MEXICO CITY (AP) — The Mexican government on Friday set up a Justice Commission for the Yaqui People, looking to solve the land, water and infrastructure problems of what President Andrés Manuel López Obrador calls Mexico’s most persecuted Indigenous group.
The Yaquis were attacked and temporarily evicted from their homeland in northern Mexico’s Sonora state over 100 years ago.
“All the original inhabitants suffered robbery, but no people suffered as much as the Yaqui,” López Obrador said Thursday in a meeting with Indigenous leaders. “Here, to steal their land they killed more than 15,000 Yaquis.”
The multi-agency commission established Friday will seek to work out longstanding water and land claims and provide housing, schools and medical facilities for the impoverished Yaqui community.
Perhaps best known for the mystical and visionary powers ascribed to them by writer Carlos Castaneda, the Yaquis stubbornly fought the Mexican government’s brutal campaign to eliminate the tribe in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
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 state.
The mistreatment didn’t stop there. In 2010, the Sonora government built a water pipeline across Yaqui territory to supply major cities. The Yaquis say they weren’t properly consulted and did not benefit from the project. On Friday, López Obrador noted he had agreed to modify the route of a planned gas pipeline opposed by the Yaquis, so it would not run through their territory.
One of the last chapters was a 1902 massacre by Mexican soldiers of about 150 Yaqui men, women and children. They were among about 300 Yaqui men, women and children who escaped from forced exile and started walking back to their lands in Sonora. They were attacked by 600 soldiers in the mountains near the Sonora capital of Hermosillo.
López Obrador has championed Indigenous culture and traditions, but his love of big government infrastructure projects has sometimes put him at odds with Indigenous communities.
In July, he inaugurated the start of construction on the “Maya” train, which is to run some 950 miles (about 1,500 kilometers) in a rough loop around the Yucatan peninsula, from Caribbean beaches to the interior. Some Mayan communities have filled court challenges to the project, arguing it will cause environmental damage. They also say they were not adequately consulted and will not share in its benefits.