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Tarahumara Peoples

The Tarahumara peoples live in the remote regions of the Sierra Madre in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. They are also called Raramuri (Ones that run) - they are renowned world wide for their superb physical ability to run long distances. They are known to pursue deer until the deer drops from exhaustion. Football soccer is similar to and derived from their national game - called carrera de la bola - which is played with a wooden ball, and requires tremendous stamina, as the players are constantly running.

Geographically, their territory, before the Spanish came, consisted of the Sierra Madre, extending south to central Mexico. The Tarahumara shared culture with the Huichol to the south (in the present Mexican state of Nayarit), with the Yaqui in Sonora, with the Mayos and Tepehuanes to the south and southwest (in the present states of Durango and Sinaloa), and to the north and northeast with the Pimas, Anazasi, Guarojios, and Tepehuan, as well as several Apache nations, including the Toboso, Mescalero, Chiricagua, Chihuahua, and Mesquiteros (in a range sweeping clockwise from the north to the southeast). Earlier neighbors to the east and southeast included the Conchos and Julimes who were exterminated by the conquering Spaniards, and the Tigua, who were greatly decimated.

Since Mexico became independent from Spain during the period between 1809 and 1821, the Tarahumara and many of these neighbors have remained in this same region. However, through the centuries, encroachment by the politically and technologically stronger groups of Spanish derivative (gachupines, criollos, and mestizos) has pushed the Tarahumara further into a hostile, although beautiful, area of deep canyons and high rocky mountains of the Sierra Madre. These spectacular canyons are as much as four times the size of the Grand Canyon of southwest United States.

The main foods are corn and beans which the Tarahumara grow themselves on the marginal strips of land unsuitable for farming. When it rains, they eat; otherwise, they starve. Fish is also a part of their diet, but pollution and drought have greatly reduced this food source. For six years this area has been hard hit by drought. Approximately 60,000 Tarahumara remain from the estimated twelve million at the time the Spanish arrived. In 1975, there were approximately 100,000. This decrease in population since 1975 is a direct result of hunger, malnutrition, dehydration, and diseases, primarily tuberculosis, but including also, smallpox, chickenpox, measles, and gastrointestinal problems.

The Tarahumara and neighboring native nations continue to suffer from starvation, curable diseases, exploitation, marginalization from outside assistance, lack of education, and clear-cutting of their forests by logging companies. They are victims of druglords who grow and harvest opium and marijuana. Those drug lords are protected by corrupt politicians in high places in the government and in the military. If the natives complain, resist, or attempt to claim their own land, they are killed. Hundreds of widows and orphans are the result of this criminal oppression.

The plight of the Tarahumara has been evident for many years, but virtually nothing has been done by the Mexican government to relieve them, while much has been permitted by that same government to worsen their plight. In the United States, policies and actions of the executive and Congress have supported the corrupt governments of Mexico since the early 1900s. Today, the Mexican federal government does not want to recognize the Sierra Madre as a disaster area. Political games between the governor of Chihuahua (of the Pan party) and the federal government (controlled by the PRI party for the past 75 years) have prevented humanitarian aid to this region. The most vulnerable are the young and the elderly who are dying every day from diseases which are readily curable elsewhere. Pleas to the United Nations and to the governments of both Mexico and the United States have fallen on deaf ears. The dissemination of these truths to the people of both these nations and to the other nations of the world is intended to raise your consciousness of this injustice to the lives and dignity of these people. Your support and voices to this cause is greatly needed and will be appreciated by the suffering Tarahumara and their neighboring nations in similar distress.

The callousness of governmental processes has only worsened the plight of these people, and real help - if any is to come - will come from you and from those non-governmental organizations who are dedicated to helping the oppressed and suffering groups in various places throughout the world, and from the press. A few years ago, "Sixty Minutes" did an excellent report on the Tarahumara. To our knowledge, it has not been re-broadcast. Much more coverage is needed to alert the general population and generate concern and bring pressure on the governments which have the power, means and obligation to solve this crisis.

The last time this delegation approached the Ambassador of Mexico to the United Nations (Victor Flores Olea) in New York City, and presented the problems described above, we asked him to solicit prompt solutions, including the sending of appropriate military or police groups to arrest the drug lords and bring them to justice, to compensate the widows and orphans, and to provide the medical relief so urgently needed. His response was that he was powerless to take any action or even make recommendations. Instead, he advised that we approach for help Ofelia Medina and the press. Ofelia is a great lady and has been doing a lot for the oppressed people of Mexico, especially in Chiapas, helping our sisters and brothers of the Lacandon jungle. We are very thankful to her for that, but solving this Tarahumara crisis is not the obligation of this beautiful woman.

Delegacion de La Central Campesina Independiente
ante Las Naciones Unidas

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The Indigenous Peoples' Literature pages were researched and organized by Glenn Welker.