Yaqui, the indomitable people that AMLO asks for forgiveness on behalf of Mexico

Banishings, attempted extermination, slavery, deprivation of water …

The Yaquis, an indigenous people of northeastern Mexico, have for centuries faced attack on their territory and culture like few others in the history of Mexico.

Settled today in a small strip of the state of Sonora (northwest), to which they have been reduced after numerous conflicts, this town arrives today before what promises to be a new chapter for its community, a more successful one.

The government of the president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) is presented to the Yaqui community this Tuesday to apologize on behalf of the State for the abuses they have experienced over the centuries.

“We want to do justice to the Yaqui people, to the Yaqui peoples, who are the most affected by the repression in the history of Mexico,” said the president.

The indomitable Indians

The Yaquis were the headache of the Spanish conquerors, and they continued to be so for the various governments of Mexico, even well into the 20th century.

It is a tribe settled along the Yaqui River, in the state of Sonora, which today has a depleted population of about 30,000 inhabitants.

In their eight towns -Loma de Guamúchil, Loma de Bácum, Tórim, Vicam (the capital), Pótam, Ráhum, Huirivis and Belem- follow their autonomous, traditional way of life, with a government that combines the civil authority and traditional authority of the council of elders.


“The river is the blessing and the curse of the Yaquis,” says writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II.

And it is that the history of the Yaquis is closely determined by the defense of plots of farming that are linked to the Yaqui River.

Almost a century after the Mexica (also known as Aztecs) had fallen to the Spanish in Mexico City, the Yaquis had their first contacts with the Spanish, around 1607.

It was not something friendly, recounts the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples (INPI) in an article on the history of the Yaquis. The tribe faced the colonizers and the indigenous were victorious, preserving their land intact along the coast of the present state of Sonora.

For 1610 they accepted the presence of Jesuit missionaries, who were able to establish a relationship with the colonizers that gradually expanded, mainly in evangelization, without losing possession of their lands.

But the relative peace ended the next century.

Yaqui Indians

Getty Images

Pressured for several years by the dominion of the farmland on the banks of the Yaqui River, in 1741 there was an armed uprising led by the indigenous Ignacio Muni, Calixto, Baltazar and Esteban, explains the INPI.

The natives obtained the signature of a treaty that recognized their right to preserve their customs and government, as well as the total possession of their lands and weapons.

But after the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767, the Franciscans arrived in Yaqui territory and it was then that The action of the viceregal and Mexican governments for the dispossession of the lands was accelerated.

Traded as slaves

For more than a century, from the Independence of Mexico in 1821 to the governments after the Mexican Revolution (1930), the Yaquis faced the armies of Mexico.

Armed uprisings, such as the one led by Juan Banderas (Ignacio Jusacamea) who proclaimed the independence of the Indian Confederation of Sonora, marked the Yaqui population.

According to the INPI, in 1868 the “almost total extermination of Yaquis” occurred and their indigenous neighbors, the Mayos.

“The guerrilla struggles followed one another with the change of different leaders who were executed by the army. This period is known as the Yaqui Wars and constituted for the group a process of demographic decline, loss of their territory and political imbalances ”, he explains.

Yaquis in Arizona

Getty Images

During the military regime of Porfirio Diaz (1876-2011), thousands of Yaquis were captured and sold as slaves to the plantations of the Yucatan peninsula, at the other end of Mexico.

More than 25,000 people, including women and children, died at that time.

It is known that the Yaquis who managed to escape from the plantations returned to their land on foot, on a journey of more than 3,000 kilometers.

Others managed to flee to Arizona, where the US government now recognizes a territorial reserve for them and where the Yaqui language, Cahita, can still be heard.

They also participated in the Mexican Revolution, under the promise of land and autonomy made by the insurgent leader Álvaro Obregón, which was not fulfilled.

It was with the arrival of the president Lazaro Cardenas (1934-1940) that the Yaquis obtained the official recognition of almost 500,000 hectares of land, much less than what they came to own, but finally with full rights.

But with the construction of the Angostura dam (1941) and the Oviachic dam (1945), “the Yaquis lost the indispensable resource of water, so they had to migrate en masse to the urban centers of the state” of Sonora, explains the INPI.

The Yaqui River


Since then, the Yaquis have taken as their banner the war over water in this semi-arid region, rich in agricultural land, but in great need of water.

Today’s Yaquis

The Yaquis speak the Cahita language, which also has words borrowed from Spanish and Nahuatl, the indigenous language of the center of the country.

Many speak Spanish, mainly in the capital of the community, Vicam, where today there is more population by yoris (non-indigenous) than Yaquis.

However, this is where community decisions are made and where dialogue occurs with the civil authorities of Sonora and the country.

A dialogue between Yaquis and Sonora civil authorities


Throughout the eight towns settled near the Yaqui River, their main economic activity is wheat and cotton agriculture, in addition to that cattle ranching has prospered due to the 15,000 hectares of grazing land they own.

Many migrate to the United States at harvest time, but Yaquis return to their communities every year.

In dialogue with BBC Mundo during the conflict over the Independencia aqueduct in 2015, Yaqui leader Tomás Rojo said that his people would fight their last battle for water: “Taking away the water would condemn our existence in the short and medium term (…) If we think wrong, we see an extermination policy against us ”.

“The history of our people has always been the struggle for land and water. It was the water that brought us to those territories, the one that made us flourish there and has always kept us in those lands, ”he said.

Yaqui women

Getty Images

Remember that you can receive notifications from BBC Mundo. Downloadto our app and activate them so you don’t miss our best content.