Tohono O’odham Nation way of life

Pam Boedeker

Bernard Siquieros and his wife, Regina, were the speakers for SaddleBrooke Nature Club’s last meeting before our summer hiatus.

Bernard is from the Sells District of the Tohono O’odham Nation. He is The Educational Curator of the Himndag Ki: the Tohono O’odham Nation Cultural Center and Museum.

Regina set the stage for an inspiring program with a song (prayer) about the Waw Guiwulk mountains which are most sacred to her people. In the song sea gulls are flying above to connect the ocean to the mountain where their Creator lives. Her song was backed by an enchanting rhythm from her gourd shaker.

Tohono O’odham culture was passed from generation to generation by storytelling. Stories of the origin of these people can only be told in the winter. Those who tell creation stories in the summer will suffer some tragedy.

There was no written language until 1897. Today’s challenge is to teach the Tohono O’odham language to the next generations so the stories will continue.

The Nation’s land covers almost 3,000,000 acres. It is the second largest nation in this country. Ingrained in the culture is a deep respect for the land.

The Gadsden Purchase cut through the Tohono O’odam land with Mexico now being on one side and the U.S. on the other. Fences were built for livestock but people still freely traveled from one side to the other. The security established after 9/11 has greatly restricted that travel. There is now a noticeable presence of border agents on the Tohono O’odam land.

Eighty-five percent of the members of the Tohono O’odam nation are Catholic. This goes back to the Spanish who were the first foreigners to come to the area.

One of the rock formations in the sacred mountains greatly resembles an old woman sitting. She is said to be weaving a basket. When she leans to get more material her dog chews on the basket. The material is used to mend the basket over and over again. Stories tell that if she ever finishes the basket the world will come to an end.

The Tohono O’odam culture has great respect for all the Creator has provided them to eat. The Saguaro, for example is honored for its fruit for food and drink, its ribs for building and its pulp for medicine.

There are 34,700 tribal members. Forty percent of them live and work at the nation. Others are located all over the United States as a result of the Federal Relocation Program. Some 1500 members of the Tohono O’odam nation are still located in Mexico.

Wherever they go or whatever passions they pursue, members of the Tohono O’odam nation are told to always remember who they are and where they came from.

Members of the SaddleBrooke Nature Club will be taking a field trip to Tohono O’odham Nation Cultural Center and Museum.

Watch for future articles on a field trip to Wilcox in August and the fall kick-off in October.