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!


My apologies for not really understanding that I had to “approve” your comments on this blog site.  I still don’t understand why I have to do, but it must have something to do with the permission settings.  Anyway, I think I just approved all the remaining unapproved comments and will try to stay on top of that as you make your final posts and comments – which I have thoroughly enjoyed, by the way! – Joseph

Blog 8: Final Class Thoughts

When I signed up for this class, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I had never heard of the Tohono O’odham nation, and I certainly couldn’t pronounce their name correctly. Nonetheless, I was excited to have the opportunity to travel during spring term, and I was excited to learn about something new.  Once class began, I quickly realized that I was interested in the culture and history of the Tohono O’odham people, and my excitement continued to grow for the trip we would be taking.

The trip to Arizona was everything I expected (aside from the flight cancellations, I didn’t see that coming). We had opportunities to see the things we were studying in person, and meet with some of the most dedicated and prominent members of the Tohono O’odham nation. I may have learned most of my knowledge about the nation in the classroom, but I think that the people that we spoke to on the Nation were a crucial addition to the experience of our class.

Today, May 17th, we presented our posters at the library, and I felt that it was a great way to wrap up our class. I got to share my presentation with some friends, some professors, and even some new faces. While I was giving my presentations this afternoon, I realized how much I learned about not just the border wall issue, but about the Tohono O’odham nation in general. This was easily the best of my three spring terms at Washington and Lee; thank you everyone for being a part of it.


Blog 7: O’odham Head of Public Safety Richard Saunders

On May 7th, we had the opportunity to sit down with the head of Public Safety for the Tohono O’odham tribe. This meeting was especially important to me because I am writing my paper on the U.S-Mexico border. He talked a lot about the jurisdiction of the Tohono O’odham police force, but I was more interested in the implications of illegal immigrants and drug smugglers crossing the border. I was surprised by the capital cost of immigrants that are found dead on O’odham land and require an autopsy, which he said cost the nation 3 million dollars per year. Additionally, I got to ask him about a possible alternative to the proposed border wall, which would be a road along the border through the Tohono O’odham nation. He seemed to think that if a road was constructed (beyond the utility road already in place) that further illegal activity would occur as a result. I’m not sure if that would be the case if the border road was heavily staffed 24/7, but perhaps he is right. This is something that greatly interests me, and I will continue to research as I write my paper.

Blog 6: Joe Joaquin Dinner

On May 7th, Joe Joaquin came to eat dinner with us. We had salad, rolls, and spaghetti with meat, cheese and red pepper flakes. Everyone that cooked did an awesome job. Tonight really felt like a family dinner; everyone really seemed to be enjoying themselves. After dinner, it was awesome to hear Joe Joaquin speak about the salt pilgrimage. During class, we have discussed the salt pilgrimage several times, but it felt much more authentic coming directly from Mr. Joaquin. Further, I recognized some of his stories that Harvey had passed on to us in class (such as the example of the man scared of the big wave), but Joaquin added spirit and humor that elevated his stories. Overall, I feel like Joe Joaquin embodies everything we have been studying over the past couple of weeks, and it was an honor to meet him.

Blog 5: Tohono O’odham Community College

On may 6th, we stopped by Tohono O’odham Community College (TOCC) on our way to Sells. While we were there, we got the opportunity to meet with the president of the college to discuss its objectives and achievements. I was really interested by the sense of comradery that the community college had with the Apache tribe. To elaborate, TOCC adopted a non-accredited Apache college so that their tribe members could get an education from an accredited college. The idea there is that once the Apache college is ready to get accredited, it will branch off and become its own college, but the O’odham are helping their tribe members get degrees in the meantime. I was interested to hear about this, especially considering the Apaches used to raid O’odham villages in centuries past. This really shows a sense of community between modern Native American tribes.

As a side note, we had squash spaghetti served to us for lunch, and I’ve never had anything like that before. I was initially expecting traditional spaghetti served in a squash-based sauce, but instead the actual “spaghetti” was strings of squash, and the whole thing was served inside a hollowed out squash! I was not expecting such a unique dish, but I was pleasantly surprised; it was quite good.

Blog 4: Hike

Happy Cinco De Mayo!

Today we went on a hike along King’s Canyon trail. I was expecting the hike to be a lot more difficult than it turned out to be, I guess I’m used to Virginia mountains. At first, we hiked inside of an arroyo, which is an old dried out river bed. In the arroyo, it felt like we were walking on the beach because the ground was so dry and loose like sand. Our path was almost like walking in a canyon, and the walls on either side of us casted shade, and I was afraid to get too fair in the shade because of snakes. Eventually, we left the arroyo and hiked on a more traditional trail towards a mountain peak. Although we didn’t go all the way to the top, our group still got some amazing views along the way.

After that hike, we went to a scenic viewpoint located nearby, from which you could see a gigantic valley. To the right of the designated viewpoint was a steep mountain with no real path to climb it, but Evan, Pat, and I made our way to the top, and found a nice little bench to sit on and view the valley. Naturally, I got some awesome photos from up there, and I’ve attached one of my favorites below!

Blog 3: Desert Musuem

On may 4th we went to the Desert Museum after we visited the San Xavier mission. The museum was entirely outdoor and featured some incredible wildlife exhibits. In addition to the wildlife that was specifically displayed in exhibits, there were also several animals free roaming the zoo, such as lizards and what seemed to be desert squirrels.

What I appreciated the most about this zoo was how close I was able to get to some incredible predators such as bobcats, Mexican wolves, and a mountain lion. The zoo solidified for me that the Tohono O’odham’s home is shared with some beautiful creatures, but also home to some incredibly dangerous species.

In addition to the wildlife at the zoo, the gift shop also had some authentic Tohono O’odham baskets for sale. I’ve been hoping to buy something like that while I am here, but I thought that they might be cheaper at a local store instead of a gift shop at a museum. At first, I was startled by how expensive the large baskets are (some were up to $700), but I realized that these baskets are all hand woven with care, and surely take an incredible time commitment to complete. Hopefully, I will find somewhere else on the reservation to buy a small basket to give to my mom for Mother’s Day.


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