Tohono O’odham (Papago) Nation

Tohono O’odham (Papago)

In O’odham language, “Tohono O’odham” means “Desert People.”

The Tohono O’odham are a group of Native American people who reside primarily in the Sonoran Desert of the southeastern Arizona and northwest Mexico. “Tohono O’odham” means “Desert People.”

Although the Tohono O’odham were previously known as the Papago, (meaning literally “tepary-bean eater”), they have largely rejected this name. It was applied to them by conquistadores who had heard them called this by other Piman bands that were very competitive with the Tohono O’odham. The term Papago derives from Ba:bawĭkoʼa, meaning “eating tepary beans.” That word was pronounced Papago by the Spanish.

The Tohono O’odham Nation, or Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation, is 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 Phoenix, along the lower Gila River. The Sobaipuri are ancestors to both the Tohono O’odham and the Akimel O’odham who 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 O’odham. Claims that the O’odham 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, now extinct relatives of the O’odham, shows that they were present in sizable numbers in the southern Arizona river valleys in the fifteenth century.

Collection of Poems

The Great Seal of the Nation consists of items that are symbolic to the Tohono O’odham. Starting from the outside of the Seal is a purple border containing the words “Great Seal of the Tohono O’odham Nation”. Inside the yellow border there are eleven stars which represent one of the eleven districts of the Tohono O’odham Nation: Pisinemo, Hickiwan, Gu Vo, Chukut Kuk, San Lucy, San Xavier, Baboquivari, Sif Oidak, Schuk Toak, Sells and Gu Achi. At the bottom of this border are the dates 1937-1986.

1937 is the year in which the original constitution and by-laws of the Papago Tribe was approved by the United States Department of the Interior. 1986 represents the year in which the Nation adopted a new constitution and changed its name from the Papago Tribe to the Tohono O’odham Nation. The inside picture has a view of the sacred mountain, Baboquivari Peak, home of I’itoi. Also in view is a saguaro, prickly pear and barrel cactus from which the O’odham pick fruit and have various uses from each of these cactus to cook and use for building materials.

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 Phoenix, along the lower Gila River. The Sobaipuri are ancestors to both the Tohono O’odham and the Akimel O’odham who 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 O’odham. Claims that the O’odham 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, now extinct relatives of the O’odham, shows that they were present in sizable numbers in the southern Arizona river valleys in the fifteenth century.


The Tohono O’odham (Papago) nation’s native word papah, beans, is the source for being called the “bean people.” They belong to the Piman branch of the Uto-Aztecan linguistic family, and are closely related to the Pima tribe southeast of the Gila River and south of Tucson, Arizona, and extending west and southwest across the desert Papagueria on into Sonora, Mexico. In 1694, Father Kino became the first white man to visit the Tohono O’odham (Papago) nation, finding a very large population into the thousands. Census figures in 1937 listed 6,305 members of the Tohono O’odham (Papago) nation.


The desert people (as they are called), recently reestablished their ancestral name after many years of being known as Papagos. They reside in a portion of the northwestern Sonoran Desert. Their ancestral homelands bridge the international border of Mexico and the United States; however, in 1916 the United States defined for them a four-part Reservation of 4,462 square miles in southern Arizona. Recent estimates approximate the tribal population on the Reservation to be between 7,500 and 12,000 with about 2,000 living in Sells, the largest community.


Their land is the hottest of North American deserts. Hot summers, cool winters, extreme diurnal temperature fluctuations, low humidity, high evaporation and a biannual rainfall pattern dictate strategies for maintaining human comfort. At Sells mean daily temperatures range between 72° F to 10° F in July and 36° F to 65° F in January. Water evaporation from an open tank can exceed 6 ft. annually. Sells receives a yearly precipitation of about 12 inches with approximately the same amounts falling during the winter and summer rainy seasons.


The Papago women who weave baskets continue their ancient art form mainly for economic survival. One of the weavers indicated that she weaves to sell baskets in order to support her family. She sells to traders who come to her home. As is true of most Papago weavers, she is willing to create new designs and innovate her work to please the demand of the market. Therefore, instead of doing the time-consuming tight stitched baskets, many weavers do the split stitch because they can weave more baskets in the same time.


They have their own printed alphabet and language studies:

Ofelia Zepeda has authored the first grammar of the Tohono O’odham language.
She has actively worked with her tribe to improve literacy in their native language and in English.
A Story in O'odham Language

It is said that somewhere there lived some quail. The time came to go for their food. They all got ready, and went to the place where it was abundant, and arrived there and were taking it. Then the hawk came, striking down those quail. He would swoop down from above and raise himself and strike down a number of them in this manner. But one little quail completely hid himself under the brush. He was the only one that was leff. The hawk destroyed all the rest of the quail. And be [the quail] rushed out and ran back. And he was running to his home saying: “We just went to try to get something to eat. The enemy came. Destroyed us all! Destroyed us all!

by Bill McCarron

Late in August, just as the days were approaching their shortest length, the last group of visitors moved past the coyote exhibit at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

“The Museum closes in five minutes,” a docent (trained volunteer) told the visitors.

“Look at what the sign says,” a tall, thin-legged man told his friends. “Darn coyotes are scavengers. Says they eat rabbits, mice, even cactus. Cows, too, my brother tells me.”

Juanita the Coyote was pacing her area, head drooping and tongue hanging out at the fading late afternoon sun.

“That coyote sure is scrawny. His coat looks like it could use a trip to the dry cleaners,” a female visitor said.

“It is a female coyote, ma’am,” the docent corrected.

“Hey, you scruffy, mangy, overgrown dog!” the thin-legged man yelled.

Juanita stopped her pacing and sat on the ground facing the visitors. She held her head high and let out a long, menacing howl.

The three straggling visitors jumped back. Juanita ended her howl, turned abruptly, and strode off to her den.

“That’s the five o’clock whistle, folks,” the patient docent said. “Please, let’s move toward the exit so our animals can have their evening meal in peace.”

A full moon was rising into the night sky as Juanita lay in a corner of her den catering to her brood of pups. Walter, her husband, dosed in the far corner, resting up for his own concert of howls that he would give once the moon had risen to its highest point.

Several of the pups finished their meal and licked each other’s noses and mouths.

Stephanie Coyote, the runt of the litter but the most outspoken, said in the loudest voice she could manage, “Mother, please tell us one of your tales about running free in the wild.”

“I will, Stephanie, but only if you lower your voice. Your father is sleeping.”

“Sorry, mother,” Stephanie said in a whisper.

“I want a story, too,” Guillermo said. “If Stephanie gets one, I want one, too,” he sulked.

“Children, please bide your time. I usually recite only one bedtime story each night. In honor of the full moon which coyotes love so much, I will tell a Stephanie tale and a Guillermo tale this evening.”

All six pups quickly gathered around their mother in a semi-circle.

The Tale of What Juanita Ate in the Wild

“Here at the Museum,” Juanita began, “the keepers feed us and we don’t have to worry about hunting for rats or beetles or an occasional wounded bird.

Out there in the wild, things are very different. A coyote is only as strong as her next meal, particularly when she has hungry pups to feed.”

“What did you eat out there beyond the fences, mother?” Stephanie asked impatiently.

Juanita held the tip of her paw to her mouth, signaling silence. She did not like interruptions when she was telling her tales, except when the interruption was invited. She waited a full minute until all six of her children were paying attention.

“Out there we chased down the human’s cows one night and their sheep the next,” she said and showed her flashing coyote teeth.

“Really?” Benita Coyote uttered in amazement.

“No, children, we don’t chase cows and sheep. Coyotes rarely attack the human’s animals, though the humans blame us nearly every time one of their animals is mutilated. Humans rarely blame the wolves or the mountain lions or their neighbors’ dogs.”

“Like what Victor the mountain lion did to the deer,” Alfred said, remembering the story which his mother had told him about the puma’s attack back in the summer.

“Correct, Alfred. My diet was mostly made up of small wild animals which I encountered during my hunts. Field mice in the spring. An unwary rabbit in early summer. Grasshoppers in late summer were always plentiful. The fall and winter presented the hardest times because cold weather in the mountains keeps many wild animals and insects underground.

Still, I managed to feed on wild berries. The early fall was the best because the birds would come and gorge on overripe berries, then fall to the ground and stagger around because the berries made them dizzy. Oh, the birds I have eaten: blue jays and pine jays; tanagers and warblers; purple martins and finches. My favorite has always been the white-winged dove. They were plump and juicy and delightful to a coyote’s taste buds.”

“Did you ever kill one of the human’s animals, mother?” Benita asked meekly.

“Only once, Benita. During one harsh winter, ice and snow covered the mountain meadows and trees. I had eaten only nuts and bits of dried cactus which I had stored in my den. I was starving. I headed for lower ground where I knew the humans lived in greater numbers. One moonlit night I snuck into a hen house and stole two chickens. The whole hen house was in an uproar. I knew the humans would come and investigate. So, I ran as fast as a coyote can with two chickens in its mouth.”

“What did the humans do?” Benita asked.

“A man pointed a long rod in my direction. I heard a small clap of thunder and something whizzed by my head.”

“That would be a rifle like the keepers sometimes carry,” Tomas, the most observant coyote pup, added.

“Yes, I believe it was a rifle, Tomas. In any event, I dropped one of the chickens during my escape, but I carried the other to a safe distance before having dinner.”

Juanita adjusted herself slightly and continued. “I have eaten other human food which they have discarded along roads or hiking paths: potato chips, hamburger rolls, bits of something called hot dogs, for example. These foods are okay, but I really prefer my food uncooked.”

“I tasted a piece of crunchy orange corn which a human tossed in our exhibit last week,” Stephanie said. “It tasted yukky. I like the food the keepers give us.”

In the far corner of the den, Walter let out a hearty coyote yawn.

“Children, I think your father wants to go out and get ready to howl at the full moon,” Juanita said.

“Can we go, too?” the coyote pups said in unison.

“Only grown coyotes can howl at the harvest moon,” Walter instructed as he passed his children, bending down and licking each one, in turn, with the tip of his tongue. “You children can listen to the second tale your mother promised while I serenade in the distance.” And, with that, Walter pranced outside into the light of the harvest moon.

The Tale about How Juanita Came to the Desert Museum

Benjamin, the shyest of the six coyote children, at last spoke up. “I know it is Guillermo’s turn for a second tale, but I’d like to hear once more the story about how you came to the Museum, mother. However, only if Guillermo agrees?” Benjamin said, lowering his head and afraid to look Guillermo in the face.

“Okay, okay,” Guillermo said, just a little irritated. “Tell the story that will make poor little Benjamin happy. Maybe then he won’t sulk and feel sorry for himself.”

“Each of us has different personalities,” Juanita said gently. “The humans think we are all the same because, to them, all coyotes look and act the same. Little do they know how different we can be, and that’s what the second tale is all about.” With that prologue, Juanita began her tale.

“Once upon a time, many moons ago, when I was very young and inexperienced I had my only other litter of pups. My husband at that time was a surly older coyote named Nicholas. Unlike your father, Walter, Nicholas was not a kind parent. He growled at our children constantly and forced me to do all the hunting while he lounged away in the den and did nothing. One day, because I had not returned with enough food to suit him, Nicholas bit me on the ear and began picking up my pups and started shaking them. I was fearful that he was actually going to eat them. That very night when he was sound asleep the children and I left quickly and followed a stream so it would hide our scent.”

“What did you do then, mother?” Benjamin asked, quivering with fear even though he was safe and was only listening to a story.

“We traveled for three days and nights without stopping, except to rest briefly and eat a few water beetles,” Juanita continued. “Travel by day can be very dangerous for a mother coyote and her siblings. We have our enemies, as I’ve told you. Mountain lions, like Victor, or a wandering bear or a large bobcat would consider small coyotes to be a hearty meal. But, thanks to the Great Coyote God in the sky who lives behind the moon, we all reached a remote area under the stream’s bank. There was a den close by.”

“That’s when you met Mario, the widowed coyote,” Benjamin inserted because he knew the story so well.

“Yes. Mario showed us his den and told us the tale of his dead wife, Sarah. Sarah had been killed by a hunter who used one of those flaming tubes.”

“Rifle, mother,” Tomas corrected.

“Thank you, Tomas. Yes, a rifle. Anyway, Mario was everything Nicholas was not. He was kind and patient. He hunted with me and later trained my children to hunt, too. But Mario was an old coyote and, as will happen to all of us, one moonlit night he told me, ‘Juanita, dearest, I am very tired. I am going out into the thicket and lie down and rest.'”

“That’s the animal way of saying, ‘I am going to die’,” Benjamin said.

“That is the usual way, children. All of us eventually get called to the coyote heaven of stars from whence we came,” Juanita said gently.

“Skip to the part about how you came here, mother,” Guillermo said impatiently.

Juanita did not appreciate this interruption. However, she only sighed and said, “It is getting quite late, and I am beginning to get tired,” Juanita said with a yawn.

“Mother, you’re not going to die, are you?” Benjamin howled in alarm.

“No, Benjamin. Life here at the Museum is much easier on a coyote, and I expect to live to see more passing moons.”

All six coyote children sighed and snuggled in closer to their mother.

“As I was saying, once my children were raised and out on their own and I had endured the winter of ice and snow, I decided to take what the humans call ‘early retirement.’ From the top of a hill just west of here, I saw one moonlit night that there was a coyote exhibit. I spied Walter pacing back and forth and knew that he was lonely. I thought to myself, ‘Juanita, how can you join him? You cannot just trot up to the admissions window and ask for a ticket.’ So, I thought and I thought and I thought. The answer was right before my very eyes, but it took me a long time to see it. The next moonlit night I crept to the cyclone fence near where the keepers store their work clothes. I sat, pointed my nose toward the sky, and began to howl. I prayed that the humans would know how to capture me. I prayed and prayed they would not shoot me with one of their rifles.”

“That is when you had some great coyote luck,” Stephanie said, unable to restrain herself. “The keeper on duty that night was Martin Lopez, the very keeper of our exhibit.”

“Stephanie, do you wish to finish my tale, or shall I?” Juanita asked, waiting for an answer.

“I’m sorry, mother.” Stephanie bowed her head. “Please continue.”

“Well, I will continue, but just with the conclusion to the tale. Mr. Lopez is a Tohono O’odham Indian and knows more about coyotes than any human being I have ever encountered. He let himself outside the gate and approached me slowly and with soothing words. He slipped a leash around my neck, and I let him lead me inside to an area I later learned was called the animal quarantine. For a month, I was given various shots and many medical tests. At long last, I was taken to Walter and properly introduced. We courted and fell in love. It took a while, but I finally had my second litter of pups. When you are grown, you will be taken to other places where you will prosper as I have here.”

“We are so glad you are our mother,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin and Alfred, Stephanie and Guillermo, Benita and Tomas approached quietly and each, in turn, gave their mother a coyote kiss.

Outside the den, the howling started as Walter began reciting his own coyote tale to the Coyote God behind the moon.

Martin Lopez, newly promoted to foreman of all the keepers, looked down on his coyote clan and smiled. He knew the tales they were sharing even though he had never heard them from Juanita’s or Walter’s mouths.

Years ago, but not nearly so many years ago as in most of our stories, said an old Papago Indian, a man who lived in this village owned much land and worked very hard. He was always getting fields from someone who did not work so hard.

Sometimes his wife scolded him. “Both of us do nothing but work,” she would say to him. “We already have more than we need and more than our daughter needs.” Their daughter was their only child.

Her husband kept on working and trading until he had the very best land in all this valley. He had the best horses. He had the greatest number of cattle.

Then he began to collect yellow stones.

And his wife began to scold more and more. “It is time to choose a husband for our daughter,” she told him, “but you do not know anyone. You are always too busy to go with other men on hunts or to feasts. The people of the village do not like you and are afraid of you.” But her scolding had no effect.

One day a Stranger appeared from the south, riding a burro. He went to the place where the man I am telling you about was working. There Stranger emptied a sack of rocks. Then the two men pounded some of these rocks, pounded them, and burned them. After doing this a long time, the man brought Stranger to his home for food. His wife and daughter served them. The mother was very cross and scolded a great deal. Stranger watched the girl closely.

When Stranger left, the wife asked her husband, “What did you trade this time?”

Her husband only laughed and showed her a pile of stones.

When the woman had decided upon a husband for her daughter, the father would not listen to her. He paid no attention to anything that she said. She was very sad and quiet and worried.

But one morning, everything seemed to change. When the woman looked far south, she saw several burros with baskets on their sides. The burros came to the house. Driving them was the Stranger who had been there before. He asked the woman for her husband, who soon came from his fields. He helped Stranger unload the baskets. When they finished, the girl’s father came to the house and said to his wife, “I have found a husband for our daughter. Tell her to get her things together, so that she can go with Stranger.”

The mother wept and begged her husband not to give up her daughter to a stranger from a strange land. But her husband paid no attention to her. He was pounding the rocks that Stranger had brought. He paid no attention to his wife or to his daughter.

Next day the girl started south with her husband. Her father pounded the rocks that Stranger had brought to him. Her mother grumbled while she did her work, feeling very heavy and queer inside.

Time passed. The man no longer worked in his fields. He spent all of his time pounding his rocks and washing them and burning them. Again Stranger came with his burros loaded with baskets of rocks. After the baskets had been emptied, he went away.

Now all the people in the village knew that the man had traded his daughter for a pile of rocks. They laughed at him and ignored him. The woman was alone too much and became very sad. She complained that her husband was changing to rock.

When he had almost finished with one pile of rocks, Stranger would appear from the south with more rocks. This would make the man work harder than ever. His wife did not know what he did with the small yellow stones that he got out of the rocks. She thought that he put them in a hole in the ground.

Often she had to carry his meals out to him, where he was working. All day long he pounded, pounded, and pounded the rocks. The pile that he had crushed became larger than three houses. And the man’s hands, his wife noticed, were always covered with yellow dust.

After a few years, she became old and very tired all the time. She refused to work in the fields; the man did nothing but pound rocks. So other people plowed and planted his fields and gave the man and his wife a certain portion of the crops.

When the summer rains fell, the man refused to leave the rocks. He worked all day and worked at night by the light of a big fire. Many times he became wet from the rains. Soon he began to cough– very hard. His wife begged him to stop and rest. “If you do not rest, the deer will come,” she reminded him.

A certain sickness, the Desert People used to believe, was brought by a deer. When people got sick in that way, there was no hope that they would ever get well. The deer that brings that sickness has a black tail. So when the Desert People eat meat from a deer with a black tail, they are still very careful. If they cough while eating the meat from that kind of deer, some of them believe they will cough until they die.

But the man who pounded rocks all day was not kept from his work by fear that the deer would come. Day after day he sat in the rain and pounded the rocks for which he had traded his only daughter. And his wife noticed that the rain did not wash the yellow from one of his hands.

One morning when the woman looked out, her husband was not pounding rocks. She went to him and found that he was dead.

She called the people living nearest her, and they began to prepare for the burial ceremony. She brought out all the blankets and the other things needed. While the dead man was being wrapped in the blankets, his right hand fell off. Picking it up, his wife found that it was very yellow and heavy and hard–just like a rock.

When everything was ready, the body was taken to the burial hill. The hand was placed beside the body and, according to custom, everything was covered with brush and stones.

That night, some kind women stayed with the widow in her home because she was now all alone. After they had been sleeping for a few hours, they heard a sound of pounding near the house! The dead man’s wife was very tired and very sleepy. Hardly half- awake, she said to her friends, “It is only my husband at his rocks.” And then she went to sleep again.

But the other women were frightened and could not sleep. The pounding continued until morning. Then the widow realized that her husband could not be working at his rocks. So she went out to find who had made the sound of pounding but came back puzzled, still wondering.

The next night the sounds were heard again. The third night the pounding seemed to be growing louder. The people of the village began to whisper, and they began to keep away from the widow and her home.

Then the woman became so angry that she determined to find out who was making the noise. When night came and she heard the pounding, she went out to the rocks that her husband had been breaking up when he died. As she drew near the pile of rocks, the sound became fainter.

Then she decided to visit her husband’s grave. The night was dark. As she drew nearer the burial mound, the sound of the pounding became louder and louder. But everything was so dark that she decided to go home and wait until morning. Then she and some other women went to the place where Man-Who-Pounded-Rocks was buried.

They heard no noise, but they knew that a very restless spirit was there. The widow could not understand. She walked all around the mound of brush and rocks, looking at it keenly and wondering.

Suddenly she saw something bright. She stooped and looked carefully. It was the yellow hand of her husband that had broken off!

Her friends who were with her said that Coyote had tried to take the hand. But the widow felt sure she had a better idea. When they took the yellow hand to the house, one woman kept watching it. When she picked it up, several little pieces of yellow rock fell out. She quickly picked them up and slipped them out of sight. She thought that no one saw her, but the widow of the dead man had noticed her and the tiny bits of yellow rock.

After a long talk about what they should do with the yellow hand, the widow decided to put it in the ground. She and her friends wrapped it, dug a hole near the house, put the hand in it, and covered it with dirt. Then her neighbours went to their homes.

That night the widow was so very tired that she went to sleep early. But she was soon wakened by a tap, tap, tap. When she opened the door, she found no one there. She went back to bed thinking that she had been mistaken. A few minutes later she heard again the tap, tap, tap.

This time she felt sure that the sound came from the yellow hand, and so she started toward the place where they had buried it. In a few minutes she stumbled over something. Feeling around in the dark, she soon found it–the yellow hand!

She sat down to think. She did not know what to do or whom to ask for help. Soon some Little People, who work night and day in the summer, passed by her. She called to them. Quickly the message was passed to all the Little People that a human being needed their help.

The woman remained sitting on the ground, in the dark, waiting for the message that she knew would come from the Little People. They will not always help, but when they are willing, the advice they give is always good. After a time, still in the darkness, the woman heard, or felt, or understood, what she was to do.

She knew now that her dead husband’s yellow hand had come back for the little pieces of yellow rock that a woman had taken. Her husband had loved them very much. The sound of pounding in the night had come from the yellow hand working at the rocks as the man was working when he died.

“If the yellow hand is left where others can find it,” the woman was made to realize, “those who find it will feel that same intense love for the little pieces of yellow rock that the dead man felt for years. You must hide the yellow hand far away, where no one can ever find it. And you must find all the pieces of yellow rock that the yellow hand wanted, so that it will never come back again.”

This was the advice that the woman received, in some way, from the Little People.

When morning came, she went to the home of the friend who, she knew, had kept those pieces of yellow rock. At first, the woman said that she had not taken them, but later she gave them up.

At the place where he had broken many, many rocks, she searched and searched until she had picked up all the little yellow pieces. Late in the day, she put them and those that her friend had picked up–put them all, with the yellow hand, in a blanket. Then she started up the steep side of the mountain, alone. It was a rough, hard climb for an old woman.

She became so tired that she sat down to rest in the twilight. As she sat there, she considered just throwing the yellow hand and the pieces of rock far from her and then going back to her house and her supper. Just as she was feeling sorry for herself, Taw- tawn-ye, Ant, ran over her hand. And Taw-tawn-ye stopped. “Does Taw-tawn-ye have a message for me?” the old woman thought to herself. She sat very still and listened hard, with her inside ears.

“Remember the advice the Little People gave you,” Ant reminded her. “And remember what troubles would happen if you left the yellow hand where people could find it.”

The woman thought of her lonely years. She thought of her daughter who had been traded for rocks. And she knew that she would never let anyone else live in this way. So she wrapped her blanket around her and slept until the morning light made everything clear.

Then she picked up the yellow hand and all the pieces of yellow rock and hid them in different places on the mountain.

When she had finished, she returned to her home and lived in peace and happiness ever after, with all her people. Not once did she ever hear the sound of the yellow hand pounding rocks.

The mountain where the woman hid the yellow hand and the pieces of yellow rock is called Schook Toahk, which means “Black Mountain.” Many people have searched for the place where this gold is hidden, but they have never found it. If the Desert People should learn where gold is, they would not tell anyone. Gold has always brought trouble to Indians, the Desert People of today believe. The gold hand held the beginning of all their troubles.

Desert Indian Woman

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

Every February, annually, the Sells Rodeo and Parade is held in the capital of the Nation. The rodeo has been an annual event for 73 years. February 2012 was the 74th year the Nation has held the Event.

In the visual arts, Michael Chiago and the late Leonard Chana have gained widespread recognition for their paintings and drawings of traditional O’odham 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 O’odham 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. At the National Museum for the American Indian (NMAI), the Tohono O’odham were represented in the founding exhibition and Mr. Lopez blessed the exhibit.

Sing Down the Rain
Slide Show
Tohono O’odham Baskets
Tohono O’odham Community College
Tohono O’odham / Papago
The Tohono O’odham Nation
Tohono O’odham Nation Maps
O’odham Sacred Site of Quitovac
O’odham language

How To Speak Tohono O’odham
A Native American Indian Indigenous Language


The O’odham way of life is based on the land that has held the remains of our ancestors since the creation of this world. The O’odham did not migrate from anywhere according to our oral history.  Our creation tellings record our history and teach the O’odham the principles of life. The survival of O’odham today is our him’dag.

Now numbering more than 25,000 enrolled members, the Tohono O’odham Nation gains most of its income from its three Desert Diamond casinos. This source of income is just over a decade old. It has paid for the tribe’s first fire department, but the casinos cannot cover the numerous basic needs of tribal members. Housing, emergency services, medical, and educational needs require expensive infrastructure, including transportation, personnel, education, and technology. The physical isolation of the Nation has always been a handicap to its economic development.


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