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Mexican president AMLO issues apology to Pascua Yaqui, other tribes for historical crimes

Biden first U.S. president to proclaim Indigenous Peoples' Day along with Columbus Day

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obredor issued an apology for "crimes of the state" committed against Native tribes, including the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, in a meeting last week.

“The Mexican state should never again allow the marginalization, the abuse and the injustices against the Yaquis nor of any other ethnic or cultural group in our country,” the Mexican president said during a meeting with Yaqui and other Indigenous and Afro-Mexican leaders. “Now we’ve come here to endorse our compromise to carry out justice to the Yaqui people. First, we want to offer them an apology for the crimes of the state that have been committed against their ancestors.”

En español: Presidente mexicano AMLO pide disculpas a Pascua Yaqui, otras tribus por crímenes históricos

The apology was "very, very emotional and historic to hear him apologize for all the bad things, the injustices done to the villages in the Sonora area," Pascua Yaqui Chairman Peter Yucupicio told TucsonSentinel.com.

Yucupicio was among the representatives of 68 Indigenous and Afro-Mexican groups, including the Pueblo Yaqui of Mexico, who took part in a meeting in the town of Vícam, Sonora, on Sept. 28, to resolve issues of land and water rights and grievances over past crimes.

The Mexican president, also known as AMLO, apologized on behalf of the Mexican state for the treatment of Indigenous peoples and promised to carry out reforms as part of the Pueblo Yaqui Justice Plan, an initiative to recognize greater rights to land, water and self-sovereignty for Native and Afro-Mexican peoples and deliver compensations for displacing them.

Representatives also delivered a petition for an apology from the Mexican government backed with signatures by 630,986 authorities and representatives of Indigenous and Afro-Mexican peoples throughout Mexico. AMLO said he recognized the importance of the petition and gave an apology, calling it the first step in carrying out the Yaqui Justice Plan.

The Mexican government invited the Pascua Yaqui, who have been recognized by other indigenous leaders as “the ninth village of the north,” to take part in the meeting, Yucupicio said. The eight villages of the north in Mexico is a coalition of small Indigenous governments in the state of Sonora — the villages of Vícam, Pótam, Belem, Rahúm, Huírivis, Cócorit, Bácum and Tórim.

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Yucupicio said that the Yaqui in Arizona, many whose families left Mexico during the revolution in the early 20th century, are still attached to the Yaqui in Mexico and other Mexican tribal members.

“Some of us that are here in Arizona still have our families there and we’re part of that family too,” the Pascua Yaqui chairman said. “Our wish was always never to abandon them and to support them and help them in any way we could, and we continue to this day doing that.”

The Pascua Yaqui are planning on hosting the Pueblo Yaqui and officials from the Mexican government, United Nations and the Indigenous and Afro-Mexican groups who were represented at the ceremony to present the details of the Pueblo Yaqui Justice Plan and the apology from the Mexican government. The gathering will be on the Pascua Yaqui reservation, tentatively set for Oct. 25. However, visa issues for some delegates have delayed the event several times already and still need to be worked out, Yucupicio said.

Jesús Patricio Varela Martínez, the secretary of the town of Torím and the main representative for the eight villages of north, spoke to AMLO about the “grievances and theft committed against (tribes) in favor of outsiders at the cost of thousands of lives lost, conditions of slavery and extermination,” according to a press release by the Mexican government.

“Reconciling such a painful history is not easy, but it is necessary if we want to transform life in this country,” he said. “(The Pueblo Yaqui Justice Plan) emanates from these grievances that have been committed throughout history. The Justice Plan is not a gift, it’s not welfare. We’re seeking to get back what is ours, the territory that they’ve taken from us, the water that they’ve limited from us and the dignity that they’ve robbed from us.”

The Mexican president specifically apologized for crimes by the state during the “Porfiriato,” which refers to the 30-year reign of dictator Porfirio Díaz from 1877 to 1911 (though he didn't hold office from 1880-1884). During that time, many Indigenous peoples were forced to work on the rural estates of Mexican elites, and the popular revolt against Díaz’s government led to the Mexican Revolution.

López Obredor also evoked Benito Juárez, Mexico’s Indigenous president from 1861 to 1872 whose justice and land reforms created the foundation for Mexico’s current constitution, saying the Yaqui Justice Plan followed the “Juarista” premise of “nothing by force, everything with reason and law.”

He said the plan would be carried out through a “large process of dialogue with the legitimate traditional authorities” of Mexico’s Indigenous and Afro-Mexican peoples. He also assured the representatives that the Pueblo Yaqui Justice Plan “recognized plainly their traditional authorities, forms of government, deliberation and decision making,” according to the press release by the Mexican government.

The Mexican president signed 20 agreements setting the foundation for the Justice Plan. They included compensation to the Yaqui people of more than 20,000 hectares of land and the construction of about 100 miles of the Yaqui Aqueduct. The complete Justice Plan would also change 16 articles of the Mexican constitution to expand recognition of Mexico's Indigenous and Afro-Mexican peoples and their rights.

AMLO has three more years left in his term to carry out the Yaqui Justice Plan as Mexican presidents serve single six-year terms. He is the first president outside of the traditional Institutional Revolutionary and National Action Parties (PRI and PAN, for the initials in Spanish) to win presidential office since the current party system of Mexico was established shortly after the end of the Mexican Revolution. AMLO led the creation of the National Regeneration of Movement or MORENA, whose platform includes Indigenous rightsl. MORENA is also a play on the word "morena," which also means a dark-skinned woman in Spanish.

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Earlier in his administration, AMLO appointed Adelfo Regino Montes, who was at the event, as the director general of the National Institute for Indigenous Peoples and the chief executive of the Presidential Commission of Justice for the Yaqui People. Montes called the agreements signed at the ceremony “a milestone in the history of the Indigenous people of Mexico.”

“With this, we will have resolved the necessity for potable water for all the communities and localities of the Yaqui people,” he said.

Yucupicio said that the land compensations were significant, and meaningful because the move shows a government willing to do what’s right for its Indigenous people.

“It means a lot more than just a piece of land, it means a lot more than his promises or his presidential decree or his signature,” Yucupicio said. “It means their government, their government in Mexico, is actually trying to help them and listen to them and work with them.”

He said that the AMLO’s agreements showed that “for the first time in a long-time” a Mexican president is trying to provide basics like water and education to Indigenous people and trying to modernize their lives.

Yucupicio said it was the first time he’d heard of that from the Mexican government since the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas from 1934 to 1940. Cárdenas also carried out agrarian and social reforms that improved the quality of life of Indigenous people in Mexico after the country’s revolutionary war.

Thinking of the 574 tribes in the U.S. that have federal recognition, Yucupicio said that Mexico is on track to having the same kind of success as the U.S. in recognizing and working with its indigenous peoples.

“I think this country (the U.S.) really works, at least for us, with the Indigenous populations here to provide health and housing and education as ways of helping the tribes prosper and becoming self-sufficient,” he said. “I think we’re ahead of what Mexico’s doing, but I hope someday they have the same rights there as Mexican citizens and as Indigenous people.”

Indigenous People’s Day

Monday will be a federally recognized holiday, giving government employees the day off work, after President Joe Biden proclaimed the second Monday of October to be Indigenous People’s Day.

The holiday, which many tribal representatives have pushed as a replacement for Columbus Day, marks the first time a U.S. president has declared Indigenous Peoples' Day. Biden issued a separate proclamation of the day commemorating the Italian explorer, but in it noted that "today, we also acknowledge the painful history of wrongs and atrocities that many European explorers inflicted on Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities. It is a measure of our greatness as a Nation that we do not seek to bury these shameful episodes of our past — that we face them honestly, we bring them to the light, and we do all we can to address them."

Yucupicio said the recognition was special to him like the Mexican president’s recognition but also mentioned the importance of the work that the U.S. does with its Native American population.

“I think it’s a beautiful thing when I look at a president recognizing and including the Native American peoples here in the United States and all their contributions that have made the United States the best county in the world,” he said.

In his proclamation of Indigenous People’s Day, Biden, like AMLO, recognized the historical actions of the state that damaged Indigenous lives and expressed a desire to see a "brighter future" for them.

“Federal policies systematically sought to assimilate and displace Native people and eradicate Native cultures,” the American president said. “Today, we recognize Indigenous peoples’ resilience and strength as well as the immeasurable positive impact that they have made on every aspect of American society. We also recommit to supporting a new, brighter future of promise and equity for tribal nations — a future grounded in tribal sovereignty and respect for the human rights of Indigenous people in the Americas and around the world.”

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member.

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Government of Mexico

The Pascua Yaqui joined leaders of Mexico's Indigenous and Afro-Mexican peoples to hear an apology on from Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obredor for crimes by the Mexican state and his agreement to the Pueblo Yaqui Justice Plan.

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