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Discussion – 


Discussion – 


O’odham Gathering at Schuk Toak 2022


O’odham Gathering at Schuk Toak 2022

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]This is a Gathering of the people to honor one another with respect, to honor our Mother Earth and to share our knowledge.

To Respect, Preserve, Protect and Educate about the importance of our land, oceans, animals, and all creations.

To learn, practice and preserve our culture and traditions for the generations to come. Our language and culture is rooted in all of us.  Together we will learn it, practice it, and preserve it.

Public Message: 

Please be respectful of the Museum, the location and the event. Please do not throw your trash on the ground. Please use waste containers for all trash.

This is a traditional social event for sharing, please respect each other.  Stay hydrated and be safe.  Be aware that there are snakes, spiders and many other of God’s creations on these lands and nearby. We are in their home, not our own home. Do not disturb or bother any creatures. Do not go out into the desert alone. It is beautiful but extremely dangerous and challenging.


Martin Sau, Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve Director

Omar Saenz, Tourism Director of Puerto Peñasco, representing the Puerto Peñasco Major Jorge I. Pivac Carrillo.

Lorraine Eiler, Hia Ced O’odham Elder

Laura L. Biedebach,  US/Mexico Consulate Nogales

Nelida Barajas Acosta, Executive Director,  Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans

Luis Enrique Valdez Reyes, Mayor of General Plutarco Elías Calles

Legislative Council Representatives from the Tohono O’odham Nation

Traditional O’odham Leaders of Mexico

Now, our guest of honor and members of the Tohono O’odham Nation  will share some words with us.

Martin Sau

Director Reserva de la Biosfera el Pinacate y Gran Desierto del Altar

After welcoming the presidium and the rest of those present on behalf of the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas and the El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve.

This meeting is transcendental and significant because it brings us together and commits us all to continue working for the conservation and protection of this region of the Gran Desierto del Altar and its Volcanic Shield because they are the ancestral custodians of all the cultural values and sacred sites of the Tohono O’Odham Nation and therefore a legacy for the new generations.

I would like to comment briefly that one of the foundations for the technical studies that gave rise to this biosphere reserve were the sacred values and beliefs that are transmitted from generation to generation. The Pinacate mountain is holy and sacred, it is the place of origin of all the O’odham, therefore this nation has the conviction that they must contribute and continue to reaffirm the meaning of the Pinacate, and for them and for all of us we must recognize it as our origin.

These have been and always will be Tohono O’odham territories, and everyone present here is committed to join efforts to continue conserving and spreading their cosmovision, their values, their uses and customs, and the respect for their land from different personal and institutional perspectives .

On this day and during this meeting we will all be aware of the importance of their language, not only because of its linguistic implications, but because through this element all the knowledge of this nation is conveyed. We will learn about their rituals such as the offering offered today to I’itoi, our God; we will learn about their herbal medicine, their gastronomy, their handicrafts, their productive activities and above all their spirituality and their beliefs.

Finally, I would like to reiterate my welcome to all of you, wishing that all the objectives of this meeting be fulfilled, and to tell all the members of the O’odham Nation that the Pinacate is your home.

Thank you very much for considering us as your host and thank you all for your presence.

Omar Saenz

Director de Turismo de Puerto Peñasco, en representación de Jorge Pivac, Presidente Municipal de Puerto Peñasco

On behalf of Mayor Jorge I. Pivac Carrillo we welcome you to Puerto Peñasco, ancestral lands of the Tohono O’odham Nation. We are very pleased that the Schuk Toak Museum in the Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve is the perfect setting for this meeting in which the Nation allows us to learn more about their culture, traditions, and cosmovision. Thank you for making us part of this gathering, in Puerto Peñasco you will always find an ally for the work you do for the natural and cultural heritage of the region.

Lorraine Eiler

Anciana  Hia Ced O´odham 

In O’odham, I said welcome to the O’odham guests because I wanted them to know that Schuk Toakhas a very special place in my heart and for the people I come from, the HIa Ced O’odham, and to introduce myself. My name is Lorraine Marquez Eiler, My mother is Eugenia Noriega Marquez whose family is from Quito Vac, Sonora, Mexico.  My father is Meterio Marquez from Darby Well, Ajo, Arizona. HIs family also resided in Dome Valley, Schuk Toak, Quitobaquito Springs, Chico Suni, and finally Darby Well.  All those sites are mostly on land taken over by the Federal Government or under private ownership.

Here are my reflections about the people I come from, my ancestors and their loss of aboriginal lands sites.  Schuk Toakand Quitobaquito Springs are just two of the sites.  My great grandmother Maria Garcia from Dome Valley recalled walking from Dome to Schuk Toak in three days.  The stories were shared during my growing up years about their walk, and the gathering  and  preparations for the Vigitha Ceremony.  Unfortunately, due to encroachment , harassment, and removal of tribal members by the Mexican Military to places unknown, there was a big loss of members of the HIa Ced. Fearing the loss of their sacred ceremony, the Vigitha, they moved the ceremony to Quito Vac, Sonora , Mexico.  Every year the O’odham celebrate the new year, bringing down the rain, Vigitha Ceremony, a ceremony that must continue.

In 1988, a group of us, the HIa Ced O’odham attended the Arizona/Sonoran Commission symposium held in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico  The group protested the Pinacate Schuk Doag, becoming a Biosphere.  The protest was based on the fact that consultation had not taken place with any O’odham group, a practice the tribes have had to  deal with since the arrival of the immigrants.  The O’odham consider Schuk Toak, a sacred place, a place to revere, a place our creator resides in.  As a result of our appearance, there followed a number of meetings to discuss the planning and inclusion of O’odham members to participate in the overall management and care.

Some years later in the 90’s a number of us attended the dedication of the Biosphere held in the Sand Dunes north of Puerto Penasco.  Multiple  Mexico Government officials were present, including the Governor of Arizona, UNESCO staff, Ascencio Antone Palma, Governor of the O’odham in Mexico.

Everytime I visit the Schuk Toak area, as I walk around, I ask myself,  Am I walking on my ancestors footsteps?  That makes me very humble.  What they endured, accomplished, and survived in order for me to be standing here before you.

I thank the individuals that planned and worked on the gathering and for inviting me to take part.  Many Blessings to all.

Laura Biedebach’s

Cónsul General de los Estados Unidos en Nogales, Sonora.

It is a true honor to be present at this festivity which is my first visit to this area as Consul General of the United States in Nogales.

I am amazed by the cultural richness that we saw during the tour of the Schuk Toak Museum, a fitting tribute to the history of the Tohono O’odham Nation and the majesty of the Gran Desierto de Altar.

This building serves to amplify the self-written history of the members of this Great Nation. We recognize the strong presence, identity and contributions of the native peoples.

Thank you for inviting me to share in this celebration of lands, waters, cultures and traditions. It is everyone’s responsibility to preserve and protect the land we inhabit and to respect the men and women who inhabit it.

Let us work together to promote, through education, respect for our environment, but also for the conservation of the cultures and traditions of our native peoples.

The Great Tohono O’odham Nation is vast in cultural wisdom, in its crafts, its dances and its language, which transmit the richness of its people. Native peoples have contributed greatly to our heritage, distinguishing themselves as scholars, artists, entrepreneurs, leaders in all aspects of our society, and have also served in the United States Armed Forces with honor and distinction, defending the security of our Nation with their lives.

Native Americans face harsh realities, including disproportionately high rates of poverty, unemployment, crime and disease.

These disparities are unacceptable, and we must recognize both our history and our current challenges if we are to aspire to equal development opportunities for all members of Native peoples.

Last October at the Native American Heritage Month Proclamation President Joseph Biden stated:

“Our nation cannot fulfill the promise of our founding as long as inequities affecting Native Americans persist.”

The administration is committed to promoting equity and opportunity for all Native Americans and helping tribal nations overcome the challenges they have faced due to pandemic, climate change and lack of sufficient infrastructure in a way that reflects their unique political relationship.

For this reason it is of utmost importance that events such as this one are held that serve to pay tribute to the history of the Great Tohono O’odham Nation, but also help to make visible the contributions and challenges that lie ahead in our present and future.

I conclude by respectfully wishing that the New O’odham Year comes with unity and renewed energy for our peoples and communities.

C.Luis Enrique Valdez R.

Mayor General Plutarco Elias Calles, Sonoyta.

It is always a pleasure for us to be part of these great efforts to honor the memory of the original people of these lands, the people of the desert, the Tohono O’odham People.

I am fortunate to have shared different traditional activities with the Tohono people. I am from Sonoyta and since my youth my friends of the ethnic group made me participate in many activities.

Today here with you I remember one occasion that in perspective makes me see my responsibility as an elected authority in Sonoyta. In my youth I participated in a race where the baton of command was passed among several men of Sonoyta, and without thinking they gave it to me, and I started to run with it. Where there was supposed to be a relay, people told me, keep going, and so I passed two groups that kept motivating me to continue with the baton. Some time later I talked to them and what they told me today resonates in my mind.

They said they gave me the baton because already in those days people saw in me a leader, and today I see myself years later with that responsibility to fulfill.

Every year we have shared with the Tohono people the traditional festivities of San Francisquito, where their music and energy flood the atmosphere and infect the whole town with the warmth of their culture.

I want to thank Mr. Verlon, a friend of Sonoyta and all the people who make these meetings and activities possible, the teachers and dancers and all those who come together to continue maintaining these traditions.

Doraly Velasco

 Traditional O’odham Leader from Quitovac

Kuk touch, añi, ñap shuki Doraly Velasco León, an kanjú Quitovac, Sonora, amichich. Good afternoon, my name is Doraly Velasco León, I live in the community of Quitovac, Sonora.

On behalf of the “People of the Desert” I greet our brothers and sisters gathered here today.

I am a proud Tohono O’odham woman, descendant of an ancestral people, today between two countries, that survives thanks to the resistance and will of our communities that refuse to be forgotten and buried among the white sand dunes, where we have existed for hundreds of years.

This afternoon I want you to listen to me with your heart, because I come to speak of what we have had to do to survive, of what we have had to walk to predict, learn and reflect; of what we have had to protect and preserve so as not to forget or be forgotten.

Not infrequently we have had to struggle in order to move forward. At times, everything in life has been taken away from us to defend our territories, identity and culture.

Our language is dying, but not our worldview or our historical memory because we have left traces in our walk through those territories that sustain our life, in our songs and traditions, thanks to the solidarity and complementarity that is rooted in our beings.

The extinction of our O’odham language in a casual or natural event, has to do with a set of walls and borders that divide and separate the lands we call home.

As long as there is even one speaker of the O’odham language there is hope. If my language dies and with it my culture, a part of you will also die, because I exist thanks to you, we are an infinite whole made up of links of the “feeling” of understanding and growing, we coexist in this universe and we need each other.

If necessary, I will give my last drop of blood for my people, for my culture and for my language. Because as traditional leaders we have the commitment and responsibility to learn and preserve our identity. We must do it for our children, because they also need and will need to discover their place in history.

I hope one day to return to this beautiful place and be able to say more in O’odham than in Spanish. Thank you.

Kendall Jose Johnson

Vice President of the O´odham Legislative Council at Chutuk Kut

Kendall spoke about the importance of Schuk Toak, the Sacred Mountain, to I’itoí, the Elder Brother. He commented on the importance of being united as O’odham people, whether you belong to the Tohono O’odham, the Akimel O’odham or the Hia Ced O’odham, all in essence are O’odham. He spoke about the boundaries of the O’odham Nation; from Phoenix to Hermosillo and from the Gila River to the Colorado River and Sea of Cortez, his nation sees no other boundaries.  He emphasized how O’odham songs and stories are the way O’odham knowledge and culture is passed down from generation to generation, as O’odham culture and traditions are not written on paper, but are written in the minds of all O’odham. Without realizing it, the children learn these songs and stories, and participate in ceremonies that little by little reveal to them the essence of who they are and what they represent. That is why they have to be known, respected and preserved. Even in this O’odham Encounter, it is possible that the participants may have many doubts and questions, but I invite everyone to be patient, since the truth they seek will be revealed to them in due time.

Jiivik Siiki and Isabel Benitez Gomez

Salt runner / Casa Grande Traditional Dancer

My wife Isabel said I said this: I acknowledged the warriors of the salt that were present. I started saying I’itoi was not a God to be worshiped but gave us a set of teachings to follow in order to have a good balanced life and  provide the earth with good energy, and everyone is able to do this. We should not waste our lives as the Creator expects wonderful things from each of us.

Nélida Barajas

Closing remarks

Three years ago my path intertwined again with the desert. I came from the Chihuahuan Desert to the Sonoran Desert and in perspective I only migrated, as do the nations of the northern cultures.

Museum of Northern Paquimé Cultures, Nuevo Casas Grandes, Chihuahua

For thousands of years, men and women of the native nations have lived in harmony with the desert, before the conquerors fractured the identity and put walls in the territories.

Listening to the interventions masterfully interwoven by the speakers before me, I share with you these closing reflections:

“The Pinacate and Gran Desierto del Altar Reserve is part of the territories of the Tohono O’odham Nation, a site recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site for its cultural and biological diversity” (Martin Sau, Director). “What better place to frame this gathering with the Tohono O’odham Nation than the site where Elder Brother I’itoi, in the Schuk Toak, gave the second welcome to the men and women who populate this land, that is why they sing songs and make offerings at this sacred site” (Verlon José). “To feel the emotion of walking in the footsteps of my ancestors” (Loraine). “To recognize the difficult conditions in which the native nations live” (Laura). “To resume the pilgrimages that leave us teachings where we pray for everyone; the labyrinth is not only for the O’odham but for all the children of God, because our Elder Brother I’itoi taught us to live well and to respect each other” (Javick). “The O’odham language is becoming extinct, the history of the Original Peoples is a history of struggle, and it must be shared so that it is not forgotten” (Doraly).

Personally, I have had a deep and transformative immersion in the Tohono O’odham Culture. I could not summarize how, in such a short time in this region where the Sonoran Desert meets the Gulf of California, I have experienced so much. From the first time we were visited at the Intercultural Center for Desert and Ocean Studies (CEDO) by Loraine and a group of women who shared the challenges the women of the Nation face (#Whereareourwomen), to sharing a little piece of their story in the film Sonora scripted by Guillermo Munro, Honorary Advisor and Founding member of CEDO, to today being part of the International Sonoran Desert Alliance, and experiencing the first time Verlon visited us at CEDO, and the many more visits that followed in many other places where traditional leaders have adopted me and my family in so many meaningful encounters.

As a professional, I see more clearly than ever the role that CEDO has in this conjunction. We are intercultural, we are biodiversity, we are the guardians of the desert. I see with great joy that this meeting in which the Tohono Nation opens the doors to all of us to each of the people who make up the presidium and to all of you who accompany us is an opportunity to learn about their culture,  and a great opportunity to reconnect with nature and build just societies and educate for the future we want and need.

Our desert is full of life and depends on the actions that each and every one of us takes. I close with some words I have adopted that help me describe our connections:

“We are the sons and daughters of the Desert.” (Rafael Barceló). “The earth is not ours but we are of mother earth.” (Verlon José). “Its waters run in our veins.” (Maria Garcia).

Thank you all for coming, we look forward to seeing you at CEDO and invite you to join us this September 30 and October 1 at our “Music for the Desert” event to benefit CEDO.


We now invite you to join us for dinner, bearing in mind that the elders go first followed by the dignitaries and then the rest of the guests.

Traditional Singing and Dancing

Quitovac and Casa Grande Traditional Dancers

Jose Family Singers

First dance: The dance of the baskets. In this dance, the O’odham women show off to the rhythm of the music the baskets that they themselves made.

Second dance: it will be a Traditional Dance to honor the Heavens, the Clouds, the Rainbow and all of God’s Creation. To honor this time of our people, the beginning of Summer, as the O’odham New Year begins, to call for rain for our crops, our animals and to honor our Mother Earth.

Third dance: this is the dance of the gifts in which the O’odham dancers dance showing gifts that they have for the public, and when the musicians give the indication (by way of blows on a basket) the people who want the gifts must take the hands of the dancers and dance with them in gratitude.

Closing Dance: it’s a Social Dance of the O’odham. We join hands and move in a counterclockwise motion to the rhythm of the songs. When the beat of the basket is heard the dancers will skip to the rhythm of the beat and kick up the dust to raise up and form the clouds that make the rain.


Event Closure

We thank you for your participation in this event, please be careful when you leave, we want everyone to have a safe trip.


THANK YOU! To all the partners and donors for making this event possible. Director, Martin Sau Cota and Staff of the El Pinacate Reserve, President Jorge Pivac and President Enrique Valdez, O’odham Traditional Practitioners, Traditional O’odham Leaders of Mexico, the Volunteers, Carina Flores, Paloma Valdivia, the Police, Emergency Personnel and so many more people that made this wonderful gathering possible.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator style=”shadow” border_width=”2″][vcj_team_member image=”1972″ name=”About the Author:” layout=”style3″ image_ratio=”portrait” color_name=”#ca972e”]Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans CEDO.

CEDO Intercultural is a unique collaboration between non-profit organizations in Mexico and the United States. Operating under a United Executive Committee and inspired by a vision, mission, and strategic programs, CEDO pools its resources and experiences to offer realistic environmental and community solutions that recognize, respect, and drive cultural, socio-economic, and biological interconnections between Mexico and the United States.

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CEDO Intercultural


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