Tohono O’odham Nation invests in future of ancestors

Tucson, Arizona (University of Arizona)

The Tohono O’odham Nation, under the 12 percent gaming revenue distribution required by state law, has awarded more than $65,000 to Arizona State Museum.

The award will be used to support Native American consultations and an internship to help in the design of the Native American heritage exhibit in the Tucson Origins Heritage Park, known as TOHP. TOHP is a significant part of the planned 30-acre cultural campus in downtown Tucson, west of I-10 and south of Congress Street, adjacent to several museums (Arizona State Museum, the University of Arizona Science Center, Arizona History Museum and Tucson Children’s Museum).

Tucson’s downtown redevelopment project celebrates the origins of Tucson’s culture and history from its earliest days. Residents have lived at and around the foot of “A” Mountain continuously for at least 4,000 years. Those first residents, including the Hohokam, left many wonderful reminders from their time in Tucson. Indeed, it is widely known that the name of this city comes from the O’odham word S-cuk Son, which means “at the base of black mountain.”

It is appropriate that the representatives of those first inhabitants are today reinvesting in that very area both financially and intellectually.

Working cooperatively with the City of Tucson, Arizona State Museum has held initial consultations with tribes culturally affiliated to the site. The consultations have resulted in naming the Native American area of TOHP as S-cuk Son and concurring that the Tohono O’odham Nation takes the lead in articulating the interpretation of the site.

The award from the Tohono O’odham Nation will ensure that tribal voices continue to be represented in the full design and development of the project. “Native peoples possess their own stories of their ancestors and how they lived,” says Alyce Sadongei, assistant curator for Native American relations at Arizona State Museum. “Archaeologists and ethnohistorians have studied the site and the historical record using current research techniques. These explanations and stories will combine to tell a vivid, multi-vocal history of Tucson.”

Arizona State Museum, the oldest and largest anthropology museum in the Southwest, has an impressive history of creating effective partnerships between tribal and non-tribal cultural organizations. Under Sadongei’s expertise, the museum has secured several large federal grants that produced a directory of tribal cultural organizations and two national conferences designed to create a support network for tribes with museums, archives and libraries. The museum also maintains a Native Nations advisory board on its many vast and varied responsibilities.

The S-cuk Son area of Tucson Origins Heritage Park will benefit from the unique input offered by descendant populations. Oral histories, Indigenous architectural technologies, traditional irrigation and gardening practices, for example, will complement and augment the archaeological record. Tribal representatives will also serve as a sounding board for interpretive themes, as well as provide contacts for additional input, support and financial contributions.

According to Sadongei’s proposed timeline, the consultations will continue through a 20-week process.

“Arizona State Museum is devoted to the study of Arizona’s ancient peoples and their descendants,” explains Beth Grindell, Arizona State Museum associate director. “We believe we have a strong role to play in engaging Tucson’s residents in relevant conversations about our community. As we expand to the downtown facility, we will continue to bring our research and collections together with the community’s interests to give historical context and an anthropological perspective.”

Some of the funds from the gift will also go to assist Burns and Wald-Hopkins, the architectural firm working with the City of Tucson on the downtown redevelopment project. “This is a great partnership for the city, Arizona State Museum and the Tohono O’odham Nation,” says Greg Shelko, downtown development director. “It brings Native knowledge and perspectives so important to the success of the project.”