On May 4th, we went to the San Xavier Mission on the Tohono O’odham land. There, we met Joe Joaquin’s nephew, Angleo, who was kind enough to speak with our class about the O’odham. I was impressed by his knowledge of every subject that people in our class were curious about. In particular, I found his discussions on the O’odham language and geography to be quite intriguing.
Joe’s nephew talked to our class about the ways in which the O’odham language has been preserved by its people, which began with an official transcription of the language into writing. From there, the O’odham people were able to teach the language in their school systems, which meant that the percentage of O’odham that can speak the language rose greatly. However, once the casinos started paying dividends to the O’odham people, more members that didn’t grow up on the reservation began to officially join the tribe, and the percentage numbers dropped once again. Even though the percentage numbers may have declined, it still seems to me that the nominal amount of O’odham speakers has increased, which is fantastic.
Additionally, Angleo talked to us for a while about the landscape of the reservation. Although we couldn’t see Baboquivari from the place we were standing, we still got an incredible look at the mountains around the reservation. Joe’s son told us about mountains named after animals such as Horned Frog Mountain. It was clear that all of the mountains were named a very long time ago, and that those traditional names are never going to leave the O’odham.
Both of these topics, along with most of the others we discussed have a common theme of preserving the old ways of the Tohono O’odham. Those traditions are the identity of the tribe, and to lose those cherished traditions would be a tragedy.