there was a second explosion during tests.

The Sonora Pipeline connects with the Kinder-Morgan pipeline in Pima Country, Arizona, which runs alongside the Tohono 'O'odham reservation and crosses the border in S´sabe. It travels through river systems and beside the Gulf of California through Sonora to its terminus in the State of Sinaloa (known as "Mexico's Breadbasket", also home to the Sinaloa Cartel, known for drug trafficking and money laundering)). The IEnova company is a division of Sempra Mexico, which is one of around five subsidiaries of Sempra Energy, in San Diego

The town of Loma de Bácum, as well as other Yaqui village defenders, oppose the IEnova pipeline. The people clearly rejected the pipeline in 2015, in consultations with the authorities. In April 2016, a court injunction was issued against construction in Yaqui territories. Despite the ruling, the pipeline was finished by April 2017, passing through 90 kilometers of Yaqui territory and crossing the Rio Yaqui

The Yaqui people continue to struggle against the Independencia Aqueduct and the Sonora pipeline. Rosemary Toña-Aguirre, is a member of the Yaqui nation in Arizona, and on the Board of Directors for the Alianza Indígena (Indigenous Alliance). She says: "It is genocide because they're poisoning the river with fertilizer and pesticides from big agribusinesses, many of them American owned, and they're stealing the water for use in Hermosillo and other places. That's money and food taken away from the Yaqui". David Jaimez of the Yoeme Human Rights Commission explains: "This is a body of water named after the people themselves ... They've been living there since before the invaders ... It's utterly immoral"

Mexican settler colonization never stops encroaching upon Yaqui territory. Today, the Yaqui may no longer carry arms, nevertheless, their struggle - like that of all indigenous and other suppressed peoples around the world - is one that can only truly end in Justice.

'Bay p'ay tday, bay p'ay tday' are Kiowa words which mean 'nil desperandum'. Fanaigí lán le dóchas - an Irish version