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Old Pascua would officially be Pascua Yaqui land under bill approved by U.S. House

By: - November 5, 2021 1:58 pm

The chapel at the west end of Pascua Cultural Plaza in Tucson. Photo by Ammodramus | public domain image

The Pascua Yaqui Tribe is one step closer to obtaining more tribal land in the Tucson area after legislation overwhelmingly passed the U.S. House of Representatives this week.

The Old Pascua Community Land Acquisition Act, HR 4881, passed 375-45. All nine of Arizona’s representatives voted in favor of it. 

The measure was introduced by Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Tucson Democrat, and would add 30 acres of land known as the Old Pascua Community in Tucson to the tribal boundaries 

“I am proud to represent the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and of the effort made to protect these sacred lands,” Grijalva said. “The Old Pascua Community Land Acquisition Act is a bipartisan bill that will raise the tribal standard of living, improve system coordination and integration of service delivery, and promote the ongoing transmission of Yaqui knowledge, culture, history, and traditions for future generations.”

Pascua Yaqui Chairman Peter Yucupicio said it was a good day for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe when the bill cleared the House on Nov. 2.

“Old Pascua is an Arizona treasure, and this proposed law will help us maintain our ties to our community and help us strengthen and protect our culture, religion, and the San Ignacio cultural area, consistent with our right to self-determination,” Yucupicio said in a statement.

In 1920, A.M. Franklin donated 40 acres of land to establish the Yaqui Nation in Arizona, Grijalva said during his opening statement at the legislative hearing for the bill in October.

Several families moved to the Pascua Village, now known as Old Pascua, Grijalva said. Since 1921, Old Pascua has been a sacred ceremonial site for the tribe and is home to the oldest formally established Yaqui community in Tucson.

In 1978, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe gained federal recognition and was given tribal land in southern Arizona, but it did not include Old Pascua.

The tribe said that Old Pascua is home to churches, sacred sites, and ceremonial grounds that are culturally significant to the Pascua Yaqui people.

The bill also includes recognition of the gaming compact between the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and the state of Arizona, and would allow for gaming activities in the Old Pascua Community if the land is returned to trust for the tribe.

Grijalva said that “HR 4881 is a bipartisan bill that will raise the tribal standard of living, improve system coordination and integration of service delivery, and promote the ongoing transmission of Yaqui knowledge, culture, history, and traditions to future generations.”

“This bill will solidify an agreement in the 2021 Pascua Yaqui Tribe-State of Arizona Amended and Restated Gaming Compact to take tribally-owned lands into a trust on behalf of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe,” he added.

Yucupico applauded Congress’s support of the bill and “the Tribe’s efforts to create jobs, build homes, and continue to improve the welfare of our people and the people of Tucson during a pandemic.

“We are thankful for and appreciate the bipartisan support, which was essential for passage in the House,” he said. “The bill is a recognition of our elders, an investment for our future generations, and we will be blessed if it becomes law.” 

“Our intent is to be good stewards of this land, protecting the culturally important areas, while establishing a first-class gaming enterprise that benefits the entire community,” he added. 

The bill is now headed to the U.S. Senate.

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Shondiin Silversmith
Shondiin Silversmith

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues. Her digital, print and audio stories have been published by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic, Navajo Times, The GroundTruth Project and PRX's "The World." Silversmith earned her master's degree in journalism and mass communication in Boston before moving back to Arizona to continue reporting stories on Indigenous communities. She is a member of the Native American Journalist Association and has made it a priority in her career to advocate, pitch and develop stories surrounding Indigenous communities in the newsrooms she works in.