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Keeping Yaqui stories alive

Museum sought to preserve traditions

STEPHANIE INNES Citizen Staff Writer

Thirty-five Arizona Pascua Yaqui elders died last year – five of whom were older than 100 – leaving members of the tiny tribe near Tucson struggling to keep their culture and history alive.

”Now our oldest elder is 90,” said Tony V. Sanchez, director of the Pascua Yaquis’ Liogue Elder Center in New Pascua Pueblo, about seven miles southwest of downtown Tucson.

”The elders’ knowledge is an advantage to all of us. We depend on them for our cultural programs.”

To keep its cultural programs with elders and young Pascua Yaqui tribal members going, and to continue to document the tribe’s oral history, the non-profit Yoemem Tekia Foundation on Friday will hold a benefit concert featuring American Indian activists John Trudell and Floyd Red Crow Westerman.

The foundation, established by tribal member Anselmo Valencia Tori in 1989, is dedicated to preserving and perpetuating Yaqui Indian culture.

One of the group’s primary goals is to convert an old tribal government building in New Pascua Pueblo into a cultural museum. The project is expected to cost about $1.5 million, and foundation members hope to complete the project within five years.

Valencia Tori, considered by many the Yaquis’ spiritual leader, was one of the elders who died last year, at age 77. His son, Rogelio Valencia, has taken over directorship of the organization and expects to continue his father’s work.

”Yoemem Tekia” means ”the people’s duties to their creator.”

”Our elders are leaving us, and we think it’s very important that the museum is all done appropriately and correctly according to our cultural values,” said Cati Carmen, program coordinator for the foundation.

Sanchez said that since the beginning of November, 11 elders have died, mostly from complications due to diabetes. The deaths have left a large void in the number of elders who know important Yaqui cultural practices, such as Yaqui embroidery, flower-making, traditional language, and Yaqui Easter ceremonial rites.

Although the tribe’s basic services, such as fire and police, have benefited from revenue produced by the tribe’s Casino of the Sun, 7406 S. Camino de Oeste, the foundation sees little in the way of casino profits.

”It’s good that the cultural part of the tribe stays separate from the government because of all the political issues involved,” Carmen said. ”But the foundation depends on grants to exist.”

Carmen said proceeds from the benefit will go toward maintaining the foundation’s weekly ”history nights” at the Pascua Yaqui Elders Center and to pay for upkeep of the foundation’s office.

”Our programs basically bring youths and elders together,” Carmen said. ”We can keep most things going through volunteers, but for other things, like our fax machine and telephones, we need a little bit of money to do that.”

The foundation works with students from Pascua Yaqui Edge, an alternative on-reservation high school, as well as those from Tucson Unified School District’s Lawrence Elementary and Hohokam Middle schools.

An all-female drum group from the Pascua Yaqui Reservation, Semalulukut Drum, will perform at the benefit along with Westerman and Trudell. Sponsors from the foundation and the International Indian Treaty Council hope to raise $5,000 from the event.

The International Treaty Council, of which the Pascua Yaqui Nation is a member, is a worldwide organization of indigenous people that works to protect indigenous human rights, cultures and sacred lands.

Westerman, a singer and actor who played the role of Ten Bears in the 1990 film ”Dances With Wolves,” is donating his time to the Yoemem Tekia Foundation’s benefit, Carmen said.

Like Westerman, Trudell, is an activist and musician. A native of the Santee Sioux Reservation near Omaha, Neb., Trudell gained national attention for the 1969 Indians of All Tribes occupation of Alcatraz.

He served as national chairman of the American Indian Movement from 1973 to 1979, a period in American Indian history that included the siege of Pine Ridge, S.D., and the occupation of Wounded Knee.

Trudell is scheduled to speak on contemporary American Indian issues.

A similar benefit for the foundation last year raised $3,000, Carmen said.


Here are some facts about the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, one of 21 federally recognized tribes in the state:

• History: The tribe dates back to the early 1900s, when hundreds of Yaquis fled persecution in Mexico. Congress granted federal recognition to the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona in 1978.

• Reservation: New Pascua Pueblo, the tribe’s only Arizona reservation, covers slightly more than a square mile seven miles southwest of downtown Tucson. About 700 people live there.

• Enrollment: The Arizona tribe includes about 10,500 members, most of whom live in communities near Tucson and Phoenix.

• Communities: They include Old Pascua Village on 40 acres west of Interstate 10 and south of Grant Road in Tucson; Barrio Libre in South Tucson; and Guadalupe near Phoenix.

• Preservation: The non-profit Yoemem Tekia Foundation is dedicated to the preservation and perpetuation of Yaqui culture. To contact the group, write or call: 7631 S. Camino Tetaviecti, Tucson 85746; 883-7565.


The Yoemem Tekia Foundation’s benefit fund-raiser will begin at 7 p.m. Friday in the Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd., at the Arizona School for the Deaf and the Blind.

Scheduled performers include singer and activist Floyd Red Crow Westerman, American Indian Movement activist John Trudell, and Semalulukut Drum, an all-female Pascua Yaqui group.

Tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the door and are available at Rainbow Moods, 3532 E. Grant Road; Antigone Books, 411 N. Fourth Ave.; Bahti Indian Arts, 4300 N. Campbell Ave.; Ana’s Music in Southwest Supermarket at 12th Avenue and Valencia Road; and UA’s American Indian Graduate Center, 1610 E. Seventh St. For more information, call 883-7565.


Isabel Valencia finishes a decorative Valentine’s Day mailbox at the Yaqui elder center in New Pascua. She lived in Eloy before moving here.

Ignacia M. Yucopicio, 66, makes paper flowers at the center. She teaches the art to her grandchildren and to students in nearby schools. The flowers are used for fiestas and church services in the Yaqui community and are sold at art exhibits.

Antonia Leon, 75, tries to hide a smile as she remembers her childhood where Davis-Monthan Air Force Base now stands. Without television and other electronics, she spent most of her time after school playing ball and jumping rope. The tribe wants to record the history of its elders, such as Leon.

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