Monday, April 10, 2017

The Wildlife in Tohono O'odham Nation

One thing became abundantly clear to me through this class. To the Tohono O'odham Nation, almost everything in the desert is sacred. Every fruit, shrub bush, rock, tortoise, coyote, javelina, and cactus carries significant value to the Tohono O'odham. They have electrified every patch of their home with immense cultural significance. Every vista is a religious experience and every action is an act of worship. But as I scanned through my little field guide on wildlife in southern Arizona, I found my self tremendously sad. Some of the inhabitants, who made this desert so significant for some many were gone. Cougars and Mexican gray wolves, who used to roam the mountains, had not been seen here for some time. Several species of birds were gone too. In their places, the only animals which carry no cultural signicacne to the Tohono O'odham were in abundance, horses and cows.

Another thing, which became abundantly clear to me through this class, is that the land is changing, changing irrevocably. What happens when a population, whose entire culture centers on their land, loses their land forever? This is worse than displacement. Displacement could be reversed, the land is still there. The Tohono O'odham face the the possibility of their land being changed into something else entirely. It is unfortunate really, Arizona sits in the middle of a huge chunk of land which is liable to morph into something new. As the earth's climate warms, the Sonoran desert specifically will receive significantly more rainfall. New species of flora and fauna will begin to thrive in the area, and the desert, with its unbelievable beauty and importance will be lost. Additionally, human intervention has and will, most likely, continue to introduce invasive species into the area which further alter the desert. Buffelgrass already threatens so much of the equilibrium of the desert. It takes everything the National Parks Service can do to keep the species off of the Saguaro National Park. Furthermore, continued sprawl from Tuscon and other population centers (its cheaper to build out than it is to build up) will continue to shrink and separate ecosystems. Species like the mountain lion and gray wolf, most likely, aren't coming back to the area, and more species will continue to be lost. Tortoises and Saguaros will continue to be killed by immigrants, and, if something isn't done, the Tohono O'odham people will lose everything, because to them the land is everything.

On Tepary Bean Production

I found myself quite impressed by Pepe's presentation on Tepary Beans. So much of what we have discussed in this class values more traditional approaches above all else. In fact, nearly every class mentioned the advantages for the Tohono O'odham people in utilizing traditional practices. Our class trip even hit many of the highlights and nearly every individual associated with the tribe (and some individuals not associated with the tribe) emphasized the necessity to move toward more traditional techniques in many sections of Tohono O'odham culture. But Pepe's presentation highlight a specific advantage of modern techniques, a relatively new dialogue regarding Tohono O'odham Nation.

Albiet, increased Tepary Bean production, no matter how the tepary beans are farmed, allows for a greater traditional presence among the Tohono O'odham. But, as Pepe showed, modern techniques could be more advantageous for the Tohono O'odham regarding scaled up production of Tepary Beans. As Pepe showed, initially the cultural benefits of traditional Tepary Bean production outweigh the additional profit gained from more modern farming techniques. But as bean production scales up (and it would need to scale up significantly to make a profound difference to the O'odham people) the efficiency of modern farming practices becomes the most advantageous route. It is unclear where this intersection point occurs, and if Tohono O'odham Nation could support a sufficiently large Tepary Bean yield to justify modern practices. But my intuition is that the intersection point would be reached within the scope of Tepary Bean production in Tohono O'odham Nation. Here a modern technique, able to more efficiently offer the health and cultural benefits of Tepary Beans to the Tohono O'odham population, appears to be the best best route to take. Instead of simply valuing everything traditional over everything modern, the tribe members of Tohono O'odham Nation can see powerful, positive effects on their culture through a path between traditional and modern practices.

Borderlands literature and Capabilities

I had not heard of borderlands literature before Mary Kate's presentation, so the idea was new to me. As I understood it, borderlands literature discusses a culture which tends to be prevalent on borders, whether they be geographical, psychological, or emotional. The genre first appeared on the U.S., Mexico border but appears to be applicable to all types of borders throughout the nation. Mary Kate concluded that the O'odham experience carries similarities to a borderlands experience, but their culture should not be viewed through this lens. She finished her presentation by stating "if you only focus on this (meaning the borderlands experience), you lose important parts of the O'odham experience." I agree with this analysis. From what I can gather, the mindset of the O'odham people is influenced by their proximity to the U.S., Mexico border, but they are not defined by the border. Jumping from Mary Kate's presentation, I began to understand yet another possible negative consequence of the border to the O'odham people.

There is a danger of cultural marginalization here. If the O'odham culture, the mindset of the tribespeople, and the requests they make are viewed as the result of their proximity to the border, you lose the weight and importance of thousands of years of heritage. It might seem that borderlands literature is not part of the mainstream dialogue, and, therefore, this culture marginalization is not a pressing concern. But I think, even without a knowledge of borderlands literature, many pundits use many of the concepts presented within the literature. The idea of border towns, literally entire communities defined by their proximity to the border, shows how our mainstream dialogue defines areas and individuals. Additionally, if we accept a borderlands culture as a given in areas near a border, then we may accept much of the crime and poverty that is common on some borders as a given. It is clear that viewing the Tohono O'odham as a borderlands culture carries negative consequences.

The negative consequences are all part of the unjust structure of our border. Martha Nussbaum defines minimum social justice through 10 central capabilities. The U.S., Mexico border is a clear violation of Nussbaum's 3rd central capability: bodily integrity. To summarize, bodily integrity means that individuals are entitled to move freely from place to place and not be assaulted. Because so many Tohono O'odham do not have passport and because the San Miguel gate has been closed for some time, the tribe members are cut off from access to half of their ancestral lands. It is unjust for a political border to restrict individuals of their freedom to move from place to place, especially to move from place to place in the lands of their heritage. As a result of this unjust situation, the Tohono O'odham see many negative consequences, including cultural marginalization.

Infant Mortality and Midwives

As many of you learned in my presentation, I wrote my final research paper on infant mortality in Tohono O'odham Nation. I concluded that the most compelling explanation for the high infant mortality rate of Tohono O'odham Nation is the prevalence of diabetes on the reservation. This remains a sound conclusion, but other information, which I have since gathered, could shed additional light on the problem.

In an entirely different class, my final research project analyzed the relation between infant health and proximity to various medical facilities in Ghana. As I established in my research paper, Tohono O'odham Nation actually shares many characteristics with underdeveloped countries such as Ghana. In my research project, I did not find a significant correlation between infant health in Ghana and proximity to hospitals, nurses, clinics, or maternity homes. But I did find that infant health is positively correlated with proximity to a midwife at the 1% level. In fact, proximity to a midwife was the single largest predictor of infant health outcomes included in our regression. Therefore, it follows that midwives could have the same positive affects on infant health outcomes in Tohono O'odham Nation.

If the tribal government pushes for more individuals to work as midwives on the reservation. They could also be investing in a solution which aligns closely with traditional tribal values. The midwives of Ghana, which were so effective, often did not use advanced medical technology and methods to safely care for and deliver infants. Instead, these midwives relied on traditional methods and many generations of accumulated information regarding child birth. It is likely that Tohono O'odham culture carries a similar knowledge of child birth and prenatal care. As we've discussed in this class, traditional routes of solving problems in native american nations are often times the most effective long term. My two recommendations for addressing infant mortalities both involve more traditional methods. First, as I discussed in my paper, confronting the type II diabetes epidemic in Tohono O'odham Nation is key. This can be done by movement toward a more traditional diet for Tohono O'odham tribal members as we have discussed in this class. Second, prenatal and infant care can be improved through traditional methods with midwives.

We have even seen midwives have similar success in the U.S.. I'll link a couple of articles here:

Shadow Wolves Tracking Skills

            The skills used by the Shadow Wolves seem unbelievable, even verging on magical, to outsiders, yet to them it is a way of life.  The way they make their job look easy is by constant practice.  Further, training to be a Shadow Wolf is not like ICE or CBP training where an individual goes off to a month of training.  Rather, it is the team working together, constantly improving their own skills and learning off each other, like a wolf pack.  While the requirement of being 1/4th Native American to join the program may draw some people to the conclusion that the native peoples are naturally better at tracking than a non-native, rather some Native Americans have far more practice having begun tracking game for food, and hunting down stray free range cattle .  Sioux Indian John Bothof explains that “Just because you’re Native American, you don’t always have inherent tracking skills…Over time, anybody can be taught the basics, but it takes on-going practice to keep the edge and retain what it takes to be a success” .
            The process that the Shadow Wolves use, called cutting for sign, may be old fashioned, but in the dessert climate it has its advantages, “Part of what makes the Shadow Wolves so indispensable here has to do with the region's deadly heat, which debilitates things like infrared sensors and smart-nosed dogs. And part of it has to do with the region's far-flung geography, which discourages the sort of fixed towers and manned gates” .  Still their ancient skills are what enables them to excel in any environment. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Extended Family

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 54% of all children aged 0-5 on Tohono O'odham land are living with extended family as their primary caretakers. This means that no parents of the child are present in the home, and the primary caretaker (usually grandparents) are in full responsibility. Only 44% of TO children 0-5 are living in a household with at least one parent as the primary caretaker. This can be compared to the total Indian rates in Arizona of 46% living with extended family and 53% with parents.

Single homes occupied by more than immediate family are incredibly common in Indian communities. This traditional incorporation of all members of the family has been said to help maintain culture, especially relative to story-telling. However, if parents are not the primary caretakers, how can that be related to that actual environment these children are being raised in? It's one thing if grandparents are voluntarily taking kids in for better housing and care (it's often the case that the demands of the parents' work requires additional supervision). But by this metric, 54% of all TO children are not  living with either parent, meaning all responsibilities of child upbringing rely on extended family. This is not an attempt at cultural preservation, but it is often "due to the parent’s  death,  physical  or  mental  illness,  substance   abuse,  incarceration,  unemployment  or  underemployment  or  because  of  domestic  violence  or   child  neglect  in  the  family." The link to the report is:

Declining Population

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Tohono O'odham population with residency on Indian reservations dropped by 5%. Comparatively, reservation resident populations dropped 1% throughout Arizona, while the total population of Arizona grew by 25% over that same period. Furthermore, rural districts of all Tohono O'odham lands were the ones seeing growth while historical population centers on TO reservation lands have been experiencing the brunt of the emigration (nominally as well as relative rates). Considering the incredible influx of non-Indian residents into the state of Arizona, I wonder how government aid programs will respond to the per capita demands of non-Indian vs. Indian need. For example, what changes will have to be made to Arizona's funding of medical programs? If they don't distinguish between demographics, will that cause the overall per-capita budget for healthcare funding to drop? What if they do distinguish? Would subjective overhaul of medical programs lead to issues like type II diabetes receiving less coverage? What effect would the high rate of alcoholism play within the reservation?

I doubt healthcare funding would take any approach that bases per-capita funding strictly on income or some form of economic importance. However, I don't think it would be absurd for healthcare programs to begin restricting funding for preventable health issues (you know, like type II diabetes, alcoholism...). The largest issue is that these preventable healthcare issues, which will likely see budget cuts with the aging population (baby-boomers), are a predominant outcome of poverty. Therefore, to what degree would the TO see healthcare costs increase for issues inherently related to their poverty? It may seem wrong to subjectively cut funding for issues related to poverty, but I doubt many think the man with the bar room tan should get a state-funded liver transplant either.

Waila Music

            While eating lunch with Angelo Joaquin at the Desert Rain Café I asked him about the origins of Waila music. This style of dance music created by the Tohono O’odham is a unique style of polka featuring horns, bass, guitar, and drums. Angelo said Waila is a blend of three different cultures. Underlying it all is the traditional Tohono O’odham folk dances and rhythms. These traditional forms blended with Spanish music when missionaries like Father Kino introduced the O’odham to horns and stringed instruments. Waila truly developed into its current style in the mid 19th century when the O’odham were introduced to the polkas and mazurkas of German immigrants. Drum sets and electric guitars were introduced in the mid 20th century and helped shape Waila into the form we recognize today.

            The way Waila combines a multitude of cultures well represents the history of the Tohono O’odham’s interactions with different groups. In our studies we often focused on the negative outcomes of these interactions but Waila is different. Instead of showing the domination of one group or culture over another Waila represents a true melting of cultures into something that can be enjoyed by all. Waila thus serves as something that reminds Americans, Europeans, Mexicans, and Tohono O’odham of our similarities rather than our differences.

Saturday, April 8, 2017


Watching Bad Sugar in class and reflecting on the diabetes epidemic was particularly sobering since diabetes- related conditions account for 19.5 percent of Pima deaths (“Reducing Diabetes in Indian Country: Lessons from the Three Domains Influencing Pima Diabetes” by Carolyn Smith-Morris). The complex interplay between genetics, political-economic, and cultural domains make a simple solution seem unlikely if not impossible. However, certain considerations such as cultural sensitivity, political-economic transformation, financially stable and sustainable models of care that reflect community values and promote access, along with community participation and buy in are helpful considerations. The fact that the tribe is now running the health clinic may be a step in the right direction despite setbacks and administrative difficulties. Admittedly, health considerations and treatment tend to be palliative rather than preventative. The most sustainable solutions may be lifestyle changes involving diet and exercise. Unfortunately, due to the high poverty rate on the reservation and food desert situation that may be difficult to change. Of course, Bash’s cannot suddenly begin to stock healthy food if that food is unlikely to sell due to cost and cultural changes which now prioritize fry breads and certain junk foods over traditional O’odham staples. In addition, with farming no longer being a primary activity for the O’odham, exercise levels have decreased further contributing to obesity and the onset of diabetes.

Nonprofits such as Tohono O’odham Community Action are working to address multiple food-related issues on the reservation to “create a healthy, culturally vital and sustainable community” (TOCA Website). TOCA runs the Desert Rain Café, which serves some traditional and healthier foods while the TOCA store sells tepary beans and other ingredients.  TOCA also works to preserve the history and cultural knowledge of the tribe by promoting the work of local artists. According to their Facebook page, they even hosted an oral storytelling event earlier this year. These types of grassroots efforts by and for tribal members might be the most sustainable solution yet to reducing the diabetes epidemic among the O’odham. 

The Ocean and O’odham Salt Pilgrimage

In Joe Joaquin’s interview (Markowitz 2000) about the Tohono O’odham Salt Pilgrimage he said, “The salt was always a part of us. We needed the salt in order to sweat. When you eat salt, you sweat. This made it good for the health also.” Joaquin asserted the importance of salt to the health of the O’odham people, and he reaffirmed the O’odham idea of being intimately connected to their food, which was a part of them. He mentioned that it was a place where a young person would “come here to obtain a vision from the sea. As I was saying about the sea, everything is about the ocean. So they would come with that in mind to request to the sea for some kind of a vision that would be beneficial to him and his people back home…” The desire for a vision was both a personal quest and desire to learn how one might use one’s life, and a community mission so that one could help one’s people.

 Joaquin emphasized the necessity of coming “with a clear mind, clear conscious as to what you want to achieve by this trip.” This imperative mirrors the mindset with which one must go to other revelatory places such as I’itoi’s cave on Baboquivari, where one must go without negative thoughts but with reverence and respect. One also takes offerings to I’itoi’s cave just as offerings were taken to the ocean (Bernard Siqueiros).

The journey was three days, but was a “journey of endurance” (Joe Joaquin). The travelers had to “always sleep with their heads toward the direction of the ocean and must not spill a drop of water from their canteens or they would be punished by floods. Pilgrims were not allowed to talk while on the road” (“History of the Puerto Penasco Area” by Andrea Addison-Sorey). This type of fortitude reflected a cultural value of perseverance and strength, like that explained by Sterling Johnson when he described his experience working for two days straight in the 115-degree heat. Although the Salt Pilgrimage may not still be practiced, the traditional value of endurance remains.

From a personal standpoint, it was interesting visiting the biosphere, recognizing its vastness and imagining what it must have felt like to be walking through that terrain barefoot and in a straight line around giant craters. Then, of course, one could imagine arriving at the sea and seeing it for the first time to request a vision to help the community after days of difficult walking. Somehow being in that space, particularly the biosphere, helped me better understand the juxtaposition of different landscapes with which travelers would have been confronted. 

San Xavier, an old church everyone seems to love

San Xavier, the place we gotta go, was established by none other than Father Kino.  Named after the founder of the Jesuits—Father Kino’s order—the mission was one of the first European settlements in the West.  The current mission church there is the oldest European architecture and structure in Arizona.  While originally founded in 1692, the original church was burned in an Apache raid in 1770, with the current structure being built in 1784.  The White Dove of the Desert, as the church is nicknamed, is held in high esteem by both locals and the Tohono O’odham population.  The first person I spoke to in Arizona suggested that the first place we go should be San Xavier, and most people after had a similar sentiment.  However, while very old and beautiful, there are far better things to see in Arizona in my opinion. 

What the Mission does have is a link to the first Christian missionaries in the area.  In the 1820s, the Mexican government kicked all Spanish Priests out.  It was then abandoned until 1859, after the US acquired the area in the 1857 Arizona purchase.  Today, after faulty repairs damaged it in the 1980s, the church is maintained using traditional mortar made out of Prickly Pear Cacti. 

Used as a source