Post 8: Where do we go from here?

After taking this course, it is incredible how badly the American public education system (at least in my experience) failed in teaching students about American Indians. I genuinely remember learning nothing about native Americans while in school which is absolutely a disservice because these are people that are alive and have a culture rich with knowledge and experience that we can learn from. They know and understand the land. They have a stronger connection to natural resources and know how to coexist with them without destroying their environment. They have been able to exist in an arid climate using incredibly intelligent farming techniques. There is so much the American people can learn from cultures such as that of the Tohono O’Odham, and I think it is absolutely necessary that students are introduced to American Indians at a young age. Their way of life is so incredible and filled with spirit. Me and Haley talked with Kiowa (Joe’s grandson) after dinner, and we started talking about how the world seemed to be getting more and more materialistic. It is something I think about often, but it was so interesting to listen to Kiowa talk about it because I can guarantee I am more materialistic than him. I can say that because I am not American Indian and I was not raised thinking about the values of reciprocity and thanking the earth whenever I took from it and being grateful for every piece of the universe that was placed so delicately in its place for me to experience. That’s not a stab at my parents because they did a fantastic job, but these aspects of spirit are simply not in our culture. I think we need to act fast and start integrating more spirit and gratitude into our culture before we destroy it to the point of no return because we didn’t realize the true value of our land and water. When it comes down to it, the most valuable thing on earth is the earth itself. We as a people could not exist without the earth. Everything that has ever existed came originally from the earth, in some form, because we didn’t just create it out of thin air. But to think that the things we create are more important than the source of all things in our life is naive, ignorant, and will lead to our demise.

So, at the end of this all, let’s take something from this experience and integrate it into our own lives. I’ve started thanking everything, oftentimes out loud, when I take and try to give back and equal force. I might become a teacher after I graduate, and if I do and happen to end up in social studies or history, I will do my best to find a way to integrate teachings about American Indians. It’s a beautiful way of life they have and the amount of strength they have demonstrated in persevering through hardship to hold on to their ways of life is so impressive. To them I say keep going. To us I say let’s listen to them!

Post 7: The Border

I didn’t know what to expect when we were told we were going to visit the border. I was honestly expecting a wall like it is often publicized, not something like Trump is proposing but like the structures that exist outside of many urban areas. That is obviously not what we saw, and I was surprised for a number of reasons by the steel and barbed wire fence that we visited. Firstly, I was surprised by the fact that it is not meant to stop humans. Surprised in a good way, because I think it brings our focus back to the genuine problem with the migration crisis, which I believe to be drugs and violence. I don’t think people are the problem, unless they are the catalyst by which drugs and violence are arriving into the country.

I think this border wall and the way it is approached by the Tohono O’Odham is something the American people should learn from. I do not know how many migrants are not well-intentioned, but I think it is safe to say that many of them are just searching for a better life, not one riddled with violence and murder and extortion that exists in the home countries they are coming from. The stories of atrocities occurring throughout Central America and even in Mexico is something that I think the American people should sympathize more with. If we aren’t okay with more people coming into the country, then we should at least try to be more okay with donating funds and resources to try to improve the situation in these other countries so they are at least livable for their residents.

The culture of the Tohono O’Odham would be hurt badly by the presence of a border wall. As it is said on the Nation, the border crossed them and their stretch of the border is large enough for them to have a substantial stake in this debate. Not only should a border wall not be placed on their land, but the situation needs to be improved so that they have more than 2 legal ports of entry, because that is simply ridiculous. We need to respect the culture that we impeded upon and grant them more rights and autonomy to exist alongside the other O’Odham in Mexico.

Even though I think the majority of the migration crisis relates to drugs and violence, something needs to be done so that the O’Odham and other people along the border are safe from persuasion by cartel members to participate in their industry. We heard stories about young Tohono O’Odham being coerced by cartel members to help smuggle drugs, and it is more difficult to detect Tohono O’Odham participating in these activities because of the increased access they have to cross the border. This situation needs to be improved. I’m not sure, but maybe starting with education across the Nation about the situation will help prepare youth to deal with situations such as this and avoid getting involved with these people.

I think the immigration debate in our country needs to focus on some of the statistics that we heard while on the Nation. The majority of hard drugs that come across the border come through the ports of entry. Well, we have a lead. We should invest in more technology and patrol along the legal ports of entry to stop this from happening so easily. I think the implementation of integrated fixed towers may be a good step for the Tohono O’Odham because it can cut down on these activities without affecting the culture of the Nation too much. I think this is an interesting debate we are witnessing in our country and it will be interesting to see how plays out. I think we should give the less fortunate a home here but find a way to do it safely.

Post 6: Haley’s Shingles

I feel like I have to write a blog post about this one because people should not forget that I was embroiled in this mess too. Haley got shingles and it sucked. I had to take care of her which was fun in its own ways, pushing her around in a wheelchair and stuff,  but was also horrible because Haley had shingles. You all have probably heard more than enough about it so far but I bring it up for two reasons. One, it is a great topic to think about staying and wandering sickness and traditional v. western medicine, and two, because we as a people are far too overworked and stressed out, and that isn’t necessarily the right way to live.

Western medicine is pretty damn cool because it helped Haley recover from her shingles largely in three days. I think western medicine is fantastic and of course has saved millions, hundreds of millions of lives. But that can’t be said without also saying that we must beware because we should only intervene with our body’s natural processes as long as there aren’t many other options. We shouldn’t immediately take an acetaminophen as soon as we start to get a headache. We shouldn’t be using antibiotics so much so that we have the potential to entirely nullify the beneficial effects of antibiotics as cells become antibiotic resistant. We should not be relying entirely on western medicine but should be using that as a tool when necessary. I think the human species has a tendency to overcomplicate things. A lot of times, we may be taking loads of pills for an illness that can legitimately be helped by some plants or herbal supplements or something like that. I’m no anti-vaxxer, god of course not, but I think we have undervalued the effectiveness of some traditional medicine that has been used by different peoples for hundreds, even thousands of years.

I think the Tohono O’Odham are likely struggling with this problem. Western medicine must be coming in clutch in many situations for them but it is vital that they also continue practicing their traditional medicine and healing as that is an integral part of their culture and no doubt successful in some instances. It’s all about balance and about treating your body properly whenever you can.

I also wanted to mention that we’re all way too stressed out. I think the traditional Tohono O’Odham way of life is seeming pretty appealing to me at the moment. Even though I’m not a desert person, going out and working in the fields for the day and then eating some tepary beans with chili and going to sleep sounds pretty good to me. College and work is extremely valuable, but it’s also necessary that we balance it with a healthy lifestyle so that we don’t overwork ourselves and potentially end up getting shingles (sorry Haley).

Post 5: What does development really mean?

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.

Post 4: Education

A phrase that I believe has some genuine validity is that oftentimes you don’t appreciate things as much as you should until you no longer have them or have lived without them. I think that is the situation with education in this nation, as it becomes more and more customary for people to attend college. In a lot of places in this country, school is taken hugely for granted. I know I am victim to this. I complain about school all the time! Not because I don’t enjoy it, but sometimes you lose sight of the reasoning for putting yourself through so much strain and hard work if you don’t have a clearly defined path on which you’re traveling. I have no idea what I want to do after I get out of school (except for become a rockstar with a van) which can make the competitive nature of school sometimes really difficult to endure.  It can sometimes feel, especially in the past, that school is more of an obligation than it is a privilege. There are a number of ideas I have as to why this may be, but it is somewhat in contrast to the sentiments I heard at Tohono O’Odham Community College.

The Tohono O’Odham Nation holds the Community College near and dear as a source of pride as it should be. It’s amazing how successful the school has been so far and it sounds like they are offering some incredible resources to the community members that weren’t there in the past. They have talented people on the board, have a library that is continuing to grow, teach language classes, forage for traditional foods, provide a hot meal every single day, have dormitories, and this is all in addition to standard classes. It is so exciting to hear that many people go on to further education after their time at the community college, but also encouraging to hear that people of all ages come to receive an education because this quality of education was not something they were able to receive in the past. A college on the Tohono O’Odham Nation is something that the nation has not had before and everybody is therefore so appreciative and grateful to have the opportunity to be able to study at such a place.

In my experience, education has simply been the norm. High school is obviously high school,  and if you are lucky enough, college just inherently seems like the next step in our lives now because it is hard to make your way into many professions without a college degree in this day. I never thought about applying to college. I never consciously asked myself whether it was the right idea to go to college immediately after high school. It was exciting applying to schools, but it wasn’t the biggest deal in the world because it was just the normal process of education, at least it seemed. Now, with the help of our time on the reservation as well as my experiences in Ghana, I can have a much better appreciation of the resources I have access to. People at the Tohono O’Odham Community College are extremely grateful for their resources, even though their library sometimes doesn’t even have internet access. That is something we all take immensely for granted. To be able to get an education at a place like Washington and Lee is a once in a lifetime opportunity and should not be overshadowed just because it is commonplace in our society nowadays.

I think education is extremely important, but I also think the passion a student brings to the table is equally as important. I have no doubt that many of the people who go to Tohono O’Odham Community College are coming out successful and excited to move into a career or further education. It is an opportunity that they had not had up until a few decades ago, and I’m glad to see that it holds such a good place in the community and is well respected for the opportunities it brings.

Post 3: Outsiders

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.

Post 2: Elders

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!

Post 1: Overall reflection

Hey guys,

I’m late to the party as I’m just starting my blog posts now. But, I think I have enough in this brain of mine to fuel 8 blog posts.

I wanted to start first with an overall reflection of everything, since we’re coming now to the end of the course and the end of our experiences for the time being with the Tohono O’Odham. I feel like it would be too easy to brush this off simply as a class instead of an experience that we may all get just once in a lifetime.

The world is a crazy place now. Climate change is real and normal social and political conventions that have been in place for decades are starting to become uprooted. In order to keep thriving and surviving, we will need to change our ways of life so that we stop consuming in so much excess and destroying our environment throughout the process. The reason why I bring this up is because I think we could all learn something, both spiritually and objectively, from the Tohono O’Odham that we can make part of our lives.

The Tohono O’Odham way of life has changed since its traditional forms, but historically the Tohono O’Odham demonstrated how you can live with what you need while using very few resources and always giving back to the world in reciprocal fashion. They were able to farm in their dry and arid environment by only using a very limited amount of water, and not even accessing the groundwater reserves they had until they had wells built in later decades. They were able to produce their own food entirely from their traditional lands, not having to outsource any agricultural work or truly compromise any environment. As a people, we can learn from the example set by the Tohono O’Odham and stop using as much water by pricing it closer to its genuine price and using less of it in our daily lives. Also, we can each personally make the switch to more plants in our diet instead of corn products or animal products.

Spiritually, there is a lot we can learn from the Tohono O’Odham about how to be grateful for the resources we have been given. We all have more than we think we do, if we just take a second to thank the earth and the rocks and the plants and the clouds each time we think about them or take from them. In this way, we become more connected with the world. Hopefully this will result in us taking less from it because we see the circular, reciprocal manner in which connected ecosystems operate.

I’m not necessarily saying that we should all become Tohono O’Odham. Not really possible anyways. But this experience taught me a lot about the state of the world and some of the things we can do about it, especially being in our position.

© Joseph Guse. All rights reserved.