Saturday, April 8, 2017

National Park Service: Chip Littlefield

Littlefield’s perspective was interesting because he was not originally from the area and is a non-native. He has worked hard to understand the Tohono O’odham culture, but he has learned that it is impossible to generalize or to categorize entire tribes. Instead, he discovered that building face-to-face relationships and showing respect for tribal members was very important. He mentioned that the Saguaro National Park is on ancestral O’odham lands and that the park works to ensure that the O’odham still have access.

One tribe member had mentioned that when he came to the park to pick cholla buds, he struggled to attain permission from the park service employees who did not understand the historic relationship between the park and the tribe and/or the fact that one could actually eat cholla buds in the first place. Littlefield was unfamiliar with the specific case but did mention that one way of building trust with the tribe was to recruit tribal members to intern or work for the park service. One of his staff members is O’odham; however, he cited transportation issues between the park and the reservation as a significant barrier to recruiting more tribe members.

Littlefield spoke of certain personal struggles and changes he experienced in himself as he learned more about the O’odham culture. He recounted an experience in which he was presenting to O’odham middle schoolers and did not realize the sacred aspect of a tortoise shell, which he encouraged the children to handle. He also remembered presenting to a group of elementary school children on the reservation and mispronouncing the name of the O’odham ancestral tribe as Hohokam, when the O’odham pronunciation referring specifically to the people is closer to Huhugam. Littlefield mentioned that he takes special effort not to step on saguaro that have fallen or to in any way disrespect the landscape. However, he acknowledged certain difficulties, remembering a time when one of the park employees was bitten by a snake because she was trying to step over a cactus. Overall, Littlefield was eager to increase tribal access to the park and to preserve the land, though he was admittedly skeptical of the current administration’s likely stance on preservation and on the future of national parks in the current political climate. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Kristin for these reflections and details from our conversation with Chip.