Throughout the week, we continually confronted the concepts of fragmentation and continuity among the O’odham. These concepts were usually discussed in terms of generational gaps or developing loss or maintenance of direct cultural ties. A particularly significant source of fragmentation is language, as I addressed in an earlier blog post, but other areas that could contribute include location of birth and current residence (which tie into language), occupation, family, urban and suburban development, technological advancement. The list goes on and on, as with any group of people, as we exist simultaneously within communities and as individuals. We navigate this balance in our ambitions throughout life. With ever-increasing opportunity, those ambitions can become far greater, thus enabling greater possibilities for distance. The relationship between individuality and community constantly changes, and the navigation of such a relationship and its changes exists both individually and communally.
Most of the speakers this week touched on this navigation in some sense, whether historically or in the context of the present situation. What it means to be O’odham and what it means to be a member of the O’odham community comes to be defined and redefined individually and generationally. Any changes in this identity on an individual or group level can be particularly terrifying for others within the identity, as they may feel that their particular community is collapsing around them if suddenly it does not mirror the same practices and beliefs. These fears and worries become apparent when community members encourage the repetition of the same patterns of life, the replication of old customs, behaviors, and beliefs, in order to maintain the life of the community among present and future generations. This tension between change and replication has existed universally throughout time as a critical element of culture. It is a matter of not just culture in the static but culture in fluid practice as well.
Nevertheless, even though this type of navigation is inherent to the communal human experience, it does not make it any easier. The O’odham have passed through periods that tested their own definition of their identity, through the separation in beliefs regarding the homes of creator I’itoi or through the imperialist influence of the Spanish conquistadors or of Father Kino. These influences had impacts on the O’odham identity in multifaceted ways, both enforcing and solidifying their beliefs and practices and introducing new elements. Current influences should theoretically have similar impacts; however, it is important to note that identity definition and redefinition are not merely passive acts. The actions by the O’odham individuals that we met with this week, in which they actively pass down and reactivate cultural elements such as language, customs, practices, and beliefs, represent aspects of natural and continued identity definition and redefinition in the navigation of the balances between individual and community, tradition and change, fragmentation and continuity.