A Reflection on Repatriation (4)

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. 

We were not supposed to take photos inside the Tohono O’odham Cultural Center, so please enjoy this photo of the gate leading to the parking lot instead.


Post #3: Youth Council

At the museum today when we learned about the Tohono O’odham’s efforts to involve youth and incorporate the younger members into political and overall issues the tribe is facing, I was impressed and excited for the tribe. This seems like a very effective way to encourage participation in issues and stir support or pride in O’odham ways as well as help create possible avenues for O’odham to pursue considering the low amount of opportunity and high poverty rates on the reservation. This seems like a very promising program and I could even see it helping across America in all neighborhoods to encourage civil participation and work in government. I think the incorporation of the Tohono O’odham youth has been correctly recognized as the key to preserving the O’odham ways of life and guaranteeing a passion for their heritage that has become increasingly easy to lose today. Although the O’odham went through periods where their heritage and culture were attacked through forced assimilation and boarding schools, with these types of programs there seems to be a resurgence of pride for the culture. It’s exciting to see and I hope that programs like these can revitalize this unique culture that has dwindled within the last hundred years.

Blog #2: Questions Surrounding the Wall

The following blog post is speculation and may be somewhat of a hot take:

The Tohono O’odham are caught in the middle of a racist administration attempting to scapegoat Mexican Americans as the problem in America. With the information told to us by Richard Saunders that the majority of drugs coming through the remote border areas are marijuana, it is increasingly apparent that the call for a wall and the crackdown on immigration is purely a political stunt. The executive branch and the federal government are not worried about marijuana, and if they were, they would’ve passed laws against states like Colorado or instructed federal agents to arrest those using marijuana in states that have legalized recreational use. The simple fact is that the US executive branch is falsely painting Mexican Americans as criminals and narcotic smugglers, while in reality the majority of those crossing on Tohono O’odham land are simple people, families, or at the most marijuana smugglers. Most narcotics and high-grade drugs are smuggled through ports of entry as told to us by Richard Saunders. Even more interesting, the idea that we should attack the entry of the drugs rather than cohesively looking at the reason there is a demand for dangerous drugs and attempting to ebb the flow at the same time, further points to a disregard for the actual health crisis and leads us to a see an irrational or quick jump to scapegoat a whole nationality. The border issue has been efficiently weaponized  by the Trump Administration. The Tohono O’odham are unfortunately caught in the middle, and while they remain vigilant and cooperative with border patrol in the area of drugs and violence, they are hesitant to trust a government that has so often disregarded their culture, way of life, and saw them as a hindrance in the scope of the world.

Blog #6 – Build That Wall (NOT)

Our first activity of the day was visiting one of the border checkpoints on the reservation. I am not sure what I was really expecting, but all I can say is that it felt very weird to be able to stand in both countries and stare miles down the dirt road that runs along the border. Being able to see the landscape helped give me a better understanding of the possibility of changing the physical border barriers, mostly that the desert sand and massive flood washes would pose much more of an issue than most politicians who have not been on-site can fathom.

We had the opportunity to listen to another tribal member today – Selso Villegas, head of Water Resources Management for TON and self-proclaimed “earth doctor.” Selso is a prime model of a tribal member who left the reservation for higher education and a different style of life who decided to return to the nation and offer his services to better the nation. Based on our talk, I would describe Selso as the natural resources peace-maker of the tribe, always looking out for the betterment of his community while keeping both federal parties and O’odham parties satisfied. What struck me most about talking with him was that the O’odham have not only a creation story, but also a destruction story – one that says the earth will be destroyed by people while the O’odham stand by without stepping in to protect mother earth. Based on this belief, Selso said that the way to survive climate change is founded on the fact that the human purpose is not to procreate, but to adapt and survive (Darwin, is that you?).

Before making the drive to Ajo we backtracked to Kitt Peak Astronomical Observatory to find magnificent views of Baboquivari and the rest of the land as well as discover massive telescopes on the mountain. I did not read much into how these giant telescopes work, but interestingly enough, as tall as they are above ground, most of them extend much farther underground in the body of the mountains. I wonder if this has something to do with light supply or reflection/refraction?

Blog #5 – Friar & Joe Joaquin <3

While I did not sleep much the first night at the mission (desert creatures and crucifixes on the mind), the 2-minute commute brought us back to the Tohono O’odham Cultural Center and Museum to get first-hand opinions of tribal members on issues such as land sacredness, the border, O’odham cultural characteristics, reservation borders and size, economic development, renewable energy, and others [to last us the 7 hours]. When asked about place-sacredness and development, one speaker’s answer surprised me a little: he said that those places of greatest sacredness/importance are not even spoken about, and some tribal members don’t even know of their location, etc. Another speaker was a member who also worked for the DPS, giving an honest perspective of the border and cartel activity. His thoughts and stats, in my opinion, proposed another reason why the US should legalize or decriminalize marijuana. Despite the physical toll that 7 hours in a wooden chair took on my body, the time spent listening to different voices of the tribe was enlightening and helpful in gaining greater understanding of this tribe.

For night 2 in the mission the dinner crew had the honor of feeding Joe Joaquin the most elegant spaghetti with marinara that has ever been tasted. While the spaghetti was not actually anything special, the chance to listen to Joe talk about the salt pilgrimage was. In the wise words of Pat: “Joe Joaquin basically runs shit around here.”

Another highlight of dinner was Friar taking our group photo saying “a third picture for the whole trinity, and a fourth because we are in O’odham land!”

please enjoy this picture of Harvey and Eric talking to a baby owl at the mission.

Blog #4 – Time on the Res

This morning we said adios to Tucson and headed back into reservation land. We spent time at Tohono O’odham Community College talking with the president and the head of a student outreach program. TOCC (with its 3 sites across the reservation) has been vital to the O’odham community members, as well as other students, in finding opportunity for higher education, the GED, and trade work. What is almost impossible to believe is that a student pays only $34 per credit hour – definitely not what W&L is charging me these 4 years… TOCC offers a lot of associates programs, most of which are set up to transfer to 4-year degree colleges. One thing I found most important about the curriculum is that each student must take O’odham culture and history along with O’odham language. One of the key steps to reviving Tohono O’odham traditions is to bring back the language among younger generations in order to tie the whole community together again. I was also amazed that the majority of the funding for TOCC comes from the Tohono O’odham Nation itself – a true example of the principle of community-centeredness.

Before making it to the mission in Topawa we took a short tour of the Tohono O’odham Cultural Center and Museum. The museum, only established 11 years ago, is still in the process of getting back artifacts from across the country and the world, as well as compiling knowledge of those artifacts to provide the best educational experience for their visitors and TON. I was amazed by the sheer amount of artifacts they already had, especially the pottery. What I respect most about the museum is that they really listened to the community when creating exhibits. Little did we know that we definitely did not see the last of this museum…

Blog Post 4 – 7 hours later

Today, we traveled to the Tohono O’odham museum to hear a few guest speakers.  However, the expectations one would get by looking at the itinerary would be different from what actually happened at the meeting.

We entered a room at 9:00 am and listened to many speakers before a lunch break after noon.  Because the itinerary says that the event is scheduled from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm, I expected to be done shortly after eating. However, it was nearly 4:00 pm by the time the last speaker finished.

Throughout my life, I have always been one who learns primarily through reading and observation. For whatever reason, my mind just does not function well when it comes to listening.  Textbooks are 150% more vital to my learning than teachers.  As you can expect, seven-hour lectures just are not my sort of thing.

However, I must admit that this post should not be perceived as an attempt to express frustration or vent negative feelings.  On the positive side, I must admit that I was very impressed by the knowledge, dedication, and determination of the speakers.  People spoke on behalf of organizations that promote public safety, natural beauty, youth empowerment, archaeology, and long-term planning. Nevertheless, there was one thing that frustrated me today: the speakers strongly emphasized concern for the preservation of culture and the natural environment while dedicating less time to discussing the physical health and financial prosperity of the nation.  With an unemployment rate above 25% and a per capita income of less than 10,000 dollars (part of my paper), I really wanted to learn more about issues along these lines.

While, the seven-hour talk was not my favorite part of our trip, I nevertheless feel grateful for the opportunity to have met many admirable people

Blog Post Three – The Importance of Education

Today, we visited the Tohono O’odham Community College and spoke with Paul Robertson!

Sitting around a room listening to the president (Paul Robertson) and a guy in outreach known as Danny, we learned a lot about the community college.  Later, two other employees joined us.  I was impressed with the amount of pride that those who work at the school take in it.  Furthermore, I felt that the employees have a strong desire for the students to succeed and genuinely care about those whom they seek to educate.

Having already researched education among the Tohono O’odham, I already knew of the community college before experiencing it firsthand today; nevertheless, many things caught my attention.  On a handout given to us, I saw how those graduating from the community college are experiencing significantly less unemployment.  I was also glad to hear about the amount of grant money being offered to the community college.  By and large, I got the impression that the Tohono O’odham Community College greatly values educational efficiency.  The school wants to enhance the skills of the students in such a manner that minimizes costs. For starters, the buildings are simple and modest, and secondly, the college does not seem to provide the excessive non-academic amenities found at other institutions.

Although the community college will not solve the developmental problems facing the Tohono O’odham overnight, it nevertheless serves as a beacon of hope for future generations to have more upward mobility.

Topawa Mission- Post Six

I would be remiss if I didn’t dedicate a blog post to the time (however brief) at the mission in Topawa. As we first drove down that long dusty road, looking for where we were staying, several people in our van thought Professor Guse was joking when we drove past the fading, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it white façade of a small mission compound standing almost alone on the side of an empty road. But as the day went on, it became clear that this was our home for the next two nights, a far cry from the hotels we’d stayed in in Phoenix and Tucson.

Don’t read that at a criticism though. Initially, I was skeptical when we walked into the small guest house where Donny, Evan, and I would be spending the next several days. The heavy metal outer doors and bars on the window didn’t seem to be a welcoming sign, and I’ll admit, even as a Catholic the breadth of religious symbols and Christian books threw me off for a little. But the house proved to be cozy, and the mission another step inching further into the desert.

It felt like stepping back into the 70s, while surrounding by the ghosts of the mission that was. The burned-out shell of the school, the house where the now departed sisters once lived, all the outdated appliance, it really felt like we’d entered a place frozen in time. This was a body, mummified by sand and sun, now standing testament to efforts and hopes blown away by time. But, still standing, nonetheless.

Museum Talks- Post Five

Sifting through the deluge of information we got today during the talks might take more brain power than I have, but among that flood were several moments and topics that stood above the rest. First among these moments came courtesy of Joe Joaquin, who we’ve come to learn is somewhat of a legend in these parts. Mr. Joaquin spoke of how in the modern day, the O’odham people have a choice of how they want to live. They can live as close to the traditional way as possible while incorporating non-threatening modern aspects, or they can accept what he referred to as the “outside world” and lose their connection to the ancestors, the culture, and the land. Obviously Mr. Joaquin was in favor of the latter point, but his description of this issue as a choice is what drew me in. So much of the time when speaking of external action and influence on Native Americans, Native agency is removed from the scenario by making it seem like Western culture, once it touches something, will inevitably conquer it and there’s nothing the participants in the previous culture can do about it. By telling the story as a choice, Native Americans in Joe’s telling are given agency and independence, a say in their own destiny. A second discussion that stuck out was with the Tohono O’odham PD, and parts of their tenuous relationship with both Border Patrol and their former associates, the Shadow Wolves. In a situation similar to drawing groundwater and losing river services, the Shadow Wolves recruit TOPD officers just after their training is completed, costing the TOPD a lot of money in both lost investment and training new recruits. This phenomenon struck me as both somewhat wasteful and self-defeating, as it draws money and resources from the people they want to protect.

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