Saturday, October 11, 2014

My memories of the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation

I have long admired the Native American community. In college, I took a literature class and an ethnic class which focused on the amazing people. I have a family legend which says that I have Native American blood on both my paternal and maternal sides (I’m still looking for proof). The family stories of my connection to the Native American people helped fuel my desire to know the different cultures and understand their way of life.

When I took the ethnic studies course, my professor organized a weekend field trip to the Tohono O’odham Reservation in southern Arizona. The Tohono O’odham people are the second largest in the nation and were called the Papago Indians by European settlers (it means “bean eaters”) and it is a name which they have rejected and I can understand why. The experience I had on the reservation has stayed with me all these years and what struck me the most is the story of the Man in the Maze.

The Man in the Maze is a symbol of life, happiness and sadness. It represents a person’s journey through life. The twists and turns are the choices in life. With each turn, a person gains more understanding and strength. When a person reaches the middle of the maze, he or she has reach his or her goal/dream. The figure in the picture represents I’itoi, the mischievous creator god who resides in a cave below the peak of Baboquivari.

The above picture is one I took of Baboquivari. Out of respect of the Tohono O’odham people, we stayed a distance away as the site is sacred to them. I recently discovered that the Tohono O’odham is fighting to preserve the mountain as a sacred site because the mountain has become a favorite for hikers and rock climbers and many of these individuals do not respect the mountain for what it is and have defaced the mountain. It saddens me to see a sacred site treated with such disrespect. How would you feel when something you hold dear was mistreated by those who do not know or do not care? I'm sure you'd be furious. 

I suppose what I admire most about the Native Americans is their respect for nature and all living things. They see life in a way that so many have forgotten or simply do not care. I know that some Native Americans may look at me, a white woman, and wonder why does she care? I don’t know if I can really explain it. I just feel a connection and a desire to understand. I know that history has darken the relationship between Native Americans and the rest of the country. My hope is that I can learn and then teach my children all the voices of American history, starting with the Native Americans.