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News From Indian Country

Mexico Yaqui remains returned from New York museum for burial
By Mark Stevenson
Mexico City, Mexico (AP) 11-09

Northern Mexicos Yaqui buried their lost warriors after a two-year effort to rescue the remains from New Yorks American
Museum of Natural History, where the victims of one of North Americas last Indian massacres lay in storage for more
than a century.

The burial on November 16 capped an unprecedented joint effort by U.S. and Mexican tribes to press both governments
to bring justice and closure to a 1902 massacre by Mexican federal troops that killed about 150 Yaqui men, women and

They would not be at peace with their souls and conscience until they
got their people back to their land, said Jose Antonio Pompa of
Mexicos National Institute of Anthropology and History.

The 12 skulls and other blood-spattered remains interred in Vicam, a

traditional Yaqui town in western Sonora state, carried some of the
first forensic evidence of Mexicos brutal campaign to eliminate the

As if the horror of the massacre werent enough, U.S. anthropologist

Ales Hrdlicka came upon some of the bodies while they were still
decaying, hacked off the heads with a machete and boiled them to remove
the flesh for his study of Mexicos races.

He sent the resulting collection to the New York museum. On Nov. 16, on
the slope of a mountain near the Yaqui village of Vicam, the 12 sets of
remains were baptized to give them names that have been lost to

They were given a warriors honor guard, and amid drumming, chants and
traditional deer and coyote dances, each was laid to rest in the
ground they had been striving to return to when they were slaughtered.

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News From Indian Country

Perhaps best known for the mystical and visionary powers ascribed to
them by writer Carlos Castaneda, the Yaquis fought off repeated
attempts by the Mexican government to eliminate the tribe.

But they were largely defeated by 1900, and dictator Porfirio Diaz
began moving them off their fertile farmland to less valuable territory
or to virtual enslavement on haciendas as far away as eastern Yucatan

In 1902, about 300 men, women and children escaped from forced exile
and started walking back to their lands in Sonora. They were stopped in
the mountains near the capital of Hermosillo by 600 heavily armed
soldiers, who attacked them from behind. What ensued, long known as
the Battle of the Sierra Mazatan, is now considered one of the last
large-scale Indian massacres in North America.

What soldiers were doing was instead of wasting ammunition turning

the rifle around and hitting people in the head who were down, to make
sure they were dead, said anthropologist Ventura Perez, who did a
trauma investigation on the skulls for the American Yaqui tribes.

Some bore execution-style gunshot wounds to the back of the head. Cut
marks on the bones indicated troops took ears as trophies, said Perez,
a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

The bones were forgotten in museum storage until Perez and

anthropologist Andrew Darling, who works for the Gila River Indian
Community in Arizona, started to study them in 2007 and realized their
gruesome story.

The Pascua Yaqui tribe of Arizona took up the fight to have the bones returned.

The approach we use is that we are one people ... the border is just
an artificial concept, said Robert Valencia, vice chairman of the
Pascua Yaquis.

U.S. Indian remains are protected under the North American Indian
Graves Protection Act. But because the law doesnt cover Mexican
remains held in the U.S., the Arizona tribe contacted the Mexican
Yaquis and they in turn contacted the Mexican government, which also
decided to get involved.

The museum agreed the bones and other artifacts including

blood-spattered blankets and a baby carrying-board from which Hrdlicka
dumped an infants corpse should go back, saying cultural
sensitivities and values within the museum community have changed
since Hrdlickas era.

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Mexicos National Institute of Anthropology and History decided the

real owners were the Yaquis and handed over the remains and artifacts
last month for burial. The tribe held a memorial ceremony in a
wood-paneled hall at the New York museum on Central Park with incense,
drums and chants.

This is the first time that the (natural history museum) has turned
over cultural patrimony to a foreign government that immediately
returned it to the indigenous people, the museum said in a statement.

The remains were honored by Yaqui on both sides of the border, spurring
the tribes hopes for recognition of their status as a single people
who have long lived in both countries in Sonora and in southern
Arizona near Tucson.

The remains were packed into ceremonial wooden boxes and taken first to
Tucson, where they were given a heros welcome by Pascua Yaquis,
including an honor guard of Indian veterans of the U.S. Army.

That is why the warriors role is important, because when we make

territorial claims, it is because Yaqui blood was spilled there, said
Mexican Yaqui elder Ernesto Arguelles, 59. This is the first
opportunity we have had to stop and mourn.

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