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Yaqui Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Yaqui Indian tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our Yaqui language and culture pages for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Yaqui pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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   Yaqui Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Yaqui"? What does it mean?
Yaqui is pronounced "yah-kee." It comes from their own tribal name for themselves, Hiaki.

Where do the Yaquis live?
The Yaquis are native people of the Sonoran desert. The traditional Sonoran homelands are in the southern Sonoran desert, in what is now Mexico. After much fighting with the Mexicans, many Yaqui people retreated into the northern part of the desert, in what is now Arizona. Most Yaqui people are still living in those locations today.

How is the Yaqui Indian nation organized?
Most Yaquis in the United States live on a reservation, which is land that belongs to them and is under their control. The Yaqui Nation has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Yaquis are also US citizens and must obey American law. Other Yaqui people live in mixed communities in other towns in Arizona, together with people from other tribes and non-Native Americans. In Mexico, most Yaqui people live in villages on tribal territory near the Yaqui River, where they have an unofficial government of their own.

In the past, each Yaqui town was ruled by a tribal council. Sometimes the council would also elect a chief. When there was a political decision to make, every member of the tribal council had to agree before the tribe could act (this is called consensus.) Sometimes this could take a long time, but the Yaqui people really value harmony, so this was an important system for them. Today, the Yaqui tribe is led by a tribal council elected by the citizens, and the council members still work by consensus much of the time.

What language do the Yaqui Indians speak?
In the United States, most Yaqui speak English, although some of them also speak their native Yaqui language. In Mexico, most Yaqui people are bilingual in the Yaqui language and Spanish. Yaqui is a complex language with long words, a distant relative of the Aztec language. If you'd like to know some easy Yaqui words, "Lios em chania" (sounds like lee-os em chah-nee-ah) is a polite greeting in Yaqui. You can also read a Yaqui picture glossary here.

What was Yaqui culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here is the homepage of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. On their site you can find information about the Yaqui people in the past and today.

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How do Yaqui Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Yaqui children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play in their daily lives, just like colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys, and games to play. A Yaqui mother traditionally carried a young child in a cradleboard on her back. Here is a website with Indian cradle pictures.

What were men and women's roles in the Yaqui tribe?
Yaqui women did most of the cooking, child care, and basket-weaving. Men did most of the farming and hunting, and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Yaqui political leaders and warriors were traditionally men, although today women also serve on the tribal council. Both genders took part in storytelling, music and artwork, and traditional medicine.

What were Yaqui homes like in the past?
Yaqui people lived in houses made of adobe (clay and straw baked into hard bricks) covered with cane mats. Here is a website with pictures of adobe houses. Some Yaqui people still live in old-fashioned adobe houses today, especially in Mexico. But many others live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What were Yaqui clothes like? Did the Yaquis wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Originally, Yaqui people didn't wear much clothing-- men wore only Native American breechcloths and sometimes deerskin leggings, and women wore knee-length skirts. Shirts were not necessary in Yaqui culture, but the Yaquis sometimes wore rabbit-skin robes at night when the weather became cooler. Some Yaqui people wore deerskin moccasins, but others wore sandals made of yucca fiber or simply went barefoot. After Europeans arrived, the Yaquis began to adapt some Mexican fashions such as rebozo scarves, cotton blouses, and full skirts, which they decorated with colorful floral embroidery. Here is a site with some photos and links about Native American Southwest clothing in general.

The Yaquis did not originally wear an Indian feather headdress, although in the 19th century men in other tribes did begin adopting this style from Plains Indian cultures. Traditionally, Yaqui men usually wore cloth headbands tied around their foreheads instead, while women just wore their hair long. For dances and ceremonies, men wore elaborate headdresses and masks. The Yaquis also painted their faces for special occasions. They used different patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and dances.

Today, many Yaqui people still wear embroidered blouses or rebozos, but they also wear modern clothes like jeans... and they only wear regalia on special occasions like a festival.

What was Yaqui transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
No--the Yaqui Indians weren't coastal people, and rarely traveled by river. Most often they just walked. There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe. Once Europeans brought horses to America, the Yaquis could travel more quickly than before.

What was Yaqui food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Yaquis were farming people. They planted crops of corn, beans, and squash. Yaqui men hunted deer, rabbits, and small game, and sometimes fished in the Gulf of Mexico. Yaqui women gathered nuts, fruits, and herbs. Favorite Yaqui meals to eat included cornbread and soups. Here is a website with more information about Native American farming.

What were Yaqui weapons and tools like in the past?
Yaqui hunters used bows and arrows. The Yaquis rarely fought with their neighboring tribes, but when they did, they usually fired their bows or fought with spears and clubs. The Yaqui are most famous for fighting the Mexicans in the late 1800's and early 1900's. During that war, Yaqui warriors used guns. Here is a website of Indian weapon pictures. Yaqui tools included wooden farm implements and looms for weaving cotton.

What other Native Americans did the Yaqui tribe interact with?
The Yaquis traded regularly with other tribes of Mexico and the Southwest. They were particular allies of the neighboring Mayo and Pima tribes.

What are Yaqui arts and crafts like?
Yaqui artists are famous for their beautiful mask carvings. Yaqui masks are made for a variety of purposes: religious ceremonies, use in plays and cultural events, and just as decoration. Here is an article about a Yaqui mask carver, with pictures of two masks. Yaqui people also make beaded necklaces, stone carvings, and woven blankets.

What kinds of stories do the Yaquis tell?
There are lots of traditional Yaqui legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Yaqui Indian culture. Here is a Yaqui story about how the parrot got his feathers. Here's a website where you can read more about Yaqui legends.

What about Yaqui religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Yaqui life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Yaqui people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Yaqui beliefs or this site about American Indian religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy And It Is Still That Way, a book of legends from various Arizona Indian tribes including the Yaqui tribe. Younger children may like Dream Feather, a picture book of a Yaqui boy's trip to the spirit world. Meet Mindy is an illustrated biography of a modern Native American girl from Arizona which makes a great introduction to Southwest Indian life today. For older readers, two good books are A Yaqui Life and Yaqui Women, which show Yaqui culture and history through interviews with tribal elders about their life stories. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Indian books in general. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Yaqui Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Yaquis

Yaqui Indian Tribe
An overview of the Yaqui people, their language and history.

Yaqui Language Resources
Yaqui language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Yaqui Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Yaqui tribe past and present.

Yaqui Words
Yaqui Indian vocabulary lists.

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