When we talked with Sterling at the dry land farm in Ajo one thing that struck me was his reticence to speak to just anyone about Tohono O’odham culture. He said, “I am not a dog and pony show.” Therefore when he told us the story of the saguaro it felt special that he was willing to share with us. Sterling’s attitude towards outsiders shows the difficult balance the Tohono O’odham must maintain between guarding and sharing culture. On one hand it is important for outsiders to understand the Tohono O’odham way of life but at the same time it is important for them to keep certain aspects of their culture within the tribe.
From the short time I spent on the reservation I think the Tohono O’odham have done an excellent job of finding a balance between sharing and guarding culture. The museum in Topawa gives visitors an excellent view of Tohono O’odham traditions and culture without being showy or gimmicky. Similarly, all the tribal members we talked to were very willing to discuss important issues on the reservation but never attempted to “entertain” us with a show of culture and tradition. When culture becomes used primarily for entertainment value it loses a lot of what makes it meaningful to the people who created it. I believe the Tohono O’odham have done a great job of making sure their culture hasn’t become a “dog and pony show” and that it can be passed on to future generations.