Thursday, 11 June 2015


                                                          Nicole Yanes - Opata beauty

Nicole holding two Cactus flowers harvested to make a traditional tea in the desert in Opata territory

                       Nicole with flower motif, the flower features prominently in traditional Opata designs - because flowers are rare and treasures gems in the desert, and are seen in abundance only after the annual rains - which signifies a time of precious bounty.

                                Nicole and I outside UN headquarters, New York City, USA.

Let me begin by giving you a quote from Nicole...for it personifies my description of her as 'a desert flower of the Opata people':

 " Love Life Where You Are. Always know someone needs your prayers. You are medicine to someone, as someone is medicine to you. You are medicine to plants like plants are medicine to you. Living in harmony is living in a balanced exchange of energy. Do not take more than you need. Always remember to stand up for the Mother who has nurtured you all along. Give thanks and Keep on going, this journey is beautiful."

I met Nicole Yanes for the first time in New York City in April 2015. The unique and widely recognized & hailed (for it's meritorious value) Tribal Link Project Access United Nations training for the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Nicole was now entering it for the first time as a student, and I was returning to it as an Alumni to mentor the 1st & 2nd year students. Nicole is also a proud member of the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC). 
Nicole is a youth delegate and Programs Assistant for the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC). In her personal capacity, Nicole founded a student organization in 2013 called "Light is Life: Food Sovereignty Project." Light is Life utilizes gardening as a means to actualize decolonization and seeks to create Indigenous-centered solutions to unhealthy diets, availability to traditional foods, and cultural loss. 
She is from the Opata Nation from Sonora, Mexico...and is also interested in environmental issues and the effects of climate change on traditional food production.  

I must admit that I enjoyed being in the company of Nicole, she has that Angelic, soft-spoken voice - yet determined aura and sense of purpose about her, and I found myself happy to receive the positive vibrations she puts out into the universe for all who are receptive to absorb. 

I must ALSO admit I had not heard of Nicole's Opata Tribal Nation before, this is some of the info I was able to gather online:
At the time of first contact with the Spanish in the mid-16th century, the Opateria was a land of “statelets” — a number of independent, agricultural towns scattered up and down the inland valleys of the Sonora and other rivers. There were at least 5 Opata statelets, and 4 others which were either Opata, Pima, or mixed. The statelets had populations of several thousand people, and consisted of towns surrounded by dispersed dwellings, and irrigated cropland on which the Opata grew cornsquashbeans, and cotton. The Jova, however, were a more dispersed people, living in more rugged terrain, and depended more on hunting and gathering than the other Opata groups.
The Opata fiercely resisted the expedition of Spanish explorer, Francisco Ibarra in 1565 and, for a period of 60 years thereafter, the Spanish made no further attempts to conquer the Opateria. However, during that period, the statelets declined and were replaced, in part, by a much-reduced population, and a “rancheria” culture of small settlements and dispersed dwellings. The likely cause of the decline of the statelets and population were epidemics of introduced European diseases, which killed thousands of the Opata and neighboring peoples. Jesuit missionaries established a mission in Opateria in 1628 and initially encountered little opposition to their efforts to evangelize, and later, to re-organize Opata society along Spanish lines. The Opata slowly became Spanish allies of convenience.  By 1800, the Opata were mostly followers of Christianity, commonly spoke Spanish, and were largely under the rule of the Spanish government. Many Opatans became cowboys on Spanish ranches, or migrated to mining towns to work in the mines.  
Tension between the Spanish, the Mexicans, and the Opata manifested itself in numerous revolts in the 19th century. In 1820, 300 Opata warriors defeated a Spanish force of 1,000 soldiers, and destroyed a mining town near Tonichi. Later, they won another battle at Arivechi, killing more than 30 soldiers. A Spanish force of 2,000 soldiers finally defeated the Opata, forcing the survivors to surrender. The Spanish executed the Opata leaders, including Dorame, a Eudeve, whose surname is still common in the Opateria region of Sonora. Revolts continued after Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821. Another Opata leader, Dolores Gutierrez, was executed in 1833 by the Mexicans for his involvement in a revolt. Although the Opata had formidable reputations as warriors, they were never able to unite as a single people to oppose the Spanish and Mexicans.
At the time of first contact with the Spanish, the Opata may have been the most numerous and culturally complex people living in Oasis America, comprising the desert regions of northern Mexico and the southwestern United States.
The towns of the Opata were found in the broad valleys of the five north-south trending rivers of northern and eastern Sonora. The rivers, west to east, are the San Miguel, Sonora, Moctezuma, and the two upper tributaries of the Yaqui, the Bavispe and the Arcos. The Opata were not members of a single political entity, but rather organized into a number of “statelets – several of which may have also been populated by their neighbors to the south, the Pima Bajo. The statelets were characterized by a ruling class, slavery, irrigation agriculture, and emphasis on trade. They featured a central town, functioning as the seat of government, of at least 200 two and three story adobe houses and a population of six per house or 1,200 or more. In the countryside for several miles in every direction from the central town were satellite communities: hamlets of 9 to 25 houses and “rancherias” of less than 9 houses.
The Opata depended upon agriculture for most of their subsistence. Maize, beans, squash, and cotton were the principal crops. Due to the scarcity and irregularity of rainfall, the Opata practiced canal irrigation as well as dry-land farming techniques. Early Spanish explorers described large and productive fields among the Opata. The Opata also hunted game, especially deer, with bows and arrows, fished in the rivers with spears and nets and gathered wild foods, such as Chenopodium and cactus leaves and fruits. They also produced a fermented maize atole beverage known as tanori, which was normally drunk during certain ceremonies and celebrations. (Expert preparers of that beverage often took on the second name of Tanori.
The statelet era of Opata history endured from 1350 to 1550 AD.With decreasing population due to European diseases, Opatan societies in the 17th century became smaller and less complex.

I asked Nicole 4 important questions and here are her answers:
Question did you personally benefit from the Project Access Training, how did it help you to understand the UN process better
I now know more about the UN system and where the Permanent Forum fits in the UN System. I learned about where Indigenous Peoples are participating in the UN system as well and also the history that occurred in order for us to be able to participate. For example, I learned that in 1932 an Indigenous Elder went to the UN and got denied access , it puts many things into perspective. 

I also now understand, due to the training, some of the challenges in promoting a “Rights based approach” within the UN system (including in the FAO, UNEP, Post-2015 development agenda, etc.).

I also benefited because I learned more in depth the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as well as about the World Conference. 

And most important I met a family there and I did not go with! I learned that coming into the UN with many relatives in spirit (my new Tribal Link Family)  is by far one of the most intelligent things one can do!

Question will you share or spread or disseminate the information and knowledge you gained in the Project Access training when you return home? 
I will do this informally via conversations I am already having with people. More “formally” I will be able to share this with students and youth at a university and maybe do a small training for 30-40 youth. I will also share this with my community/ Nation in Sonora Mexico to see how we can address some of our issues. It will touch many of my circles and networks, I can't count how many because it includes international, national, local communities and also my ceremonial circles, and then people I meet, so I thinking maybe 15 different  direct communities this year, to do the multiplier effect. 

Question 3...Are you aware of any climate change problems that your own people has a traditional solution for?
Because of damming, pollution and drought thousands of Opata people have left their territories. Both of our main rivers have been contaminated and also dammed so we are no long able to harvest and gather as much nor farm which was and still is the main source of economic development. Most recently our river got contaminated by a copper mine that was in a hill and now people can not drink the wáter or even irrigate the crops or sell their foods. So that has impacted us a lot.
 Finally, question 4....what are the major water issues facing your people today?

Gathering. We are big on gathering local plants which prevents us to depend so much on food that has been transported thousands of miles and has left a big carbón footprint. Also it helps for there to be no need for mono-culture because with gathering and small scale farming/ gardening we can live as a family but also economically grow just fine. Another thing that my community and also others have done is to follow the rivers, let the rivers flow and plant and grow where there is wáter, that way you don't have to import or dig the ground wáter up. 

Here is our beautiful Opata sister Nicole talking about Food Sovereignty

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