Tohono Oʼodham

The Tohono O'odham (/tˈhɑːnə ˈɑːtʊm/ or /tɑːˈhnə ˈɑːtəm/)[2] are a Native American people of the Sonoran Desert, residing primarily in the U.S. state of Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora. Tohono O'odham means "Desert People". The federally recognized tribe is known as the Tohono O'odham Nation.

Tohono Oʼodham
Joe Lewis, Tohono Oʼodham, 1907 or earlier, Smithsonian Institution
Total population
Regions with significant populations
United States (Arizona)
Mexico (Sonora)
Oʼodham, English, Spanish
Catholic, Protestant, Traditional
Related ethnic groups
Other Piman peoples

The Tohono O'odham tribal governmen and most of the people have rejected the customary English name Papago, used by Europeans after being adopted by Spanish conquistadores from hearing other Piman bands call them this. The Pima were competitors and referred to the people as Ba꞉bawĭkoʼa, meaning "eating tepary beans". That word was pronounced papago by the Spanish and adopted by later English speakers.

The Tohono O'odham Nation, or Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation, is a major reservation located in southern Arizona, encompassing portions of Pima County, Pinal County, and Maricopa County.


The Tohono O'odham share linguistic and cultural roots with the closely related Akimel O'odham (People of the River), whose lands lie just south of present-day Phoenix, along the lower Gila River. The Sobaipuri are ancestors to both the Tohono Oʼodham and the Akimel Oʼodham, and they resided along the major rivers of southern Arizona. Ancient pictographs adorn a rock wall that juts up out of the desert near the Baboquivari Mountains.

Debates surround the origins of the Oʼodham. Claims that the Oʼodham moved north as recently as 300 years ago compete with claims that the Hohokam, who left the Casa Grande Ruins, are their ancestors. Recent research on the Sobaipuri, the ancestors of the Wa:k Oʼodham, shows that they were present in sizable numbers in the southern Arizona river valleys in the thirteenth through nineteenth centuries.

In the Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library are materials collected by a Franciscan friar who worked among the Tohono Oʼodham. These include scholarly volumes and monographs.[3] The Office of Ethnohistorical Research, located at the Arizona State Museum on the campus of the University of Arizona, has undertaken a documentary history of the Oʼodham, offering translated colonial documents that discuss Spanish relations with the Oʼodham in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.[4]

Historically, the O'odham-speaking peoples were at odds with the nomadic Apache from the late seventeenth until the beginning of the twentieth centuries. The O'odham were a settled agricultural people who raised crops. According to their history, the Apache would raid when they ran short on food, or hunting was bad. Conflict with European settlers encroaching on their lands resulted in the O'odham and the Apache finding common interests. The O'odham word for the Apache 'enemy' is ob. The relationship between the O'odham and Apache was especially strained after 92 O'odham joined the Mexicans and Anglo-Americans and killed close to 144 Apaches during the Camp Grant massacre in 1871. All but eight of the dead were women and children; 29 children were captured and sold into slavery in Mexico by the Oʼodham.

Considerable evidence suggests that the Oʼodham and Apache were friendly and engaged in exchange of goods and marriage partners before the late seventeenth century. Oʼodham oral history, however, suggests that intermarriages resulted from raiding between the two tribes. It was typical for women and children to be taken captive in raids, to be used as slaves by the victors. Often women married into the tribe in which they were held captive and assimilated under duress. Both tribes thus incorporated "enemies" and their children into their cultures.

Oʼodham musical and dance activities lack "grand ritual paraphernalia that call for attention" and grand ceremonies such as pow-wows. Instead, they wear muted white clay. O'odham songs are accompanied by hard wood rasps and drumming on overturned baskets, both of which lack resonance and are "swallowed by the desert floor". Dancing features skipping and shuffling quietly in bare feet on dry dirt, the dust raised being believed to rise to atmosphere and assist in forming rain clouds.[5]

The original O'odham diet consisted of regionally available wild game, insects, and plants. Through foraging, Oʼodham ate a variety of regional plants, such as: ironwood seed, honey mesquite, hog potato, and organ-pipe cactus fruit. While the Southwestern United States did not have an ideal climate for cultivating crops, Oʼodham cultivated crops of white tepary beans, papago peas, and Spanish watermelons. They hunted pronghorn antelope, gathered hornworm larvae, and trapped pack rats for sources of meat. Preparation of foods included steaming plants in pits and roasting meat on an open fire.[6]

Ak cin, known as "mouth of the wash," refers to the farming method in which farmers would monitor the weather for signs of storm cloud formations. The appearance of storm clouds signified that there was going to be a downpour of rain. Farmers would anticipate these moments and quickly prep their plantations for seeding as the rain began to flood their lands. This type of agriculture was most commonly used during summer monsoons.[7]

Traditional tribal foods were a combination of goods provided by nature and items they self-cultivated. From nature, the Tohono O'odham would consume rabbit, sap and flour from mesquite trees (flour was made by crushing the pods of the trees), cholla cactus, and acorns. On the agricultural side of their diet, farmers focused on corn, squash, and tepary beans.[7]

The San Xavier District is the location of a major tourist attraction near Tucson, Mission San Xavier del Bac, the "White Dove of the Desert", founded in 1700 by the Jesuit missionary and explorer Eusebio Kino. Both the first and current church building were constructed by the Sobaipuri O'odham. The second building was constructed also by Franciscan priests during a period extending from 1783 to 1797. The oldest European building in the current Arizona, it is considered a premier example of Spanish colonial design. It is one of many missions built in the southwest by the Spanish on their then-northern frontier.

The beauty of the mission often leads tourists to assume that the desert people had embraced the Catholicism of the Spanish conquistadors. Tohono O'odham villages resisted change for hundreds of years. During the 1660s and in 1750s, two major rebellions rivaled in scale the 1680 Pueblo Rebellion. Their armed resistance prevented the Spanish from increasing their incursions into the lands of Pimería Alta. The Spanish retreated to what they called Pimería Baja. As a result, the desert people preserved their traditions largely intact for generations.

It was not until more numerous Americans of Anglo-European ancestry began moving into the Arizona territory that the outsiders began to oppress the people's traditional ways. Unlike many tribes in the United States, the Tohono Oʼodham never signed a treaty with the Federal Government, but the Oʼodham experienced challenges common to other nations.[8]:163 As Oʼodham lands opened under the Dawes Act of 1888, Presbyterians built schools and missions and vied with Catholics and Mormons for the souls of the Oʼodham.[9]:20–21 Major farmers established the cotton industry, initially employing many Oʼodham as agricultural workers. Under the U.S. federal Indian policy of the late 19th century, the government required native children to attend Indian boarding schools, where they were forced to use English, practice Christianity, and give up much of their culture in an attempt to promote assimilation into the American mainstream.

The structure of the current tribal government, established in the 1930s, reflects years of commercial, missionary, and federal intervention. The goal was to make the Indians into "real" Americans, yet the boarding schools offered training only for low-level domestic and agricultural labor.[10] "Assimilation" was the official policy, but full participation was not the goal. Boarding school students were supposed to function within the then-segregated society of the United States as economic laborers, not leaders.[11]

The Tohono Oʼodham have retained many traditions into the twenty-first century, and still speak their language. Since the late 20th century, however, U.S. mass culture has penetrated and in some cases eroded Oʼodham traditions as their children adopt new trends in technology and other practices.


Beginning in the 1960s, government intervention in the tribe's agricultural cultivation caused the Tohono O'odham tribe members to shift from a traditional plant-based diet to one that favored foods high in fat and calories. The government began to close off the tribe's water source, preventing the Indigenous group from being able to produce traditional crops.[12]:41-45[13] This resulted in the widespread trend of type 2 diabetes among members of the tribe. The adaptation of a processed food diet caused the presence of type 2 diabetes to rise at alarming rates, with nearly 60 percent of the adult population in the tribe facing this disease[7] and 75 percent of children expected to contract this disease in their lifetime.[14] Children are also at risk for childhood obesity.[15]

Many of the original crops that the Indigenous group produced, such as tepary beans, squash, and the buds of cholla cactus, were items that could have aided in combating the diabetes crisis within the community. These foods possessed nutrients that would have helped monitor blood sugar and minimize the impact of diabetes. However, as a result of government intervention, many of these traditional foods were lost. A local nonprofit, Tohono Oʼodham Community Action (TOCA), has built a set of food systems programs that contribute to public health, cultural revitalization, and economic development.[13] It has started a cafe that serves traditional foods.[16]

The Tohono O'odham community has made efforts to combat future issues by attempting to rehabilitate the systems the tribe had in place before government intervention. The Indigenous group has been advocating for the restoration of their water privileges so that they will be able to effectively produce traditional crops for the tribe. Moreover, even in tribal schools, such as those in the local Baboquivari Unified School District, the quality of lunch programs are being reassessed in order to bring a larger emphasis of the need for healthier food options.[15]

The Tohono O'odham Nation is one of the only Indigenous groups to offer tribal members access to medical treatment in the United States. Requirements for this enrollment include being a Mexican citizen and a member of the Tohono O'odham tribe. As advocacy for the border wall continues to grow, inspections and securities along these boundaries have heightened, limiting tribal members' access to resources beyond the border.[17]

Cultural Revitalization

The cultural resources of the Tohono Oʼodham are threatened—particularly the language—but are stronger than those of many other aboriginal groups in the United States.

Every February the Nation holds the annual Sells Rodeo and Parade in its capital. Sells District rodeo has been an annual event since being founded in 1938. It celebrates traditional frontier skills of riding and managing cattle.

In the visual arts, Michael Chiago and the late Leonard Chana have gained widespread recognition for their paintings and drawings of traditional Oʼodham activities and scenes. Chiago has exhibited at the Heard Museum and has contributed cover art to Arizona Highways magazine and University of Arizona Press books. Chana illustrated books by Tucson writer Byrd Baylor and created murals for Tohono Oʼodham Nation buildings.

In 2004, the Heard Museum awarded Danny Lopez its first heritage award, recognizing his lifelong work sustaining the desert people's way of life.[18] At the National Museum for the American Indian (NMAI), the Tohono O'odham were represented in the founding exhibition and Lopez blessed the exhibit.

Tucson Indian School

The Tohono O'odham children were required to attend Indian boarding schools, designed to teach them the English language and assimilate them to the mainstream European-American ways. According to historian David Leighton, of the Arizona Daily Star newspaper, the Tohono O'odham attended the Tucson Indian School. This boarding school was founded in 1886, when T.C. Kirkwood, superintendent of the Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church, asked the Tucson Common Council for land near where the University of Arizona would be built. The Common Council granted the Board of Home Missions a 99-year lease on land at $1 a year. The Board purchased 42 acres of land on the Santa Cruz River, from early pioneer Sam Hughes.

The new facility opened in 1888, with 54 boys and girls. At the new semi-religious boarding school, boys learned rural trades like carpentry and farming, while girls were taught sewing and similar domestic skills of the period. In 1890, additional buildings were completed but the school was still too small for the demand, and students had to be turned away. To raise funds for the school and support its expansion, its superintendent entered into a contract with the city of Tucson to grade and maintain streets.

In 1903, Jose Xavier Pablo, who later went on to become a leader in the Tohono O'odham Nation, graduated from the school. Three years later, the school bought the land they were leasing from the city of Tucson and sold it as a significant profit. In 1907, they purchased land just east of the Santa Cruz River, near present-day Ajo Way and built a new school. The new boarding school opened in 1908; it has a separate post office, known as the Escuela Post Office. Sometimes this name was used in place of the Tucson Indian School.

By the mid-1930s, the Tucson Indian School covered 160 acres, had 9 buildings and a capacity of educating 130 students. In 1940, about 18 different tribes made up the population of students at the school. With changing ideas about education of tribal children, the federal government began to support education where the children lived with their families. In 1960 the school closed its doors. The site was developed as Santa Cruz Plaza, just southwest of Pueblo Magnet High School.[19]

Tohono O'odham Nation

The Tohono O'odham Nation within the United States occupies a reservation that incorporates a portion of its people's original Sonoran desert lands. It is organized into eleven districts. The land lies in three counties of the present-day state of Arizona: Pima, Pinal, and Maricopa. The reservation's land area is 11,534.012 square kilometres (4,453.307 sq mi), the third-largest Indian reservation area in the United States (after the Navajo Nation and the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation). The 2000 census reported 10,787 people living on reservation land. The tribe's enrollment office tallies a population of 25,000, with 20,000 living on its Arizonan reservation lands.


The nation is governed by a tribal council and chairperson, who are elected by eligible adult members of the nation. According to their constitution, elections are conducted under a complex formula intended to ensure that the rights of small Oʼodham communities are protected, as well as the interests of the larger communities and families. The present chairman is Ned Norris Jr..


Like other tribes, the Tohono Oʼodham felt land pressures from "Anglo" ranchers, settlers, and the railroads. Documentation was poor, and many members did not leave their lands in a written will.[8]:92-3 John F. Trudell, a US attorney general assistant recorded an Oʼodham man declaring "I do not know anything about a land grant. The Mexicans never had any land to give us. From the earliest times our fathers have owned land which was given to them by the Earth's prophet."[9]:30 Because the Oʼodham lived on public lands or had no documentation of ownership, their holdings were threatened by white cattle herders in the 1880s.[8] However, they used their history of cooperation with the government in the Apache Wars to bargain for land rights.[9]:27-28 Today, O'odham lands are made up of multiple reservations:

  • The main reservation, Tohono Oʼodham Indian Reservation, which lies in central Pima, southwestern Pinal, and southeastern Maricopa counties, and has a land area of 11,243.098 square kilometres (4,340.984 sq mi) and a 2000 census population of 8,376 persons. The land area is 97.48 percent of the reservation's total, and the population is 77.65 percent of the total of the entire reservation lands.
  • The San Xavier Reservation, at 32°03′00″N 111°05′02″W, is located in Pima County, in the southwestern part of the Tucson metropolitan area. It has a land area of 288.895 square kilometres (111.543 sq mi) and a resident population of 2,053 persons.
  • The San Lucy District comprises seven small non-contiguous parcels of land in, and northwest of, the town of Gila Bend in southwestern Maricopa County. Their total land area is 1.915 square kilometres (473 acres), with a total population of 304 persons.
  • The Florence Village District is located just southwest of the town of Florence in central Pinal County. It is a single parcel of land with an area of 0.1045 square kilometres (25.8 acres) and a population of 54 persons.

Tohono O'odham Community Action (TOCA)

The Tohono O'odham Community Action (TOCA) was founded by current CEO and President Terrol Dew Johnson and co-founder Tristan Reader in 1996 on the basis of wanting to restore and re-integrate lost tribal traditions into the community.[12]:41 Located in Sells, Arizona, they originally started as a community garden and offered basketweaving classes.[12]:41[12]:41 Now, the organization has expanded to having its own two farms, restaurant, and art gallery.[15][12]

Another influence to the creation of this organization originates from the fact that the Indigenous tribe was on the brink of collapse as a result of growing dependency on welfare and food stamps. The Tohono O'odham people were facing the lowest per capita income of any Indigenous reservation, with 65 percent of members living below the poverty line and 70 percent facing unemployment. Crime amongst the younger generation rapidly increased as a result of gang activity and the high school drop out rate was over 50 percent. Homicide was prevalent within the community, with the rate being three times the national average.[20]

In 2009, TOCA opened its restaurant, Desert Rain Café.[16] The purpose of the cafe's launch was to bring traditional tribal foods to the community in order to help combat the growing presence of Type 2 diabetes. Thus, the restaurant practices the integration of traditional foods with each menu item containing at least one traditional ingredient, such as mesquite meal, prickly pear, or agave syrup. For crops such as tepary beans or squash, the café utilizes their farms to produce these goods, providing customers with fresh meals. Some of their dishes include a Mesquite Oatmeal Cookie, Short Rib Stew, Brown Tepary bean Quesadilla, or pico de gallo.[16] It has been estimated that the restaurant serves over 100,000 meals yearly.[14]

Basket weaving was a dominant cultural characteristic, being used in rain ceremonies that lasted for four days and nights. These baskets were also purposed for daily use to hold or prepare foods. At the start of the institution, Johnson would hold weekly classes on Wednesday for artisans throughout the reservation. Making a basket could take as long as one year. This prolonged process stems from the fact that the fibers used in these baskets must be harvested and prepared, plus creating a design that represents the history of the Tohono O'odham nation. Materials for baskets vary between grasses native to the area, such as Yucca grass and devil's claw plant, an awl, and knife. [21]

History of Border Issues

Pre-contact to 1900

Prior to colonization, the O'odham migrated along a north-south axis in a "two village" system, rotating between summer and winter settlements.[8] These migrations formed the foundation of their subsistence economies and enabled religious pilgrimages.[22] This pattern continued throughout Apache, Spanish, and American expansion, but shifted with the re-drawing of boundaries that followed the Mexican American War.[9] At the Border of Empires: The Tohono O'odham, Gender, and Assimilation, 1880–1934. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 2013.Unlike aboriginal groups along the U.S.-Canada border, the Tohono Oʼodham were not offered dual citizenship when the US drew a border across their lands in 1853 by the Gadsden Purchase. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo did not specify the rights of the Oʼodham in crossing the international border.[23] The population was split between Mexico and the United States, however, after the treaty the U.S. government guaranteed that the Oʼodham freedom of movement would be protected. For decades, members of the nation continued to move freely across the current international boundary. Throughout this time, tribal members traveled and migrated to work, participate in religious ceremonies, keep medical appointments in Sells, Arizona and visit relatives. The O'odham were deliberate in attending their religious festivals and they would leave their employers for two to four weeks to travel to Magdalena, Sonora. Oʼodham labor was so valued that employers began to drive their O'odham employees to the festivals rather than lose 4–8 days of labor while tribal members traveled the 140–200 miles by wagon.[22]:147–148 The end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th saw a decline in the subsistence economies of the Oʼodham, and after the Bureau of Indian Affairs drilled wells for the Oʼodham, their need for constant migration declined.[8]:96 Despite these changes, the Oʼodham continued to move through the region with their families, working as hired hands on farms, mines, and ranches where work appeared.


The pre-contact legacy and economic lifestyles of the Oʼodham gave them a "transnational identity", but the new borders brought other consequences. Land theft and forced assimilation decreased the numbers of southern Oʼodham and alienated them from their northern counterparts. By 1910, it was estimated that only 1,000 Oʼodham remained in Mexico.[24] The disparities in wealth between the two sides also led to cultural shifts. The traditional practice of lending between Oʼodham decreased as many Arizona Oʼodham felt that those on the Mexican side would not be able to pay loans back. During WWI concerns were raised about the proximity of the Oʼodham to the border, but the U.S. government ignored requests for additional military presence and trans-border smuggling thrived in the 1910s and 1920s.[8]:112 This included liquor, food, and guns. The War Department attempted to halt these illegal activities, but the reporting system on such a wide area of land was slow and ineffective. Ironically, the Oʼodham were accused of participating in the Yaquis' international weapons smuggling.[8]:116 As Mexicans were deported during the Great Depression, the Mexican government gave them Oʼodham tribal lands.[22]:141 Notions of isolation were further intensified during WWII as the U.S. Mexico border was militarized to protect against potential invasions via the Sea of Cortez, and tribal lands in Sonora were privatized to increase government production.[25][26] In 1977 the Los Angeles Times published a scathing article, writing that Mexican O'odham were taking advantage of medical facilities and welfare checks on the Arizona side of the border.[22]:156 An increase in militarization occurred again in the 1980s and 1990s, and further inhibited the ability of tribal members to travel back and forth and slowed migration. The Mexican government made gestures to improve the condition of the O'odham in Mexico by opening the office of the National Indian Institute, but the office struggled with inadequate resources and institutionalized corruption. In the 1980s, O'odham in Sonora responded to decades of land theft and bureaucratic failure by staging an occupation at the "weak and underfunded" National Indian Institute offices. the tribal constitution ratified in 1986 reads: "All members of the Tohono O'odham Nation shall be given equal opportunity to participate in the economic resources and activities of the Tohono O'odham Nation."[27] However, many tribal members felt that these promises were not guaranteed for them. At the end of the decade, O'odham on the Mexican side of the border wrote an "open letter" to O'odham on the American side. In the letter they stated: "our human rights and aboriginal rights have slowly been violated or disappeared in Mexico."[22]:132-133 This articulated the concerns among many Oʼodham about the growing international divide and population loss in Sonora. In its 1990 census, the government of Mexico recorded no Oʼodham living in Sonora.[22]:160


The O'odham saw a subsequent rise in illegal crossing and smuggling through tribal lands as the surrounding security increased.[28] In 2003 the Nation hosted a Congressional hearing on the illegal activity occurring on tribal lands. In the hearing tribal leaders and law enforcement officers testified of "incidents of cross-border violence, and even incursions by Mexican military personnel in support of drug smugglers."[29] Along with the cross-border violence, tribal members continued to experience other social and legal consequences from the border. Tribal members born in Mexico or who have insufficient documentation to prove U.S. birth or residency, found themselves trapped in a remote corner of Mexico, with no access to the tribal centers only tens of miles away. In 2001, a bill was proposed that would give citizenship to all Tohono Oʼodham, but the bill was forgotten in the aftermath of 9/11.[22] Since then, bills have repeatedly been introduced in Congress to solve the "one people-two country" problem by granting U.S. citizenship to all enrolled members of the Tohono Oʼodham, but so far their sponsors have not gained passage.[30][31] Opponents of granting U.S. citizenship to all enrolled members of the Nation include concerns that many births on the reservation have been informally recorded, and the records are susceptible to easy alteration or falsification. O'odham can cross the border with Tribal Identification Cards, but these can be denied at the border and legal documentation on the reservation is poor. Separation from family members and detainment are possibilities for O'odham crossing into the United States.[23]

Today, the tribal government incurs extra costs due to the proximity of the U.S.-Mexico border. There are also associated social problems. In an area of acute poverty offers from smugglers for Oʼodham to assist in illegal activity are common, and in some instances drug traffickers have purchase Oʼodham land along the border.[8]:166 Many of the thousands of Mexican nationals, and other nationals illegally crossing the U.S. Border to work in U.S. agriculture or to smuggle illicit drugs into the U.S., seek emergency assistance from the Tohono O'odham police when they become dehydrated or get stranded. On the ground, border patrol emergency rescue and tribal EMTs coordinate and communicate. The tribe and the state of Arizona pay a large proportion of the bills for border-related law enforcement and emergency services. The former governor of Arizona, Janet Napolitano, and Tohono Oʼodham government leaders have requested repeatedly that the federal government repay the state and the tribe for the costs of border-related emergencies. Tribe Chairman Ned Norris Jr. has complained about the lack of reimbursement for border enforcement.[32]

Citing the impact it would have on wildlife and on the tribe's members, Tohono O'odham tribal leaders have expressed opposition in a series of official statements to President Donald Trump's stated plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.[33][34] While the 1986 Tohono O'odham constitution gives the tribe sovereignty over their territory, this is nonetheless subject to the plenary power of Congress.[27][35] Approximately 2,000 members live in Mexico, and a wall would physically separate them from members in the United States.[36] Most of the 25,000 Tohono Oʼodham today live in southern Arizona, but several thousand of the Oʼodham, many related by kinship, also live in northern Sonora, Mexico. Today, many tribal members still make an annual pilgrimage to San Xavier del Bac and Magdalena, Sonora, during St. Francis festivities to commemorate St. Francis Xavier and St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order.[37]

Integrated Fixed Towers (IFT)

Integrated Fixed Towers (IFTs) are solar-powered structures that integrates high technology, such as infrared and video machinery, to provide long-range, 360-degree, all weather surveillance along the border.[38] The proposed layout and size of the IFTs is said to range between 120 to 180 feet high, with each tower having its own equipment such as generators, propane tanks, and equipment shelters. The lot size of each tower varies between 2,500 square feet and 25,600 square feet, plus a fence that encompasses up to 10,000 feet. The radio technology of the tower permits the machine to be able to detect movement as far as from a 9.3-mile radius and vehicles from an 18.6 mile radius, while the long-range camera allows for video footage from 13.5 miles away.[37]

During March 2014, in efforts to raise border security, the United States Customs and Border Protection contracted a project with Elbit Systems of America to design and manufacture Integrated Fixed Towers (IFTs) along the Arizona border. The competition for a $145 million contract lasted between major defense contractors such as General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon.[39] This contract gave Elbit jurisdiction to implement these structures to an unknown amount of sites at anonymous locations and the power for both the company and Border Patrol to deeply monitor the border.[37] Originally, it was stated that there were would be sixteen IFTs placed along the southern border of Mexico and western border of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. In an article published on March 2018, it revealed that there are 52 IFTs set in place along Arizona's southern border.[38]

Before the implementation of IFTs, the government had been using SBInets. These machines were intended to serve the same purpose as the towers, while also allowing Border Patrol agents to observe information from a common operational picture. However, the technology and functionality of SBInets did not meet expectations and costs began to exceed the budget by $1.4 billion. This eventually led to a shift towards IFTs.[40]

With the implementation of these towers, it will aid Border Patrol in monitoring illegal crossings and any suspicious activity that occurs near the border. Although the towers would benefit Border Patrol in controlling illegal activities, for the Tohono O'odham nation, the integration of these structures will result in further territorial disputes and invasion of privacy. The rapidly increasing surveillance and security that is being brought to the borderlands has instilled fear within Indigenous communities. The existence of IFTs have begun to interfere with the spiritual rituals and daily routines of the Tohono O'odham nations. Tribes, such as the Tohono O'odham, no longer have the freedom to cross the border to visit their families or explore outside of their homes without risk of being scrutinized by agents.[41] Even with set boundaries and size guidelines for the towers, the current IFTs have exceeded the established range and are beginning to occupy parts of O'odham territory. Moreover, the growing amount of towers along the border has brought increased amounts of Border Patrol Agents: 1,500 positioned in three districts that control the reservation.[37]

Martin Luther King Jr's first visit to an Indian reservation

On April 2, 2017, in the Arizona Daily Star newspaper, noted historian David Leighton related what is believed to be Martin Luther King Jr's first visit to an Indian reservation, which was the Tohono Oʼodham Indian Reservation.

On September 20, 1959, Martin Luther King Jr. flew to Tucson from Los Angeles to give a talk at the Sunday Evening Forum. On that night, he gave a speech called "A Great Time To Be Alive", at the University of Arizona auditorium, now called Centennial Hall. Following the forum, a reception was held for King, in which he was introduced to Rev. Casper Glenn, the pastor of a multiracial church called the Southside Presbyterian Church. King was very interested in this racially mixed church and made arrangements to visit it the next day.

The following morning, Glenn picked up King, in his Plymouth station wagon, and drove him to the Southside Presbyterian Church. There, Glenn showed King photographs he had taken of the racially diverse congregation, most of whom were part of the Tohono O'odham tribal group at the time. Glenn remembers that upon seeing the photos, "King said he had never been on an Indian reservation, nor had he ever had a chance to get to know any Indians." He then requested to be driven to the nearby reservation, as a spur-of-the-moment desire.

The two men traveled on Ajo Way to Sells, on what was then called the Papago Indian Reservation, now the Tohono Oʼodham Indian Reservation. When they arrived at the tribal council office, the tribal leaders were surprised to see King and very honored he had come to visit them. King was very anxious to talk to them but was very careful with his questions, as he didn't want to show his lack of knowledge of their tribal heritage. "He was fascinated by everything that they shared with him", Glenn said.

The ministers then went to the local Presbyterian church in Sells, which had been recently constructed by its members, with funds provided by the national Presbyterian church. King had a chance to speak to Pastor Towsand who was excited to meet King.

On the way back to Tucson, "King expressed his appreciation of having the opportunity to meet the Indians", Glenn recalled. King left town that day, around 4 pm, from the airport.[42]


Notable Tohono O'odham

See also


  1. American Indian, Alaska Native Tables from the Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2004–2005 Archived 2012-10-04 at the Wayback Machine
  2. Volante, Enric. "Respectful ways go a long ways on Ariz. Indian lands". Arizona Daily Star / Tucson Newspapers. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
    Hedding, Judy. "How To Pronounce the Names of Indian Tribes". Retrieved 26 May 2014.
  3. Kiernan F. McCarthy. "OFM Collection, Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library" (PDF).
  4. See the special issue of Journal of the Southwest, Vol. 56, No. 2 (Summer 2014), entitled "Oʼodham and the Pimería Alta."
  5. Zepeda, Ofelia (1995). Ocean Power: Poems from the Desert, p.89. ISBN 0-8165-1541-7.
  6. Nebhan, Gary Paul (1997). Cultures of Habitat: On Nature, Culture, and Story, pp.197–206.
  7. di cintio, Marcello (February 14, 2012). "Farming the Monsoon: A Return to Traditional Tohono O'odham Foods". Gastronomica. 12 (2): 14–17. doi:10.1525/GFC.2012.12.2.14. Retrieved November 25, 2019. via JSTOR
  8. Winston, Eric P. (1994). Sharing the Desert: The Tohono O'odham in History. Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press. p. 166. ISBN 0816514909.
  9. Marak, Andrae M.; Tuennerman,, Laura (2013). At the Border of Empires: The Tohono O'odham, Gender, and Assimilation 1880–1934. Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press. p. 146.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
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  33. Yashar Ali (6 November 2016). "Trump's Border Wall Will Have a 75-Mile Gap In It". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 14 November 2016.
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  36. Santos, Fernanda (2017-02-20). "Border Wall Would Cleave Tribe, and Its Connection to Ancestral Land". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
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Further reading

  • Frances Manuel and Deborah Neff, Desert Indian Woman. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 2001.
  • Wesley Bliss, "In the Wake of the Wheel: Introduction of the Wagon to the Papago Indians of Southern Arizona", in E.H. Spicer (ed.), Human Problems in Technological Change. New York: Russell Sage Foundation Publications, 1952; pp. 23–33.
  • Eloise David and Marcia Spark, "Arizona Folk Art Recalls History of Papago Indians", The Clarion, Fall 1978.
  • Jason H. Gart, Papago Park: A History of Hole-in-the-Rock from 1848 to 1995. Pueblo Grande Museum Occasional Papers No. 1, (1997).
  • Andrae M. Marak and Laura Tuennerman, At the Border of Empires: The Tohono O'odham, Gender, and Assimilation, 1880–1934. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 2013.
  • Allan J. McIntyre, The Tohono Oʼodham and Pimeria Alta. Arcadia Publishing, 2008.
  • Deni J. Seymour, "A Syndetic Approach to Identification of the Historic Mission Site of San Cayetano Del Tumacácori", International Journal of Historical Archaeology, vol. 11, no. 3 (2007), pp. 269–296.
  • Deni J. Seymour, "Delicate Diplomacy on a Restless Frontier: Seventeenth-Century Sobaipuri Social And Economic Relations in Northwestern New Spain, Part I". New Mexico Historical Review, vol. 82, no. 4 (2007).
  • Deni J. Seymour, "Delicate Diplomacy on a Restless Frontier: Seventeenth-Century Sobaipuri Social And Economic Relations in Northwestern New Spain, Part II". New Mexico Historical Review, vol. 83, no. 2 (2008).
  • David Leighton, "Street Smarts: Tucson Indian School taught hoeing, sewing", Arizona Daily Star, February 10, 2015
  • David Leighton, "Street Smarts: MLK Jr. raised his voice to the rafters in Tucson", Arizona Daily Star, April 2, 2017
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