Tohono O’odham Community College- Post Four

Informed optimism is the best phrase I can come up with to describe Tohono O’odham Community College outside of Sells. Unsurprisingly, TOCC has a small campus set in the middle of desert landscape across from a seeping mountainside. Surprisingly (at least to me), the facilities were well kept, newish, and most importantly, expanding. The faculty we spoke with all eagerly mentioned the new amphitheater under construction, along with plans to expand dorm facilities and make them more accommodating to their increasing and increasingly wide spread student body. On top of all this, the school even boasted a competitive basketball team, which has sent several players to division one schools, according to the faculty.

In terms of my topic of interest, O’odham language, the college seemed to place a high importance in the revival and survival of O’odham. In addition to language programs the partner with the local high schools, the college also offer classes in the O’odham language free to the Tohono O’odham people. The language fulfills language requirements both at the college and at many four-year universities, making this an attractive offer to prospective students of the language. At least at the college, a vested interest in reinvigorating the Tohono O’odham language exists.

All this is not to say that challenges don’t exist. At least for the O’odham language, most students come in with little to no experience before teaching. This implies that the language either isn’t being spoken among the wider O’odham population and/or that there’s little to no intergenerational communication with or about the language with the youth. Furthermore, studies on the prevalence of the language are outdated, with none being undertaken in at least the last ten years. Finding teachers also presents a challenge, as many O’odham speakers just don’t feel comfortable enough to teach. Despite these rode blocks, the O’odham language, and the TOCC, both are in good shape for growth if they continue their current trajectories.

Blog #3 – Saguaro Nat’l Park

Never in my life have I seen (or been this close to) so many cacti in my life. But, I can say I’ve gotten to experience a different type of breath-taking beauty that hikes in the Blue Ridge or the Rockies couldn’t offer. While our loud footsteps and commentary were probably to blame for scaring away most wildlife, I was still awed by the over-90,000 acre landscape of the toughest, grittiest plant-life I have ever encountered. I have serious respect, and disbelief, of the ability of these plants to survive the desert climate, like the ocotillo which flowers with or without rain to ensure pollination of the desert every year. What stood out to me most was the characteristics of the flowers, mainly their waxy, plastic-like petals and how most bloomed when the plant shed most of its greenness. We were fortunate enough to explore the park trails during the “yellow season” of the desert. While the up-close view was spectacular, I hope to return in the future (probably in a cooler month and without tendonitis) to make it to the top of a ridge and look out over the whole park the surrounding area of Tucson below.

Blog Post Two – Angelo Joaquin and San Xavier

On Saturday, we visited the San Xavier Reservation and talked with Angelo Joaquin!

While the interior of the Church was truly amazing, the highlight of the day was undoubtedly sitting on the bench pictured above and listening to Angelo Joaquin.  He gave such a great overview of the prior oppression endured by the Tohono O’odham, modern issues facing the nation, and recent developments within the tribe.  Looking out over the reservation and hearing the stories told by a man who has witnessed firsthand the lives of the people whom we are studying resonated intensely with me.

Among the topics covered by Joaquin were water issues, financial struggles, conflicts with the US government, strategies for economic growth, and the spiritual relationship between the Tohono O’odham and their land.  Clearly evident in a large part of the talk was how the industrialization of the United States and the rest of the world has had a lasting impact on the tribe.  Not only does climate change impact humans’ ability to use renewable resources but it also harms things (the saguaro for example) which play a role in what some consider to be spiritual matters.

As I walked around the church and stared at the surrounding mountains, I could not help but think about the harm done by the clash of cultures between Native Americans and those who set the groundwork for today’s society.  After doing research on poverty among the Tohono O’odham, a part of me experienced a sense of frustration.  However, I also see hope for the future, knowing that strategies such as casino building and educational opportunity will increase well-being.

A Little Bit of Germany in Arizona? (3)

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.

St. Johann Nepomuk (Asam Church), Munich, Germany (,_Munich)
Interior of San Xavier del Bac, Tucson, Arizona

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.

Blog Post 1 – The Life of the Hohokam

On Friday, we visited Pueblo Grande and Casa Grande.  I have never had any interest in archaeology, but the day nevertheless gave me a greater appreciation for the field of study.  I must also admit that having prior knowledge about the Hohokam made the remains much more meaningful.

At Pueblo Grande, I got my first direct glimpse of the Hohokam people and their ways of life.  (On a somewhat related note, I also got my first dose of the reality known as the Arizona climate).  It is truly amazing to me that a group of people prospered for many years in the suffocating heat and bright sun.  ( If I had to guess, I would say that they probably did not have sunglasses).  Even more remarkable to me is that the Hohokam could utilize the land for farming without many of the modern technologies we take for granted, such as GMO’s, synthetical fertilizer, industrial machinery, etc.

Both Pueblo Grande and Casa Grande offered impressive architecture.  The mound at Pueblo Grande had a variety of sections, each serving a different purpose.  As we walked through the ruins, I imagined all of the people who came before me and did what was necessary for their survival and prosperity.  Many people just do not realize that societies such as these were quite organized and complex.  Casa Grande, pictured above, really was a “grand house.”  The two things that stick out to me are its height and its engineering.  I wonder how much engineering the Hohokam knew.  On a similar note, I also think about whether the society strategically built the building, using a basic understanding of statics and the laws of physics for example, or if they just knew that the materials would keep the structure in tact.

While Friday was not as thrilling for me as it was for a certain other person, (not going to name names, but willing to say that he carried around archeological sticks) Pueblo Grande and Casa Grande thoroughly impressed me.

Post #1: Sonoran Catholicism

As we spent time at San Xavier Del Bac and when generally reading about the Tohono O’odham, I always find myself asking the question: why do the O’odham practice catholicism in any form, and are there still feelings of resentment involved? I, personally, don’t understand why they would incorporate catholicism when Spanish colonialism in general had a surplus of negative affects on the O’odham. In one of the articles we read about Father Kino, the author tells of a slaughter by the Spanish Missionaries of many O’odham, including innocent children and women. The story of white colonialism is brutal and horrific in many cases, including forced assimilation, mandatory boarding schools, and an overall disregard for the culture and way of life of anyone other than themselves. The famous Carlisle Indian School developed by Richard Henry Pratt, ran on the motto of “Kill the Indian, save the man”. Why then, were the O’odham more accepting and even embracing of catholicism and the Spanish ways?

Looking at many native American tribes, the O’odham were no doubt a very welcoming one. In the story of the Corn man, the O’odham women welcome him as a stranger and let him stay the night. Perhaps an open and loving culture could’ve led to the adoption of catholicism. Furthermore, because the O’odham were more open to the Spanish, the missionaries may have been more giving and understanding, and done what they could to help the O’odham. The Spanish interactions with the O’odham and the Apache for example were detailed very differently, and the O’odham even worked with the Spanish against the Apache. Because of this and evident in this is a joining of forces and an acceptance or a cohesion between the two. An in depth examination would most likely bring about a variety of answers, including the social acceptance and stronger cohesion, the introductory nature of catholicism and how new it was to the O’odham, and the new, easier way of life possibly introduced. At the end of the day, I still wonder why a tribe who suffered many deaths, were forcefully assimilated, had their culture disregarded and destroyed in many cases, lost land and wellbeing due to exploitation, and who suffered a plethora of negative effects still remained open and interactive with catholicism. Religion is interesting.


Blog Post No. 3 Tanner Smith- The Wall and The TSA

Our conversation with Bill Broyles yesterday, both at the hotel and at dinner, got me thinking again about walls. A wall, inherently, is built to separate people, countries and cultures.  The rhetoric is usually based around security, as people will argue that they need to be able to regulate who comes into their state. This sounds somewhat reasonable on paper, until you research it and learn that in fact that walls, historically, have not been effective for security purposes. As this article from the NYT explains, the results of walls for this base purpose are mixed. The most famous wall in history, The Great Wall of China, was largely ineffective, as people simply went around it. The Berlin Wall is an example of a wall that was effective at its stated purpose to separate Communist East Germany from Democratic West Germany in the aftermath of WWII, but today it is an infamous historic symbol, as it inflicted great pain upon people and families, and is a black mark upon German history. When you read through the numerous historical examples, you start to realize that the main purpose of many of these walls was not security.

So if security is not the most common purpose of a wall, what is the true purpose of a wall? My theory is that a wall is more of a political symbol than it is a practical tool. It creates a physical separation that allows for people with nationalistic tendencies to feel safe, even if it does not actually increase their safety. In this way, it acts a lot like the TSA, as both perform “security theater” to give the illusion of increased security/effort without doing much to actually increase safety. We like to think that the extra steps created in the TSA security line or the extra regulations on what we can bring on planes make us safer, but all of this extra hassle does little to make us safer. In a similar vein, building a wall will do little to make us safer, but will make some people feel safer. Meanwhile, other people, such as Tohono O’odham will suffer the consequences, as it will be even more difficult for the American side to remain connected to the Mexican side of the nation. It is also just flat out insulting to people such as the Tohono O’odham, as the American government once again will be essentially telling them that they do not care about their way of life or their rights as the original shepherds of the land.


Museum and Mountains-Post Three

It seems we journey a step deeper into the dessert with each passing day. We’ve already encountered an introduction to the human presence in the region, in seeing the rising city of Phoenix, sprawling Tucson, and sites like Casa Grande and the San Xavier Mission. The last day and a half, however, has gently directed us toward the natural world surrounding these human establishments.

The Desert Museum provided a carefully constructed and managed summary of what natural Arizona holds. While it was fascinating to see the variety of dessert creatures right before our eyes, this obviously wasn’t the real nature of the land. The animals, many of them rescues, were there to be observed in a controlled setting (as is the nature of zoos), not seen interacting with the landscape and doing what they would do in the wild. The Dessert Museum was an amazing learning experience, extremely educational, and at its core, an introduction to the greater dessert we’ll likely encounter as the trip progresses.

This morning’s hike took us tentative steps further into the paradoxically harsh and bountiful landscape. Though there were trails and a set path, no longer were we able to look at a map and know exactly what we were about to see. A trickle of wilderness found its way into the trip. Professor Guse made a point to check for snakes at several spots, a moot point while at the Dessert Museum. Wild hummingbirds and lizards crossed our path, and for much of the trip we walked not on a paved pathway, but in an arroyo carved by water over thousands of years. As we progressed to the mountain pass, even trails were abandoned in favor of scrambling up jutting rock formations to get a better view of the expanse of dessert and farmland on one side, and urban sprawl on the other. While not truly in wilderness, today allowed the group to dip our toes in, and begin to see the landscape as a dynamic entity, not just scenery from a plane window.

Blog Post #2 Tanner Smith- Finding Secular Significance in Religious Sites

The trip to San Xavier today made me revisit a common line of thought for me, which is how I process religion around me. I am personally agnostic, as I grew up in a non-religious household, but in Roanoke, Virginia so Christianity was assumed. I have had many awkward conversations around my religious beliefs, as instead of taking the path of least resistance in faking non-practicing Christianity I have always been honest when asked. Whether I want it to or not this has always impacted the way I process religion, as it is hard for me to have a full appreciation for religious sites without the belief. When I walked into the San Xavier church today, I felt awkward as I always do when I walk into a church, as I want to show deference to those who are having a spiritual experience, but this makes me feel very phony. The church itself was beautiful and I could feel some sort of aura from those devoutly practicing around me. At the same time, however, I felt like I was walking on eggshells, as I was merely a tourist in a building that did not feel like it should be open to outsiders. I wonder how the people who are there for the religious experience feel as tourists routinely go in and out, with what I am assuming are different levels of respect. I myself committed what I felt was a faux pas, as after sitting for a while and absorbing the scenery, I got up to look at the front area of the church. I looked around the corner to the right and there were people bent over in prayer. When I looked back at the seats, I saw people waving me to sit down, with disapproval in their eyes. At that moment, I felt the same as I always do in religious contexts; awkward, with a clear self-consciousness of sticking out like a sore thumb.

Marginalizing the Past

Visiting the museum at Pueblo Grande was a fantastic place to begin our Tohono O’odham excursion; I mean, what better place to start than the beginning? It was fascinating to get a glimpse into the life and culture surrounding the Hohokam tribe and to learn about their great successes and eventual decline. It was even more interesting being able to walk the same grounds upon which this historic civilization once lived. Seeing first hand the results of the hours upon hours of physical labor that the Hohokam people had to have put into their architecture, agriculture, and irrigation was truly remarkable and deserving of the utmost appreciation. However, even with the intrigue that comes from learning about these people, it was hard to avoid a certain sense of sadness seeing how marginalized the archaeological sight was. 

The corner of protected area with modern buildings in the background

What was once over one square mile of Hohokam lands was now reduced to one, undermanned museum area that stretched for barely a percent of what it once was. Where homes, burial sites, and trade centers of these historic people once stood now is the home of commercial buildings, highways, and antiquated railroads. It was nearly impossible to to look anywhere on the protected site without being reminded of the rapid urbanization that has covered most of the once nature-centered civilization. To me, visiting Pueblo Grande, while fascinating and worthwhile, was a reminder that urbanization is not always positive and that more effort has to be put into the conservation of our historic sites.

Historic Pueblo Grande ruins with railroad in the background

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