The Tohono O’odham Cultural Center and Museum features a large exhibit on Tohono O’odham who have served in the armed forces. From the exhibit it appears that Tohono O’odham have fought in nearly all the conflicts of the 20th and 21st Century’s. This phenomenon strikes me as odd considering how poorly tribal have been treated historically by federal government. Why would a people who have been so mistreated by the U.S. government continue to sign up to fight in our wars?
Our talk with Joe Joaquin offered an interesting answer to this question. Joaquin, a veteran of Korea and Vietnam, said, “I didn’t fight for your country I fought for mine.” Joaquin’s attitude towards his military service shows the complex relationship between the tribe and the United States. Although the Tohono O’odham see themselves as a proud and independent sovereign nation they also keenly understand that they are still a part of the United States. When the United States is threatened they believe that their lands are in danger as much as any other part of the country. In this way wars have strangely bonded the Tohono O’odham and the rest of the country. In a conversation I had with Joe he mentioned that he had six tours of duty in Vietnam. This staggering sacrifice on Joe’s part shows how dedicated members of the tribe are to protecting their homeland. It’s interesting though that they consider this homeland to be in danger whenever any part of the United States is threatened.