Meeting the people

I’d forgotten the difference being unable to contact the outside world has on a person. Entering the reservation, I lost all signal, that coupled with no Wi-Fi left my phone useless, and I couldn’t be happier.


I left the mission to go walk around and explore. I found an old adobe single room house full of the slippers the coyotes and smuggles use to hide their tracts. Walking back, I saw a half buried wagon that looked from the 19thcentury on a back lot of a modern house. It was right next to what looked to be an old ramada. Both of these finds showed that we were without a doubt in the modern wild west. The one thing however that I feel (sadly) would distinguish this site from a gold rush ghost town was the abundance of plastic Old English 32 oz beer bottles around the site. I do not exaggerate when I say that I passed hundreds on my 2hr walk. They were everywhere and in every state of decay. Some where sun-bleached from countless days in the sun while others look like they could have been left last night.



The most impactful moment however happened completely by accident on my back to the mission apartments. I met a lady who had taken her 2 children to play on the swings. I was coming out of the thicket and just said hi and waved. She did the same thing then as I got closer asked her children to do the same. She was young, only 29 years old, and as soon as I got within speaking distance, she asked who I was. I told her I was a student doing research on the reservation and that I was staying here with a class but has just gone out to take some pictures. She smiled, approvingly, and struck up a conversation. She was visibly drunk, and for the duration of the encounter she continued to drink from a large opaque cup. She introduced her children as sunshine and lady. In almost the same breath she mentioned how they were getting out of a meeting to endorse the new candidate for chairman, but how she was unable to vote due to her being on parole. She did not elaborate, and I did not prod. When she spoke, she swayed a bit, but she looked at me directly in the eye. I have never met an Indian that has done that. In Mexico and in Texas, they either look away or look down, each with a serious face. This time I was greeted with a warm smile and a “dude”. She spoke unprompted on death. The death of her parents. She told me she had a feeling the day it happened, they didn’t look well that morning. Then she spoke about the death of her boyfriend’s parents, who were in a van trafficking 7 illegal immigrants to Tucson when a pickup truck swerved into their lane and killed the everyone except the mother, who died two hours later at the hospital. She asked me where I was from and I responded Texas, and then asked if I was a Sprus fan, to which I replied yes. To which she replied that a book had been written about the death of the community members as well as the migrants and that Texas was a nice place because her sister’s boyfriend is from there.


She mentioned how the reservation is a time bomb, waiting for the government to decide it wanted the land or to let the people on it die. She mentioned the safety concerns of living on the “rez”, while breaking eye contact for the first time to look at her children. She mentioned the drugs and the alcohol and that yes, she partakes, but she knows her limits now that her parents are no longer around to ration her per cap so she won’t spend it on a case a night. (I assume she meant the tribal disbursement per capita) I mentioned we share may of the same problems on the reservation of our people, and then told her I was Kickapoo. Her face lit up and she welcomed me in her language with a big toothless smile. She mentioned how she doesn’t typically smile because people might ask if she’s part of “Indian love” where she said that the men beat the women constantly. “I lost my teeth from cavities, dude, not because not man knocked them out.”


At this point, the children ran away and towards a man walking towards us. This was her boyfriend. She called him over to talk to me, and he did so, very politely after a very soft handshake. When he spoke to me, he did so like every other Indian I had met. He looked at the mountain ranges and when he spoke, he did so towards the ground. He was a basket weaver and his girlfriend a traditional turquoise jewelry maker. He loved to play the guitar and loved Guns and Roses but could play Beethoven better. He left after a few minutes of small talk, never looking directly at me, never smiling, but always very pleasant. He shook my hand weekly as he departed. I spoke to his girlfriend a few more moments, and then said good bye. She did the same but with a smile.

2 Replies to “Meeting the people”

  1. Eric,

    It sounds like you had an encounter and life experience that you will always remember! I also noticed all of the 40 bottles lying around and thought about the implications of that, which are especially sad when considering the problems that Indians have historically had with alcoholism. Even while we were in the mission, I felt a little bit isolated from the real experience of how people who live in the surrounding houses lived their lives, as it reminded almost of a poorer version of the trailer park that my great grandma lived in. I also wonder how bad/frequent crime is on the reservation, as that is a piece that even the Tohono O’odham police chief did not really get too much into in his talk.

  2. Thanks for this story, Eric… It is moments like these — alone and with the self — that life brings you something to experience, someone else to connect with, and a piece of reflection. It is a different world. Largely, it reminds me that I can and should be grateful for what I have while likewise remembering and honoring those who have been less fortunate. I grew up relatively poor in rural Virginia but was lucky enough to have a stable, loving, and hardworking family that helped me become the person I am today in the place I am today. I have not experienced generational trauma like natives have. I didn’t have to grow up on a reservation like a lot of natives do. And so, while I had undeniable and great hardship in my life, I had the luxury of being white and American with a loving family. It is therefore my duty, or so I’ve felt since last Spring Term when I took the Land in Lakota course, to learn as much as I can, extend compassion as much as I can, and provide service and love if and when I can.

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