Yaqui elder Jose Matus passes on



Today our family lost a great man.

A father, brother, uncle, spiritual leader, my Tio Jose R. Matus. May God grant him eternal rest. He is at peace with all of our loved ones who went before him.

Prayers for strength, peace and comfort to my family, especially my sister Enriqueta n Nino Robert. Sleep with the angels Tio Joe, until we meet again in paradise.

Con todo amor y respeto.

Jose Matus was the founder of the Indigenous Alliance Without Borders. He was a Ceremonial Elder and Leader of the Community of the City of South Tucson’s Barrio Libre. In 1997, the came together as a result of persistent law enforcement abuse against indigenous peoples living in the southern United States and Mexico border region.

Tucson Weekly had an article entitled The Border Crossed Us featuring Jose Matus’ work:

Jose Matus worries about the future of the Pascua Yaqui people—not just those in Arizona, but also the members of the tribe who live in Mexico.

Matus, program director for Alianza Indigena Sin Fronteras, or the Indigenous Alliance Without Borders, said most of the young people in his tribe who live in the Tucson area speak only English. His generation grew up trilingual—first speaking Spanish and the Yaqui language, and then learning English in school.

“Ceremony is very important. In my community, the Yaqui put a lot of our faith in the deer dancer and the importance of the pascolas dance,” he said, pointing to a painting of a pascola dancer hanging in the Yoemen Tekia Cultural Center and Museum on the Yaqui reservation, not far from Valencia Road and Camino de Oeste.

“These are blessings we offer to people and community. We have all-night ceremonies that help our mind and body, nourished with prayer and dancing. It’s important. Otherwise, we would just be lost. But what needs to be maintained isn’t just language; it’s the connection we have to our people on the other side of the border. It’s always more meaningful when those prayers and dances go into the night with family who live on the other side.”

However, border-crossing restrictions have increased over the past decades, and especially since Sept. 11, 2001. Matus said connecting with Yaquis who live in villages between Guaymas and Cuidad Obregon can be difficult, despite agreements between border tribes and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Stronger agreements need to be in place, he said, because the restrictions ultimately conflict with what he considers to be tribal members’ indigenous rights.


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