Ysleta del Sur Pueblo

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Tigua tribe
El Paso
Young members of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo perform traditional dance at summer festival, June 2022.
Young members of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo perform traditional dance at summer festival, June 2022.
Location in Texas
Location in Texas
Sovereign TribeYsleta del Sur Pueblo
CountryUnited States
CountyEl Paso
 • BodyTribal council
 • GovernorE. Michael Silvas
 • Lt. GovernorAdam Torres
 • CaciqueJose Sierra Sr.
 • Total400+

Ysleta del Sur Pueblo (also Tigua Pueblo) is a Puebloan Native American tribal entity in the Ysleta section of El Paso, Texas. Its members are Southern Tiwa people who had been displaced from Spanish New Mexico from 1680 to 1681 during the Pueblo Revolt against the Spaniards.

The people and language are called Tigua (pronounced tiwa). They have maintained a tribal identity and lands in Texas.[3] Spanish mostly replaced the indigenous language in the early 1900s, and today, English is increasingly gaining ground in the community. Today there are efforts to revive the indigenous language.[4]

They are one of three federally recognized tribes in Texas.[5]


Old Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, c. 1876
Old Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, c. 1876

The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo ("the Pueblo") is a U.S. federally recognized Native American tribe and sovereign nation. The Tribal community known as "Tigua" established Ysleta del Sur in 1682. After leaving the homelands of Quarai Pueblo due to drought the Tigua sought refuge at Isleta Pueblo and were later captured by the Spanish during the 1680 Pueblo Revolt and forced to walk south for over 400 miles.

The Tigua settled and built the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and soon after built the acequia (canal) system that sustained a thriving agricultural-based community. The Tribe's early economic and farming efforts helped pave the way for the development of the region.[6]

Throughout the nineteenth century and into the first half of the twentieth century, the Tiguas maintained the syncretic Spanish-Indigenous political and religious offices introduced by the Spanish in the sixteenth century. Like other Pueblos, the Tiguas had offices that included Cacique (chief), who served for life as well as in spiritual matters, Lieutenant-cacique, Governor, Lieutenant-governor, War Captain, and subordinate captains. Local newspapers regularly reported on tribal elections and the Tiguas' primary religious celebration on St. Anthony's Day honoring St. Anthony the patron saint of their mission church and community. Lacking a well-bounded and defined federal Indian reservation, the Tiguas intermarried extensively with Mexican Americans and assimilated many cultural and material traits of their Hispanic neighbors. Over time, many lost the Tiwa language and many Isleta Pueblo customs and traditions. [7]

Important for their later federal tribal recognition, in 1901 noted anthropologist Jesse Walter Fewkes (later famous for his excavations of Mesa Verde) visited Ysleta del Sur as part of a trip to study the New Mexico Pueblos. While noting their assimilation or "Mexicanization," Fewkes published a short ethnographic article detailing the Tiguas' surviving Pueblo customs and traditions. He found that twenty-five could still speak the Tiwa language while many more could understand it. He noted that the Tiguas still performed several indigenous dances, including the scalp dance and a rattle dance. Ceremonies were accompanied by chants in the Tiwa language. Tiguas still called their community by a Tigua name, "Chiawipia." The group continued to hold elections for tribal officers. At the time, Fewkes wrote that José Piarote served as Cacique, Mariano Manero served as Governor, and Tomal Granillo was War Captain. Significantly, Manero still carried a baton or staff of office that Fewkews concluded was just like those carried by leaders at the New Mexico Pueblos. [8]

During the 1930s the Tiguas did not seek aid from the federal government during President Franklin Roosevelt's important Indian New Deal like many unrecognized Indian tribes. They were still recognized, however, as indigenous people by local and state officials. The tribe was invited to take part in the 1936 Texas Centennial Celebration in Dallas. Donning Plains Indian regalia, Tigua officials rode in the opening ceremony parade. Tigua leaders made Franklin Roosevelt "Honorary Cacique" and Eleanor Roosevelt "Honorary Squaw" at the time. [9]

By the 1950s the Tigua community was in dire circumstances. Having lost their valuable tribal lands, most members lived in poverty near the old mission church while others moved to other parts of El Paso for better economic opportunities. That decade the community was threatened when the City of El Paso annexed Ysleta, imposing new taxes. Tigua leaders reached out for aid. In 1961, the Mayor of El Paso wrote to the Bureau of Indian Affairs asking for assistance for the group. As this was during the Termination Era when the U.S. government was "getting out of the Indian business" and terminating tribal governments and reservations, the government denied any responsibility for the Tiguas. As part of the Tiguas' outreach for assistance, the University of Arizona Anthropology Department sent a graduate student to study the group in 1966. He took a census, finding that 166 individuals served as the core of the Tigua community while others were more peripherally involved. The War Captain, Trinidad Granillo, still maintained the tribe's ceremonial center (kiva) in his home. He also kept the tribes' sacred drum or tombe that was revered for its spiritual power. The scholar also reported that the Tiguas still maintained their St. Anthony's Day ceremonials, tribal dances, and indigenous chants. [10]

The 1960s were important years for the Tigua community. With the aid of a Latino friend, the Tiguas reached out to a young attorney, Tom Diamond, to aid them in their economic struggles. Diamond, a vocal supporter of the liberal agenda of Democratic Presidents John F. Kennedy and his successor Lyndon Johnson, agreed to aid the group. Diamond helped the Tiguas reconnect with their relatives at Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico. Its governor, Andy Abieta, visited the Tiguas and was surprised at the level of Isleta traditions the band still maintained. He became a staunch advocate for the band. Under Diamond, the Tiguas pursued a significant lands claims case through the post-war Indian Claims Commission, an effort that generated considerable documentation on the tribal survival of the Tiguas, as well as the consequences that stemmed from the federal government's failure to fulfil its trust responsibilities to the band. [11]

In 1966, Diamond helped introduce the Tiguas to Vine Deloria, Jr., a noted Lakota scholar who was then serving as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). The NCAI lobbied to have the Tiguas recognized as a federally recognized Indian tribe. Deloria also featured the Tiguas prominently in his seminal book, Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto, highlighting the band as a important symbol of the survival of indigenous values in modern American society. As part of the effort to secure status and aid for the band, Diamond gained the support of the Texas delegation to Congress and the Senate for Tigua tribal recognition. Due to termination sentiment in Congress, federal officials were not willing to grant full federal tribal acknowledgment at the time.[12] The Ysleta band as a result only was recognized as the Tigua Indians of El Paso in 1967 as a Texas Indian tribe; House Bill 888 was passed during the 60th Legislature, Regular Session, transferring all trust responsibilities for the Tigua Indians to the Texas Indian Commission. On 12 April 1968, under Public Law 90–287 82 Stat. 93 the United States Congress relinquished all responsibility for the Tiwa Indians of Ysleta, Texas to the State of Texas. The Tiwa Indians Act, borrowing word-for-word from the Lumbee Indian Act of the mid-1950s, specified that tribal members would be ineligible for any services, claims or demands from the United States as Indians.[13]

Under Texas jurisdiction, the state created a reservation for the Tiguas. Tiguas and state officials created economic development programs. The most important was a tourism venture on the reservation. Here Tiguas were hired to demonstrate indigenous crafts and lifeways. During the 1970s there was great public interest in indigenous Americans, and for a time, this program was successful. It became apparent to Tiguas and their non-indigenous supporters, however, that limited state aid and economic development programs were not sufficient for tribal survival. Without federal tribal status, the Tiguas did not have access to federal programs of the Bureau of Indian Affairs; they could not exercise true self-government without federal tribal recognition. [14]

Public Law 100-89, 101 STAT. 666 was enacted 18 August 1987 and restored the federal relationship with the tribe simultaneously with those of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe. The restoration act renamed the tribe to the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo,[15] repealed the Tiwa Indians Act, and specifically prohibited all gaming activities prohibited by the laws of the state of Texas.[16] The Tigua have maintained a federal relationship continuously since 1987.

The legislation of the United States Congress restored eligibility to receive services from the federal government to this group, the southernmost tribe of the Pueblo peoples.[17] In addition, the state of Texas recognized the tribe. Two other tribes in Texas also have federal and state recognition, while an additional two tribes have state recognition only.[17] In April 2008, the Tribal Census Department reported 1,615 enrolled members.[18]

For almost 40 years, the Pueblo has owned and operated tribal businesses that provide employment for its members and the El Paso community. These businesses include the Speaking Rock Entertainment Center, Big Bear Oil Co., Inc., and the Tigua Indian Cultural Center.[3]


In 2020, there were 4,696 enrolled members of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo.[19]

Tribal government[edit]

As of 2022, E. Michael Silvas is the governor of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo.[1] The 2021 Tribal Council consists of Sheriff Bernardo Gonzales, Councilman Rudy Cruz Jr., Councilman Rafael Gomez Jr., Governor E. Michael Silvas, Cacique Jose Sierra Sr., Lt. Governor Adam Torres, War Captain Javier Loera, Councilman Raul Candelaria, and Councilman Andrew Torrez.[1]

In 2020, the tribal government employed 293 individuals, of which 58% were tribal.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Tribal Council". Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. Retrieved February 24, 2022.
  2. ^ "Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Off-Reservation Trust Land, TX". 2015-2019 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. United States Census Bureau. Retrieved February 24, 2022.
  3. ^ a b "Ysleta del Sur Pueblo". Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. Archived from the original on March 17, 2008. Retrieved March 9, 2008.
  4. ^ Wesley, Lashay. "Tiguas revive language word by word". KDBC-TV. Archived from the original on April 24, 2017. Retrieved December 13, 2020.
  5. ^ "Federally recognized tribes: Texas". National Conference of State Legislatures. Retrieved 1 May 2022.
  6. ^ Ibid, 214.
  7. ^ Ibid, 215.
  8. ^ Ibid, 216-217.
  9. ^ Ibid, 218.
  10. ^ Ibid, 219-222.
  11. ^ Ibid, 220-229.
  12. ^ Ibid, 225-2229, 210-211.
  13. ^ "Stats". Archived from the original on December 7, 2014. Retrieved January 4, 2015.
  14. ^ Miller, 231-235.
  15. ^ "Stats 666". Archived from the original on December 17, 2014. Retrieved January 4, 2015.
  16. ^ "Stats 668". Archived from the original on December 17, 2014. Retrieved January 4, 2015.
  17. ^ a b "Indian Entities Recognized and Eligible To Receive Services From the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs: Notice, Part IV" (PDF). Federal Register. Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs. July 12, 2002. Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 August 2009. Retrieved December 6, 2017.
  18. ^ "About Us". Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. Archived from the original on September 27, 2008.
  19. ^ a b "2020 Year-end Report". Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo. Retrieved February 24, 2022.


  • Bartlett, John R. (1909). The language of the Piro. American Anthropologist, 11 (3), 426–433.
  • Diamond, Tom. (1966). The Tigua Indians of El Paso. Denver: National Congress of American Indian Funds.
  • Fewkes, J. Walter. (1902). The Pueblo settlements near El Paso, Texas. American Anthropologist, 4 (1), 57–75.
  • Harrington, John P. (1909). Notes on the Piro language. American Anthropologist, 11 (4), 563–594.
  • Houser, Nicholas P. (1970). The Tigua settlement of Ysleta del Sur. The Kiva, 36 (2), 23–39.
  • Houser, Nicholas P. (1979). Tigua Pueblo. In A. Ortiz (Ed.), Handbook of North American Indians: Southwest (Vol. 9, pp. 336–342). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.
  • Miller, Mark Edwin. (2004). Forgotten Tribes: Unrecognized Indians and the Federal Acknowledgment Process. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 31°41′09″N 106°19′32″W / 31.68583°N 106.32556°W / 31.68583; -106.32556