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Heritage Education

The Yoemem (Yaquis)
The Yaqui Valley in southern Sonora, Mexico is the sacred homeland (the Hiakim) of the Yoemem people, a native Indian group of northwestern Mexico. Since ancient times they have planted corn, beans and other crops in the rich floodplain of the Yaqui River after the annual flood recedes. After Jesuit missionaries converted the Yoemem to Catholicism during the 1600s and 1700s, they also raised livestock introduced by the missionaries. In 1814, Yoemem Indians were brought northward to work gold mines near the Guevavi Mission in the Santa Cruz Valley. The Yoemem homeland, however, was never conquered by the Spanish or Mexican governments.
Today the Yoemem have lands in both Mexico and the United States that are formally recognized by the governments. In the U.S., the Pascua Yaqui Association received 200 acres of land southwest of Tucson in 1964. A grant from the Office of Economic Opportunity in 1966 allowed the association to begin building New Pascua Pueblo, and in 1978 New Pascua gained official recognition as a U.S. Indian tribe. However, the older Yoemem communities of Pascua and Barrio Libre in Tucson, Yoem Pueblo in Marana, and Guadalupe on the outskirts of Tempe are not recognized by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. These communities receive help from the tribal government of New Pascua, and the Yoemem culture continues to flourish in southern Arizona. 

The Yoemem maintain their public religious ceremonies, including the Lent and Holy Week ceremonies, which blend indigenous beliefs with Christian symbols. Another important public ritual is the killing-the-deer ceremony (maso me'ewa), which takes place on the first anniversary of the death of a relative. Yaqui public rituals are important expressions of ethnic identity, yet they are universal in the sense that they are open to outsiders and seek blessings for all men and women. The Yaqui Easter Ceremonies in the Old Pascua neighborhood in Tucson features a week of public ceremonies that includes traditional dancing, music, and masks. 

For more information visit the Pascua Yaqui website at