Monday, May 2, 2011

Tohono O'Odham Reservation

Border fence on the O'odham reservation (photo by Estelle Santiago)

Two young O'odham girls, date unknown (photo by Jonathon Miller)
 Map of modern divisions of the Tohono O'Odham Lands (Source: O'Odham Nation Planning Department)
49 Main St., Sells, AZ 85634

The O'odham people once inhabited a land base was known as the Papagueria which been home to the O'odham for thousands of years. This land was located in the Southwest, extending South to Sonora, Mexico, north to Central Arizona, West to the Gulf of California, and east to the San Pedro River.
From the early 18th Century through to the present, the O'odham land was occupied by foreign governments. With the independence of Republic of Mexico, O'odham fell under Mexican rule. Then, in 1853, through the Gadsden Purchase O'odham land was divided almost in half, between the United States of America and Mexico. (Erickson, 1996).  
According to the terms of the Gadsden Purchase, the United States agreed to honor all land rights of the area held by Mexican citizens, which included the O'odham, and O'odham would have the same constitutional rights as any other United States citizen. However, the demand for land for settlement escalated with the development of mining and the transcontinental railroad. That demand resulted in the loss of O'odham lands on both sides of the border (Erickson, 1996). 
             Following the Plan de Iguala, O'odham lands in Mexico continued to decrease at a rapid rate. In 1927, reserves of lands for indigenous peoples were established by Mexico. Today, approximately nine O'odham communities in Mexico lie proximate to the southern edge of the Tohono O'odham Nation, a number of which are separated only by the United States/Mexico border. While the O’odham Nation is recognized by the United States government, the Mexican Government does not recognize the Tohono O’odham Nation.  The amount of O’odham lands in Mexico in 1940 was 10,000 square miles. That number has now dropped to only 3,000 square miles (Norrell, 1997).
Due to issues that have to do with immigration, the United States government began to heavily patrol the border area that is on O’odham land. A physical border was built and the O’odham land became militarized. On countless occasions, the U.S. Border Patrol has detained and deported members of the Tohono O'odham Nation who were simply traveling through their own traditional lands, practicing migratory traditions essential to their religion, economy and culture. Similarly, on many occasions U.S. Customs have prevented Tohono O'odham from transporting raw materials and goods essential for their spirituality, economy and traditional culture. Border officials are also reported to have confiscated cultural and religious items, such as feathers of common birds, pine leaves or sweet grass. (Norrell, 2001)
These changes altered the culture  and way of life for the O’odham people. The Tohono O’odham lands were also altered on the United States side of the border. Lands that would benefit other United States developments were taken from the O’odham people causing the O’odham Nation to become divided. The division of O'odham lands has resulted in an artificial division of O'odham society. O'odham bands are now broken up into 4 federally recognized tribes: the Tohono O'odham Nation, the Gila River Indian Community, the Ak-Chin Indian Community and the Salt River (Pima Maricopa) Indian community. Each band is now politically and geographically distinct and separate.
              The history of the Tohono O’Odham Nation explains the state of the nation to present date. It would explains how once disparate groups of  the O’odham evolved from varying subsistence economies and the self-suffiency to what it is today. Today the Tohono O’odham reservatation is characterized by the dependency of tribal and government program, chronic unemployment, underemployment, and lack of opportunity for it’s young people. (Erickson, 1996) That is how a little more than a century ago the Tohono O’odham were able largely by themselves to provide meaningful activities for both the adults and youth of the O’ odham Nation. The effects of  physically force separating a nation by two countries, the invasion of the home land by miitary force and overall the broken promises made to the original inhabitants of these lands by those who created power over them. 
- Faith Alvarez and Alex Connelly

Norrell, B. (1997). A new voice for autonomy: Indigenous peoples fight for survival in sonora, mexico. Indian Country Today (Oneida, N.Y.), , A7.

Norrell,B.  (2001)Tohono O'odham effort deserves support. Indian Country Today (Oneida, N.Y.), 21(5), A4

Erickson, W. P., University of Utah, & Tohono O'odham Nation. (1994). Sharing the desert :The tohono O'odham in history. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

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