American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
Teaser Image


The Tigua live on Ysleta del Sur Pueblo ("Isleta of the South"), a reference to the ancestral Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico. The Pueblo was formerly known as Tigua ('T wä) Reservation. The word "pueblo" comes from the Spanish for "village." It refers both to a certain style of Southwest Indian architecture, characterized by multistory, apartment-like buildings made of adobe (pueblo), and to the people themselves (Pueblo). Ysleta del Sur Pueblo is located within the southern boundary of El Paso, Texas. The Native language of the Tigua people is Southern Tiwa.

The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo was founded in 1682 by Pueblo refugees from the rebellion of 1680. Its original inhabitants included Indians from Isleta Pueblo as well as Piro, Manso, Apache, Suma, and Tompiro Indians, none of whom joined the revolt. These Indians retreated south with the fleeing Spaniards. They built a church at Tigua, dedicated to Saint Anthony, in 1682. Following the 1692 Spanish reconquest, in which these Indians participated, Governor Diego de Vargas planned to resettle them in their New Mexico homelands, but most preferred to remain. The Piros eventually became absorbed into the Tigua Pueblo or into the local Spanish-American population. At some point, the Ysleta Indians received a land grant from the king of Spain.

For the next two centuries, the Tigua people practiced farming on irrigated fields. Tiguas scouted for El Paso settlements against Comanche and Apache raiders, and they also scouted for the Texas Rangers and the U.S. cavalry during the Indian campaigns. After 1848, however, Tiguas were subject to "legal" and extralegal abuses from rapacious Anglos, and much of their land was lost. When President Abraham Lincoln acknowledged the New Mexican Pueblo land grants with a second set of silver-headed canes, Tigua, standing in the Confederacy, was ignored. In any case, since Texas retained its public lands, the U.S. government was unable to create a reservation for the Tiguas.

In the late nineteenth century and into the 1920s the tribe virtually faded away, mixing with the local populace and living in extreme poverty. In 1967, the state of Texas recognized the Ysleta Indian community; federal recognition followed the next year. The receipt of federal money and recognition revitalized the tribe and provided the means by which it was able to reclaim its identity.

Tiguas practice Catholicism, with some Native elements. The pueblo's patron saint is Anthony, who was the patron of Isleta Pueblo before the 1680 revolt. A small core of people practice a more traditional religion, featuring a katsina-like entity known as the awelo, or "grandfather," who oversees all behavior. The tribe also possesses buffalo awelo masks and an ancient ceremonial drum.

The Tigua tribal government is Spanish-style civil. There is a cacique, a cacique teniente (lieutenant cacique, or governor), an alguacil (or sergeant at arms), a capitán de guerra (war captain), and four assistant captains. Except for the first and the last, all are elected annually. The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo also possesses the old Spanish canes, symbols of political authority, that were carried by the original settlers.

Tribal ceremonial items are stored in a tusla, generally the home of a tribal officer, where celebrations are often held. There is a high rate of intermarriage with outsiders, particularly with Mexicans and other Indians. The Tiguas enjoy a close relationship with the Isleta Pueblo, New Mexico, 250 miles away. They are also associated with the Tortugas community of Las Cruces, New Mexico, a Tigua community founded in the late nineteenth century and composed of Tigua, Piro, and Manso Indians. The Tiguas also have relatives in Mexico, at the former Piro Pueblo of Senecú, near Juarez. There may have been a clan system in earlier days.


©2011 ABC-CLIO. All rights reserved.

  Chronological Essays
  People and Groups
  Southwest Nations
  California Nations
  Northwest Coast Nations
  Great Basin Nations
  Plateau Nations
  Great Plains Nations
  Northeast Woodlands Nations
  Subarctic Nations
  Arctic Nations
ABC-cLIO Footer