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«Item type text; Dissertation-Reproduction (electronic) Authors Seivertson, Bruce Lynn Publisher The University of Arizona. Rights Copyright © is ...»

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Historical/cultural ecology of the Tohono O'odham nation

Item type text; Dissertation-Reproduction (electronic)

Authors Seivertson, Bruce Lynn

Publisher The University of Arizona.

Rights Copyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this

material is made possible by the University Libraries,

University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction

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Bell & Howell Information and Learning 300 North Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, Ml 48106-1346 USA 800-521-0600



by Bruce Lynn Seivertson A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the


In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements For the Degree of



In the Graduate College


1999 UMI Nviinber: 9946780 UMI Microform 9946780 Copyright 1999, by UMI Company. All rights reserved.

This microformedition is protected against unauthorized copying under Title 17, United States Code.

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As menbers of the Final Examination Cosonlttee, we certify that we have read the dissertation prepared by Bruce Lynn Seivertson entitled Historical/Cultural Ecology of the Tohono O'odham Nation and recommend that it be accepted as fulfilling the dissertation requirement for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy Thomas F. Saarinen

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Robert A. Williams, Jr^ Final approval and acceptance of this dissertation is contingent upon the candidate's submission of the final copy of the dissertation to the Graduate College.

I hereby certify that I have read this dissertation prepared under my direction and recommend that it be accepted as fulfilling the dissertation equirenent.

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This dissertation has been submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for an advanced degree at The University of Arizona and is deposited in the University Library to be made available to borrowers under rules of the Library.

Brief quotations from this dissertation are allowable without special permission, provided that accurate acknowledgment of source is made. Requests for permission for extended quotation from or reproduction of this manuscript in whole or in part may be granted by the head of the major department or the Dean of the Graduate College when in his or her judgement the proposed use of the material is in the interests of scholarship. In all other instances, however, permission must be obtained from the author.

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The author thanks Michelle D. Sievertson, his friend and spouse, who gave him years of help and moral support while in pursuit of this project. Without her technical expertise and perseverence, this dissertation, especially the bibliography, would not have been completed. In addition, he acknowledges his dissertation committee led by James L. Sell for their assistance through several re-writes. Finally, thanks to my family, friends, and

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This dissertation is dedicated to the late Leslie Hewes, Ph.D. Dr. Hewes, the chair of my first Ph.D. program, provided great emotional support for my efforts to

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The Tohono O'odham and their predecessors have occupied southwestern Arizona and northern Mexico (Pimeria Alta) for thousands of years. During that time the physical environment as well as the occupants' cultural patterns changed. This historical geographic study chronicles that change. It starts 10,000 years ago with a brief description of the early environment and how the people survived, continues with a discussion of agricultural crop introduction from central Mexico, and is followed by the period of Spanish colonization and Mexican occupation. The majority of this study, however, focuses on the post 1824 period when contact between the United States and the O'odham began.

Prior to United States takeover the O'odham lifestyle, owing to their isolated position in the harsh, arid Pimeria Alta and utilization of a policy of cultural/ecological opportunism, had changed little. However, during the twentieth century their lifestyle has undergone considerable modification. They have reached a point in time where their economic base has changed from subsistence farming to wage labor and finally to owners of profitable gaming casinos. Now they must decide if they are going to continue as a

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This is my story of the Tohono O'odham people and their land: struggles to stay there, fights to hold on, attempts to remain true to their heritage, and efforts to coexist within the parameters of the dominant society while maintaining their cultural identity.

PRELUDE As one drives Arizona's State Route 86 from Tucson to Why, the landscape becomes increasingly stark and arid with less and less vegetation and fewer and fewer inhabitants. This spatial pattern represents a distinct contrast to the hustle and bustle of Tucson, as well as to the agricultural activities historically found around that Old Pueblo.

What series of circumstances has fashioned the contrast between the two locales?

Furthermore, why have other southwestern Arizonan places, including Ajo and Yuma, developed new economic endeavors through time while the Sells region has remained attached to its distant past? To understand these differences one must consider the historical geographic settlement pattem of the area and the people who live there, the Tohono O'odham (People of the Desert).

Occupancy patterns have always played a vital role in the survival of southwestern Native Americans. This was especially true in the most arid, harsh environmental areas of southern Arizona and northem Mexico, where historical records and prehistorical findings document the evolution of a close relationship between the people and their changing physical setting. Centuries before Europeans colonized this difHcult and

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developed and modified their lifestyle to successfully occupy the region. As they did so, a unique culture developed with its roots in the linkage between these people and their vast territory. Until very recent time this culture has been able to thrive in this seemingly desolate space and resist colonizing attempts to assimilate them. Now, however, that is changing at a rate never before experienced by the remaining Tohono O'odham enclave.

PURPOSE The purpose of this dissertation is to provide a comprehensive understanding of the Tohono O'odham and how they have been able to survive in the arid, harsh Pimeria Alta. Additionally, this dissertation examines how the O'odham have remained a distinct cultural group despite attempts by other societies (Spanish, Mexican, and United States) to overrun them. Key to the O'odham survival, as will be shown, has been their ability to utilize a policy of "cultural/ecological opportunism." Within this dissertation, cultural/ecological opportunism is defined as the Tohono O'odham practice of adopting select cultural attributes that benefit O'odham lifestyle while rejecting those that do not enhance their way of life {Himdag) and adaptation to their environment.

Spicer did such a study. Cycles of Conquest, about many of the Native American culture groups in the Southwest and Northern Mexico. His work focused on developing "some understanding of the various processes by which Indian enclavement came about.

.. [as well as becoming] familiar with the program of each of the conquering groups, and... acquainted with the history of the contacts of the tribes with the European-derived societies" (1962:4). Like Spicer's study, this dissertation discusses the process of Indian enclavement, the programs of the conquering groups, and the history of contact between O'odham and European-derived societies. Additionally, this study goes beyond Spicer's work in that it develops an understanding of the Pimeria Alta's physical environment, it focuses in greater depth on one single tribe, and it extends the discussion to the current time. This dissertation, then, is an in-depth study about the O'odham which uses Spicer's Cycles of Conquest partially as an example. However, Spicer is not the only author to use adaptation as a framework for their study and not the only author that influenced my dissertation style.

Saarinen discusses adaptation in his work. Perception of the Drought Hazard on the Great Plains. In it he notes how there is a "need for harmonization of culture and environment.... [and] that the process of adaptation to the environmental exigencies is not just the result of a few major inventions but is a folk process consisting of the gradual accumulation of innumerable smaller modifications made by the farmers themselves" (1966:18). While his topic is the Great Plains, the concept applies equally to the Pimeria Alta. Through time and the process of cultural/ecological opportunism, the O'odham gradually built a lifestyle that has assured their survival.

To more fully understand the O'odham's current lifestyle, then, two questions must be answered: How have the O'odham people historically adjusted to the harsh physical environment and how have they adapted to the equally stressful dominant cultural environment? To answer these questions a series of additional queries

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takeover, reservation establishment, and increased contact with the dominant society during and after World War H. However, studying Native Americans is never an easy task.

For a number of reasons, including increasing reluctance to discuss tribal specifics with non-tribal members, current legal issues concerning sovereignty, distrust associated with broken treaties and promises, and their personal wish not to have selected private cultural activities made public, it can be difficult to obtain either consistent or verifiable information about Native Americans. In addition, some tribal members who do provide information want to remain anonymous. Therefore, research on a reservation can be a very slow process. It starts with obtaining consent, which might take years. Almost always the people want an explanation of how the information will be used before they will even talk to you and then some questions simply cannot be asked.

Unlike non-reservation areas, accurate agricultural and livestock statistics as well as landuse maps are frequently just starting to be compiled. If such information is currently available it is often not done on an annual basis. Therefore rather than attempt to recreate the complete O'odham landscape either in a sequence of occupancy periods or

at one specific time, change will be assessed by looking at the following indicators:

• evolution from hunting and gathering to a sedentary agricultural system to

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These indicators were selected because they represent key facets of Native American lifestyle, as it changed through time, in the Pimeria Alta (see Map 1).

This dissertation was undertaken for three important reasons. First, the O'odham, a demographically viable tribe occupying the second largest Indian reservation in the United States, have not been adequately studied by geographers. Second, no work is available that combines past as well as the most recent information about lifestyle change.

Finally, no comprehensive historical geographic work has been done on them at all. The historic geography perspective used in this dissertation provides rich insight into how a culture has been able to survive for centuries in extremely harsh conditions.

Several Tohono O'odham material culture and lifestyle studies have been done by anthropologists. There also are a few Pimeria Alta environmental studies by biologists that excluded the people. In addition, historians, including Erickson (1994), have also published O'odham studies. Erickson, like other earlier studies, presents an overview of the people but stops well short of current important cultural and economic changes including new education ventures and casino gaming. Furthermore, Erickson does not even mention the increasingly serious O'odham health problems. This undertaking updates earlier works and provides new knowledge by conmiingling information from early studies with up-to-date research.



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