A lot of us said that the reason we took this class is because we did not know almost anything about the Tohono O’odham or the history of Native Americans in general. Throughout the course, we have studied how the US, and Mexico, mistreated the Tohono O’odham by slowly stripping away their sovereignty by leaving them out of treaty negotiations, trying to assimilate them to the dominant culture, and often offering well-intentioned, but misguided help that ended up hurting the Tohono O’odham in the long run. We placed a lot of the blame, rightfully, on the US for not allowing the Tohono O’odham to have enough control over themselves, which resulted in a weakening of the culture.
However, we talked about this issue only with respect to the tribes in the US and did not have the opportunity to compare it to similar situations in other countries. For example, in Australia, where I will be spending part of the summer, there have been similar issues between indigenous peoples and encroaching settlers. Indigenous Australians were also forced to move due to settlers and in general have much higher rates of poverty, alcoholism, and drug abuse than the average Australian. Sounds familiar.
While I am staying on a Warlpiri compound outside of Alice Springs, Australia, I will have the opportunity to hear personal perspectives of Warlpiri tribe members and work with them as well. I wonder if their sentiments will echo the ones that we heard from a variety of Tohono O’odham people at the cultural center. Given this widespread issue of struggling indigenous peoples, it seems that if one community could be helped that a similar solution could be applied to other communities around the world. Clearly, helping indigenous communities that have been negatively affected by new settlers is a common enough issue that we should develop a method to help. Not that there will be one, end-all-be-all answer, but when people are suffering in similar conditions for similar reasons it seems like it is time to find a solution.
Or, maybe that is unrealistic because people have been trying for many decades to help their indigenous peoples and who am I to say that we need a solution when I do not have one to offer myself. It makes me wonder what it is that I can do to help. I don’t have money that I can donate to help them or launch a huge campaign to make sure people even know of about the issues so many people in our nation and other nations are facing. Not everyone can take a class trip to Arizona and spend time intimately getting to the Tohono O’odham people and their culture. I suppose I’ll start the traditional, millennial way with social media and hopefully I will come up with more ideas of how to disseminate the knowledge that I have only recently attained myself.
Thanks to Professor Guse and Markowitz as well as everyone who imparted their knowledge on us in Arizona!
When I first arrived in Arizona, as I said in previous blog posts, the desert was an unwelcome and very uncomfortable surprise that I had no idea how to deal with. I liked greenery, trees, and running water. Arizona, I guess unsurprisingly, is not known for these physical characteristics. More like, arid weather, lots of brown things, many cacti, and foreign animals.
I will honestly say that I did not take the transition well. It started with a jolt of fear when first seeing the javelina outside of the Best Western in Tucson. Then on the mission on the reservation, I stayed up until 2 am with my light on with adrenaline pumping because I was worried if I turned it off scorpions and rattlesnakes would just start emerging from the walls. Naturally, the javelina did not pose a threat, in fact they make for very cute stuffed animals, and we luckily didn’t see any scorpions and rattlesnakes.
Yet, by the time we arrived in Ajo, something had changed. When we were driving to Organ Pipe National Monument for a hike, I realized I was looking fondly at all of the cacti. Instead of unnerving me, the cacti had started to intrigue me, especially the teddy bear cactus that we saw on the hike. Not to say that I was completely at ease in the environment, especially all the plants we had to wade through while hiking, but I certainly was heartbroken to leave.
I texted my family on the day we were leaving Ajo with lots of photos and links to places we had gone in Ajo. I told that that we are going to have our next family vacation to Ajo so that I can share with them the city and southern Ariona area that I have fallen in love with.
If you thought you were not an artist, simply go to Ajo, Arizona and you will soon find out that you are wrong.
For example, I was inspired to sketch the two main churches framing the Curley School and the A mountain behind it while sitting on the grass in the central plaza. Since I had no paper, I sketched them on the back of a Mexican Chiapas Curley Coffee sample I bought for my brother and white tepary beans I am bringing back to cook with my mom.
The artists of Ajo, especially at the Curley School, also clearly draw inspiration from the dramatic surroundings of the desert. One artist makes stuffed javelinas that decorate the beds of the conference center and are also for sale at the Curley School store and online. Others compose poetry about area surrounding Ajo and its history, often with references to the Tohono O’odham.
I’m not sure why Ajo made me want to put pen to paper and relish the surrounding beauty, but from the art shops and the Curley school I clearly am not alone. Perhaps, it is the residents’ attitude that the town has a special history and will have an exciting future that evokes the need to capture the essence of the town on paper. Yet, that seems too concrete because to me Ajo felt magical. Maybe, Ajo was my oasis in the desert. A place of rejuvenation and relaxation to recover from the stress of worrying about rattlesnakes and scorpions on the reservation and from the previous school year.
I have many places that I call home. Washington and Lee University. New Orleans, Louisiana. Muskegon, Michigan. And, soon, St. Andrews, Scotland. While all of these places hold a special place in my heart that often pulls me back, I yearn for them the way I yearn for crawfish from New Orleans or to swim in Lake Michigan again. While I have a sense of loyalty and favoritism for these places, I see them as a part of me, not necessarily me as a part of them.
I do not have the ideology that is rooted in the Tohono O’odham perspective on their land. To them, the land has been there since the beginning and it is where they belong. They do not exist without their land and its Creator. However, I have felt since I was young that I would leave New Orleans and not return. Not because I do not love it, relish in the food, or miss my family that lives there, but because it is not inherently and crucially a part of who I am. I felt that I would find myself in the world outside of New Orleans, likely in lots of different places. No matter where the Tohono O’odham live, whether on the reservation, in a nearby town, or across the country, the feeling is that they are always connected to Baboquivari, to the saguaro, to the desert.
Perhaps in 10 years or more, I will find myself returning to New Orleans the same way that the assistant director of the Tohono O’odham Department of Water Resources did when he quit his job as a petroleum engineer at Exxon to return to his home. However, as of now, I still am content with wandering further from home, though, of course, never forgetting where I have come from.
Very often, the dilemma of repatriation is very complicated with no clear correct solution. Items are often in a museum in one country and were found by an archaeologist of another country and really belong to the people of another country or region. With such complicated history, and with the items usually passed along “legally”, items sometimes never return home because their legal claim to it does not surpass the legal claim other countries have to it. Another issue that often also gets wrapped up in this is that some museums with large collections and internationally recognized names, such as the British Museum in London, could help an art piece reach a much larger audience than in a smaller museum in the original country of the item. However, as it seems many people holding Tohono O’odham art nowadays have recognized, the Tohono O’odham absolutely want their art back regardless of any possible arguments otherwise.
With many acts that we learned about from Peter at the Tohono O’odham Cultural Center, the United States has helped facilitate the reclamation of art pieces that originally belonged to Native American tribes, as long as they chose to go through the process. While some tribes choose not to request for the return of some items, the Tohono O’odham are very actively trying to bring the objects of their history home. As we were told by a speaker at the Tohono O’odham Cultural Center, the Tohono O’odham are not concerned with allowing their items to reach larger audiences by leaving them in the hands of, for example, Princeton University. They see the items of their past as cultural treasure that belongs and should be viewed by their people; it is not meant for non-Tohono O’odham. Fascinated by the collection that they have already managed to amass in their short 11 years of existence, I look forward to hearing about and possibly returning to see one day the many items that the Tohono O’odham get returned to them from all over the country back.
The first thought I had when I walked into San Xavier del Bac was that it looked very familiar. However, due to my nonexistent knowledge of the Tohono O’odham before this trip, it obviously was not due to some prior experience with the church. The comparison I actually was making was to the Asam Church, also known as St. Johann Nepomuk, in Munich, Germany.
While I at first dismissed this comparison, I realized that these two churches were actually constructed with the same century as well, with the Asam Church completed in 1733 and San Xavier del Bac started in 1783 and completed in 1797. However, most people would not say that the San Xavier del Bac church would be aligned with a building in Germany that exemplifies the height of highly decorative Rococo architecture in the area. To my eye, however, many similarities can be drawn. From the heavy use of gold to accent the altar, especially the main altarpiece, to the overall crowded visual effect, the buildings evoke a very similar feeling of the opulence of the heavens through intense sensual overload.
Contrary to my experience with San Xavier del Bac, I was somewhat horrified by the incredible busyness and cluttered appearance of the Asam Church when I first saw a picture of it. However, now that I have experienced San Xavier del Bac, I believe that I might have a different reaction to the Asam Church if I ever see it in person. Walking into San Xavier del Bac instantly soothed me and it tempted me to sit down , not just because it offered a break from the shade. Rather than being overwhelmed and somewhat disgusted by the incredible detail of the design, I was enraptured and happily sat there simply taking in the church. Although I don’t know to what extent these two buildings could actually being connected with respect to the origin of their designs, I now appreciate the approach of both churches as they seek to inspire spiritual awe and devotion.
More than just getting acclimated to the climate, I realized today that the traditional lifestyle and religious belief of the Tohono O’odham is very uncomfortable in practice for someone brought up in modern society. According to Mr. Angelo Joaquin of the Tohono O’odham tribe, “We don’t survive [the desert]; we live with it,” saying that living in the desert is not something they just cope with but is integral to their very way of life. As popular it is nowadays to go “reconvene with nature” by going on hikes and sitting outside, this activities really do not compare to actually delving into an ecosystem.
Today, at the Desert Museum outside of Tucson, we had to opportunity to explore the desert and its natural inhabitants in a somewhat controlled setting. I really enjoyed strolling along the Desert Pathway and through the Cacti Garden. Who doesn’t love looking at pretty, and sometimes funny looking, plants? However, the second that a coyote started trotting over to me I immediately felt terrified and quickly walked away, despite knowing that they were kept within a netted cage. While I like to think as someone who enjoys nature, the reality is that when confronted with nature in its wildness and as it really is, I immediately have the instinct to flee. The nature I like is the carefully constructed nature of the Colonnade on W&L’s campus or a white water rafting trip down the Nantahala in North Carolina. These dalliances with nature, however, do not reflect nature as it really is or as the Tohono O’odham approach it.
Mr. Joaquin mentioned that coming home to Arizona evokes a “sense of place” and that he enjoys “being in a land that is the same color as me.” However, identifying and truly loving a land means celebrating all that it offers you, which relates to the Tohono O’odham notion of kinship between all plants, animals, places, and people. Objectively, I do not practice this type of belief at all. I even was wary of the lizards that kept running across the pathways. While I may be jumpier than some people, the majority of most city dwellers interactions with nature comes from killing bugs and visiting zoos. Ruthlessly killing stink bugs in my freshman dorm by sucking them up with a hand vacuum does not exemplify the all-encompassing kinship of the Tohono O’odham, nor does looking at animals through a thick pane of glass. As I continue to get more familiar with the flora and fauna of southern Arizona, I hopefully will become more comfortable and relaxed while exploring the landscape. If I am successful at accepting and enjoying nature in its true, wild form here, I would then be able to more fully enjoy the Virginia environment and become more acquainted with its other native inhabitants.
For many centuries, the Hohokam lived and flourished around the area that is now Phoenix. With complicated irrigation canals, ball courts, and in general maximizing the elements given to them by their environment, they made the best of their hot but dry environment with its prickly pear cacti and all. However, growing in in New Orleans and going to a college in Virginia, I have never experienced the arid, cloudless landscape that defines southern Arizona.
As I walked around the ruins of Casa Grande and Pueblo Grande, I tried to picture myself cooking and socializing under a ramada and collecting saguaro fruit in the blazing sun. However, the whole environment felt so unfamiliar that I struggled to connect with the landscape at all. Let alone trying to imagine sharing only one room with my whole family, I was astonished to hear from our tour guide, Lary, that the Hohokam would have slept outside unless they were experiencing severe weather. They did not try to separate themselves from their surroundings at all. In line with their belief in the close kinship of all animals and all of nature, they seemed to exhibit this even in their sleeping habits, differing greatly from most modern peoples’ relationships with their environment.
As I get more used to the heat and the muted colors of this desert, I hopefully will be able to empathize with the way of life of the Hohokam as we spend more time exploring southern Arizona and learning about the Hohokam and Tohono O’odham.