Something this experience has made me question is the meaning of development. In the traditional sense, when we think of development, we think of infrastructure, money, growth, and things like that. We think of development often purely in an economic sense. We think of maximizing profits and minimizing costs. We think about how to get the biggest paychecks and make everybody richer. That is what development has meant for centuries. That’s why we have urban sprawl. That’s why we constant construction work in Lexington. That is why in many ways we have the world that we do today. We have the high-tech developed world, but at what cost? Many of our rivers are polluted, our forests destroyed, our glaciers melting. We have people dying and oceans rising. Doesn’t development mean improvement? If I were to describe development, I would think of things improving, getting better, more efficient, making people more well-off. If the things we are doing in our society today are going to bite us in the ass in the future, is it really development or were we just deceived for the first couple centuries of it until our world reverts to chaos?
I know I’m exaggerating, but it’s something we need to think about. The Tohono O’Odham I believe think of development in a far different way, because when outsiders and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and white Europeans and Americans came in to help them develop, we essentially decimated their culture, stole their water, made it incredibly difficult for them to grow their own food, gave them diseases, and left them as some of the poorest people in the country. That doesn’t sound like development to me because we have completely forgotten about a huge part of development. Call me hippie-dippie but we have forgotten about the spiritual side of development, the cultural side. We only think of economics, our focus so narrow as opposed to looking at the full breadth of our actions and the effect they will have on the world. If we considered the value of oceans and water and the richness they bring to our culture, we surely wouldn’t have developed our world in the way we did. That’s how we can learn from the Tohono O’Odham. By developing now, they are reverting back to many of the ways of living from the past. That’s not typical development as we would think of it but it is for them because it is allowing them to strengthen their culture, return to their traditional ways of growing food and living, and having a more fulfilling, healthy lifestyle. Development means improving life, not just improving the size of our wallets.