Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen


Yaquis mourn death

of a spiritual leader

STEPHANIE INNES Citizen Staff Writer

Members of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona this week are mourning the death of a man they called their spiritual leader.

Anselmo Valencia Tori Although his death will leave a seat vacant on the Pascua Yaqui Tribal Council, it was Mr. Valencia Tori’s role as a teacher, tribal historian and leader of ceremonies that his family and peers say they will miss most.

Among the cultural lessons he taught during his Wednesday ”history nights” at the Pascua Yaqui Elder Center were the significance of Yaqui rites such as baptisms, and Yaqui stories about the Zure, whom he believed to be his people’s ancestors.

While the 10,500-member Pascua Yaqui tribe in Arizona has had recent internal problems involving allegations of fraud and mismanagement of casino profits, Mr. Valencia Tori had admirers in all tribal factions, said Cati Carmen ”Everybody respected him. He was a little bit controversial, but in a good way. It was for the people,” Carmen said. ”In the last few days of his life, so many people went out to visit him.”

Mr. Valencia Tori died at his home in Marana. But he and his wife, Kathy Valencia, also kept a home in New Pascua Pueblo, the tribe’s reservation land southwest of Tucson.

New Pascua Pueblo was where Mr. Valencia Tori placed his heart and soul, his son, Rogelio Valencia, recalled yesterday.

”The most important thing that he never got to see happen but worked very, very hard to do was making a Yaqui living museum,” Valencia said. ”It was one of his biggest dreams.”

In 1989, Mr. Valencia Tori founded the Yoemem Tekia ”We haven’t made enough effort to teach our children,” Mr. Valencia Tori told the Tucson Citizen in January 1990. ”Us old men thought only we should have the knowledge and kept it to ourselves.”

Mr. Valencia Tori was well-known to members of the tribe as an elder who was eager to teach younger people about tradition and culture, his son said.

And each year, as spiritual leader, he held a prominent role in the community’s Easter celebrations – an Indian version of the story of Christ’s last week on Earth.

Mr. Valencia Tori in recent years was first captain of the Caballeros – a faction in the Passion play that at first persecutes Christ, then on Friday of Holy Week Mr. Valencia Tori believed a museum could help younger tribal members learn the meaning behind the Yaqui Easter rituals, his son said.

”As leader of the Yoemem Tekia Foundation (Mr. Valencia Tori), saw the importance of working with all levels, from the members of his community, to the state officials, but also with the United Nations,” said Andrea Carmen When workers at a Tucson cemetery razed several Yaqui markers during a renovation, Andrea Carmen said Mr. Valencia Tori believed the grave sites had been desecrated.

Carmen said Mr. Valencia Tori defended his tribe’s use of mesquite crosses to mark their graves and addressed the issue with members of the U.N., resulting in eventual intervention by the Vatican.

His son yesterday recalled that Mr. Valencia Tori was quite upset last week after his tribe filed a lawsuit in federal court naming 14 defendants. The civil suit alleged fraud and mismanagement of at least $5 million from tribal coffers.

In a separate move, Chairman Benito F. Valencia fired 13 tribal government workers.

Mr. Valencia Tori, his son said, ”felt bad that the people could not be unified as Yaqui people . . . (and) that the whole situation could have been done in a more better way.”

Raised in southern Arizona and Rio Yaqui, Mexico, Mr. Valencia Tori adopted his second surname as a young man. ”Tori” is the family’s clan name.

Mr. Valencia Tori did not recognize the political boundaries between Mexico and the United States and waged long battles to gain land and water rights for the traditional pueblos in Rio Yaqui.

He was known, his co-workers said, for frequently arguing that the Yaqui Indians had inhabited the desert Southwest for hundreds of years before an Arizona-Mexico border existed.

Mr. Valencia Tori, who led the tribe through its fight to gain federal recognition from Congress in 1978, also was instrumental in lobbying for the tribe’s expanded status to ”historic.” The designation, which gave the tribe more rights, was granted by President Clinton in 1994.

Mr. Valencia Tori is survived by his wife, Kathy; children Margie Ramirez, Connie Cruz, Andrea Valencia, Rogelio Valencia, Esperanza Valencia, Marylou Valencia and Valerio Valencia A viewing is scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday at the Christo Rey Church on Camino Potam in New Pascua Pueblo. The viewing is expected to last through the night.

A Mass for Mr. Valencia Tori is set for 8 a.m. Saturday at the church, followed by burial at the Monte Calvario cemetery.

The family asks that any remembrances be made in the form of flowers sent to the Yoemem Tekia Foundation. In Yaqui culture, flowers represent eternal life and the triumph of good over evil.

The Yoemem Tekia Foundation is at 7631 S. Camino de Tetavieciti, 85746. The phone number is 883-7565.

PHOTO: Citizen file photo

Among the cultural lessons Anselmo Valencia Tori taught during his Wednesday ”history nights” at the Pascua Yaqui Elder Center were Yaqui stories about the Zure, whom he believed to be his people’s ancestors.

Our Digital Archive

This blog page archives the entire digital archive of the Tucson Citizen from 1993 to 2009. It was gleaned from a database that was not intended to be displayed as a public web archive. Therefore, some of the text in some stories displays a little oddly. Also, this database did not contain any links to photos, so though the archive contains numerous captions for photos, there are no links to any of those photos.

There are more than 230,000 articles in this archive.

In TucsonCitizen.com Morgue, Part 1, we have preserved the Tucson Citizen newspaper's web archive from 2006 to 2009. To view those stories (all of which are duplicated here) go to Morgue Part 1

Search site | Terms of service