People crowd in to photograph the unveiled deer dancer bronze statue in front of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe’s administrative building, 7474 S. Camino de Oeste. Michael Lee was the project director and sculptor.

An 11-foot-tall bronze sculpture of a deer dancer was unveiled and dedicated Thursday outdoors in front of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe’s administrative headquarters.

The sculpture, which weighs nearly 500 pounds, has been in the making for years.

About 300 people attended the unveiling of the deer dancer at 7474 S. Camino de Oeste, south of West Valencia Road on the reservation.

Among the cultural activities was a performance by deer dancer Luis Sinfuego, an elder from the Río Yaqui Valley in Sonora, Mexico.

The Yaquis originated from that valley and fled government persecution in the late 1800s, and by the early 1900s a large exodus settled permanently in Arizona. They worked for the railroad and as farm laborers in Tucson, Yuma and Phoenix.

Margie Ramirez, the granddaughter of the late Anselmo Tori Valencia, also was in attendance.

Valencia, who died in 1998, was a Yaqui leader who helped obtain federal recognition for the tribe 35 years ago, said Raymond Buelna, a tribal council member.

“Valencia’s vision was to one day have a bronze statue (of a deer dancer) to welcome visitors to our community,” said Buelna.

The deer dancer sculpture was a collaborative art project that included input from tribal elders, students and traditional cultural and ceremonial participants.

Sculptor Michael Lee was the lead artist commissioned to create the artwork for the tribe.

Metalphysic Sculpture Studio Inc. cast and finished the bronze statue, and Legacy Exhibits and Environments created the base for the piece, according to the tribe.

The deer dancer is “the most central ceremonial figure” in Yaqui traditions, say tribal officials.

For Yaquis, the deer dancer symbolizes the “beauty and gifts of the natural world,” a spiritual world. The deer dancer, which is based on ancient beliefs mixed with Catholicism, brings Yaquis closer to understanding the interconnection between themselves and Mother Earth.

Images of the deer dancer are abundant throughout Mexico, especially in the state of Sonora, but “there is virtually no public sculpture depicting this iconic Yaqui symbol in the United States,” according to the tribe.

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at or 573-4104.