Student Reflections

Reflection: Research of the Tarahumara Tribe of Northern Mexico

By: Anna Trillo

In our Law of Indigenous People course in the fall of 2020 students had two options for the final deliverable; a tribal profile and research paper or an extended tribal profile. I chose the extended tribal profile, on a tribe from Northern Mexico, the Rarámuri, or more commonly known as, Tarahumara. I am a first generation American, daughter of immigrants from Mexico. I wanted to contribute information on a tribe from outside of the United States as most of our scholarship is focused on tribes from the United States. I was excited to conduct my research and learn more about the people from where my family comes from.  I quickly learned that my research was going to be much more difficult than I anticipated.  First, there is not an extensive scholarship on indigenous people from Mexico.  While there is more research on tribes from southern Mexico, there is less scholarship available on the indigenous rights of tribes located in northern Mexico.  Second, we are also in the middle of a pandemic, some of the usual avenues for research was limited. Finally, being that indigenous people of the Americas are in areas where different languages are spoken, we don’t have more translated, multilingual information available. 

First, the scholarship on indigenous people of Northern Mexico. Southern Mexican indigenous tribes are much more concentrated in the area and are much more accessible than northern tribes. I also think that because the southern tribes are much closer to some of their original communities and structures, such as the pyramids, there is more interest in the southern tribes.  The Rarámuri people live in the state of Chihuahua, in the high sierras and canyons, more specifically near Copper Canyon.  Chihuahua is mostly desert, mountains and rough terrain, just as we experience in southern New Mexico. The Rarámuri have lived, adapted and survived not only to the extreme terrain but also to the invasion of the “blancos” (the whites) which in the case of Chihuahua are not only the Spanish but later were also the large Mennonite community that immigrated to the area in the 1920’s. This caused the Rarámuri to retreat further into the high sierras and canyons making them less accessible to scholars and general interaction with people.  

Second, access to research on the Rarámuri is limited, while I was able to find many online articles and information that is on online databases, a lot of information comes from books.  The majority of the research comes from the 1990s and earlier.  While I was able to find useful sources, access to books would have been more ideal.  With the pandemic, interlibrary loans have been stopped and/or been slowed down, which is completely understandable with the major closures we have experienced. Another possible barrier would have been that many websites and sources I have found have been in Spanish, fortunately I am fluent in Spanish and was able to utilize some of the sources. 

Finally, one of the main reflections I have had while conducting this research is the lack of sources. When writing and researching indigenous people of the Americas it is important that there is scholarship in both English and Spanish, or even French for our Canadian tribes or Portuguese for our Brazilian tribes.  The Americas encompass many languages, mostly English and Spanish and the lack of translated resources was very disappointing.  Scholars in indigenous studies need to consider how we need to provide our research in different languages as the tribes we are researching have had many interactions amongst each other and we may miss information if we wait and rely on information only in our language of choice.  Indigenous studies scholars should collaborate more and consider setting up organizations/associations to provide their scholarship in multiple languages if it applies to the areas of the people being researched.  In order to better educate people and to provide more advocacy for the indigenous people we need to be able to provide this information in languages more accessible to a larger population of people. 

When more scholarship on the indigenous people of the Americas is provided and is accessible in multiple languages, I think it may lead to more advocacy of the rights of indigenous people. Better scholarship and knowledge about the Rarámuri will lead to better advocacy of the people of the Sierra Madre.

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