I think one of the more memorable experiences for us all was having dinner with Joe Joaquin and his grandson Kiowa at the mission. I know we had read some about Joe and Harvey spoke of him in class, but I didn’t know what to expect as he seemed to be a well-respected member of the community. The day we listened to the speakers in the museum, I remember looking back and seeing Joe before he introduced himself and thought it was great that some community members had come to also listen to the speakers. But instead, Joe is still going strong and educated us both in that session and also at dinner. I think the reason I initially thought he was just there to listen is because in our society, we have an entirely different view of elders compared to the view of the Tohono O’Odham.
In our society, it often seems that elders are a burden. Yes, we love our grandparents and parents and whatnot, but oftentimes when they get to a certain age, elders oftentimes lose credibility and can be “senile”. This is definitely true to an extent for some people, but I remember moving my grandmother into a nursing home earlier this past year and being shocked by the system we have in this country. This was a perfectly nice and well-staffed nursing home, but it was also a systematic herding of old people together because we have so many of them in this country and everybody is so focused on work and school and everything that many families can’t take care of elders. This is not wrong in any way, just completely different from the Tohono O’Odham way of doing things. In their culture, the older you get, the more respected you become. I remember Selso talking about how he was in his 60s and still not really considered an elder in the typical sense because there were elders in the community in the 70s and 80s and 90s that had the right to take that title. The elders of the Tohono O’Odham are cared for and looked after and looked up to regardless of their age because they are considered to have a wealth of knowledge about life, spirit, and traditional culture. I think some of the difference between our culture and theirs is that we’ve been progressing and in some ways they’ve been regressing due to intervention from the outside world. Many elders of the Tohono O’Odham are the only people left who remember how things were before their way of life was in many ways forgotten. I wish we viewed our elders in our society more like this. It seems wrong that people make it through so many years of life only to be put in nursing homes where they’re sometimes forgotten about. We view elders as a burden on our healthcare system, social security, everything else, instead of realizing how much we can learn from them. My guess is that they would have a lot of advice to warn us about our trajectory, because in many ways we’re not headed in a positive direction. Just my take.
So, all in all, hell yeah to the elders. I think old people are cool and Joe Joaquin was a wise man. Glad we got to meet him and spend time with him!