Something that I think the Tohono O’Odham have to face that may be difficult is how to balance outsiders wanting to learn about their culture but still preserving their culture and not being misled by people who may not have the best intentions at heart. The Tohono O’Odham were put through trauma, which is a vast understatement, when outsiders intervened in their way of life. As a result, they now have rampant health issues, little access to running water, very limited agriculture, their language struggling to stay alive, and an overall shift in their culture. Before outsiders intervened, there were few wandering sicknesses, they hadn’t heard of diabetes, and had a standard of living without having to face some of the struggles of the modern age (drug addiction, poverty, etc.).
Now though, the Tohono O’Odham have to balance how to be part of the integrated, interconnected modern world while still retaining their culture and autonomy over their natural resources. There are no hotels on the reservation because as we heard a number of times, the Tohono O’Odham don’t necessarily want anybody staying on their reservation. Yet, at the same time, it is immensely important for some of those on the outside to be able to have experiences like we did interacting with community members so we can all understand their culture and their requests for a fair share of resources and aid. Something we have to juggle is the fact that within this nation, we have pockets of vastly different cultures that we need to respect and balance with our own. Developers and mining and farming operations outside of the Tohono O’Odham Nation have to be educated about their culture so that we can all understand in what ways they have been disadvantaged and how they can be allocated their fair share of resources. It seems like the Tohono O’Odham don’t necessarily want major attractions on the reservation in order to encourage outsiders to come, but they do not mind, and instead appreciate, when outsiders come with the genuine intention of learning about their culture and potentially helping. We were absolutely welcomed in the community and people were eager to speak with us. The Tohono O’Odham honestly didn’t seem to mind all that much if border patrol were on the reservation as long as they respected the desires of the Tohono O’Odham and made an effort to understand the complexities of their culture so as to know how border crossings work and the value of plants and animals.
What it boils down to is caring about one another. We would not have as many problems if people were able to look outside of their own single-minded view to see that their actions can affect other people who have a different way of living and different culture. The truth is that we’re all Americans, whether native or not, and that we have to learn how to coexist without categorically disadvantaging certain communities. I think the Tohono O’Odham are doing a great job trying to balance intervention and interest from the outside. They have so many reasons to be skeptical, because of what has been done to them in the past. The difference now is that many people want to come to the reservation to help instead of hurt. When that is made transparent through honesty and good intentions, that is when we can connect despite our cultural differences and learn from each other.