Saturday, July 27, 2013


One of my cousins was the 200th person to like my Casa On and Off TheRez Facebook Page.  I had planned, to write about Cousins in general as my next blog topic, as kind of a celebration for my 200-milestone.  Then, to add to the pressure, it was “National Cousin Day” earlier this week.  (Thanks for the reminder, Ellen DeGeneres.)  But it took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to say.

My cousins have always played a really big role in my life.  They were my first friends and the people that I trusted most in the world, growing up. 

Like a lot of people around us, we grew up really hard.  We didn’t go on family vacations or have great big family reunions.  In fact, we rarely even had meals together.  Everyone would be sent home at dinnertime to eat their own family’s meals.  Everyone was broke, you couldn’t just go around feeding extra kids.  I always used to take note of the question in TV or movies, “Can so-and-so stay for dinner?”  We never even asked in our house, but if we had, I know what response we would have gotten.  “Eee! Tell them to go home! I can’t afford to feed them!”

I saw my cousins every day growing up, I’d see them early in the morning and we’d be together till the sun started to go down, every evening.  We were in the same classes at school, we played together, we fought together, we were everyday family during my entire childhood. 

We spent a lot of time unsupervised and we were always responsible for each other.  This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I cringe at the thought of the dangerous things we did or were exposed to.  Like the time my brother sliced his scalp open running through a partially collapsed barb wire fence.     

My older siblings and cousins never liked the younger ones hanging out with them, we were the worst at everything, but they knew if we went home complaining, that someone would get whooped.  We always had it in our back pockets, “I’m gonna tell Hu’uli that you’re not letting me play!”  A lot of times they were just stuck with us.   

The cousins who were my age played together every day.  We didn’t go in each other’s houses too often.  Their Mom or my Mom always wanted us outside.  We climbed trees and roamed the desert. 

We always found things to play with, mostly things that were discarded as trash.  We rarely had new toys and if someone did have a new toy, it was unfair that only one person had it.  Sharing was hard, but it was built into our friendship and we were always trying to figure out how to make a little go a long way.  There’s only one bike and 13 cousins who want to ride it?  Sure, everyone can have a turn, but only from here to that tree, and it’s a game.  Fastest wins! Hurry!

We played countless games of tag, hide and seek and kick the can over the years.     

We had get-rich schemes that (obviously) didn’t work, but which we were convinced would.    

We weren’t always good and we didn’t always play nicely.  I had two cousins who always got mad, no matter what we were doing and would always march home angry.  If they did, we knew the party was over and someone was freakin’ in for it. 

Surprisingly, we didn’t get spanked the time we pretended to lock our littlest cousin in the dark shed behind Hu’uli-bat’s house, and she stayed in there, even though it wasn’t locked.  Then she went home crying.  (I still feel bad about that one.)

We spent both the good times and the bad times with our cousins.  We were there to ooh and aah over their brand new shoes that made them run faster, and we were there sitting next to them at the funerals that changed their lives forever, and mine.     

We don’t all live close to each other anymore.  Most of us are married and have kids of our own now.  When we do have a few minutes to catch up with each other, I find myself saying things like, “You know how she is.” when talking about my Mom.  And they do, there’s no need to explain.  They know my life story.     

In the O’odham way, now our kids and my cousins kids our all cousins too.  It’s magic to see them play together.  They pick up and play as if they’ve known each other forever.  Maybe they have, and maybe they will.        

I don't know what the artist's intent was with this image. 
But I see it and I think of awesome games of kick-the-can. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Rez Cows Are Tasty

*If you are a vegetarian, or squeamish, don't read this blog... just... don't. 


Cows wander around the rez all the time.  Sometimes they travel in small herds; sometimes you’ll encounter only one.  I spent a great deal of my childhood trying to chase cows out of our front yard.  Of course, they’re not limited to the villages, I often see them being chased out of parking lots by people in office attire in the greater, metropolitan area of Sells.  They’re all over the place. 

When we were kids, we used to sleep outside on metal-frame, military beds, to escape the heat of the house.  It was pretty great sleeping outside.  You’d have an entire sky full of stars for your personal enjoyment and you’d wake up needing blankets, even in the Arizona summer.  The only downside I remember was the possibility of waking up to a cow licking your head.  As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s startling to wake up with an animal in your face, and of course, your brothers and sisters will make fun of you all day, (if not for the rest of your life) because a cow licked your head.  Cows were always just kind of a nuisance, but harmless for the most part. 
Of course, that’s not to say that cows aren’t dangerous.  Sometimes you find yourself hoping and praying, eyes wide and unblinking, as you slowly edge your car forward, that the bull staring you down won’t charge your car.  When I’m on the rez, I hear people call out, “Watch out for cows!” anytime anyone is about to drive anywhere.  It’s a little more specific than just a general, “Be safe!” because sometimes people forget about them and tend to speed on the seemingly empty roads, which can be a very serious mistake.  Every person in my family but me, (knock on wood) has hit a cow at least once; my dad has hit at least three cows and one horse.  Seriously… watch out for the livestock.      
I know most people have an image in their heads when they hear the word, “Native” and a different image pops into their heads when they hear the word, “cowboy”, but there are a lot of Native cowboys out there.  My great-uncle was a well-respected wakial, a “cowboy”, he always had livestock on the brain.  He played an important role in “The Association”, which was the group of cowboys that took care of all the open-range livestock in our area.  
Cows are free to wander the rez during most of the year.  Sometimes the Wapkial, the “O’odham cowboys”, do a round-up so they can brand the cows, count them or sell them.  My Hu’uli-bat and my Hu’ul Ke:li-bat always had a surprising number of cattle roaming around.  They rarely discussed their finances with me, but from what I gather from having sat at the dinner table, owning cattle can be quite lucrative. 
We never got to personally know cows or anything, we weren’t living like the Little House on the Prairie, where we name our cows and sneak outside to give them treats and befriend their young.  In fact, my favorite thing about rez cows is that they’re butchered for big events like funerals, dances and weddings. 
It’s a lot of work to kill and butcher a cow, not to mention it’s also very expensive.  Killing a cow is usually only done when a large number of people need to be fed.  It’s a huge, exhausting process that can take a couple of days and a large number of people are involved.
Usually, the wapkial come early in the morning to the site where the cow will be killed.  They’ll bring the unfortunate beast that’s been chosen, desperately mooing in a trailer, as if it already knows what’s about to happen.  Although most cows are killed near the community’s feast house, where the celebration is likely to take place, several times as a child, cows were killed in my Hu’uli’s back yard. 
I never liked to watch as the cow was tied down and wrestled to the ground.  There’s a lot of dust and yelling and of course, at some point there’s blood.  There’s always a prayer and thanks given, but it’s a very messy business and I’d rather not watch.        
Once the cow is dead, however, everyone is expected to be useful and productive. 
The cow is skinned right there on the ground and pieces are hacked off and carried to the long tables that will be used to cut down the meat to more manageable pieces.  Soon, only the inedible parts of the cow are left on the ground.
The sound of knives being sharpened mingles with the men’s joking and storytelling.  Their eyes watch their fingers carefully as they quickly dissect the portions of beef they have in front of them.  Small cubes of bright, red meat pile up in large bowls as the men skillfully cut it down for ko’kol hidot.  Every once in a while, the bowls are switched out and replaced with clean, empty ones until all the meat is refrigerated or in the process of being cooked. 
It’s exciting to see so much meat being stored away, knowing that it will soon feed all your relatives, friends and neighbors.  In the O’odham community, friends and neighbors are usually relatives anyway, so really it’s for the whole family.  The chatting and joking between everyone as they work is comforting and familiar. 
The smell of the mesquite smoke from the fire and the smell of cecemait cooking are intense and hunger inducing.   
My absolute favorite, favorite, FAVORITE part about the killing of the cow was having a long strip of meat cooked over hot coals and immediately wrapped in a piece of freshly made cemait.
I guess being stared down by cows or being woken up early in the morning by a cow licking your head is a small price to pay for that delicious moment of beefy-cecemait bliss. 
Wapkial on round up guiding cow to the corral.  See, O'odham Cowboys. Told you. 
Wapkial on round up in the desert. (see the ropes and dust?)
Photo credits to Fred S., part time wakial and buddy of mine.
---------------- Quick Reference -----------------------
Although I’m not a linguist, I thought I’d share the following loose “translations” for my non-O’odham readers.  I cannot guarantee the correct spelling or “translations” of the following words.  I'm a bad speller in all languages, but there's a handy built in English spell check on my computer.  Until there's an O'odham spell check, here's my closest effort.  
This is simply how I write them and use the following words.  

Rez– (English) slang for reservation
Wakial – Cowboy
Wapkial – Cowboys
Hu’uli – Grandmother (baby talk, equivalent of saying "mommy" for a grandmother)
Hu’ul Ke:li – My family’s pet name for my great-uncle (Hu’uli’s little brother)
-bat – is used to indicate that this person has passed away.
Ko’kol hidot – red chili (with stew meat)
Cemait – the O’odham version of a tortilla
Cecemait – a lot of O’odham “tortillas”
** Yes, there's a difference between cecemait and tortillas, I plan to write about that at another time.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Rain is Coming.

Bo him g ju:k. 

The rain is coming.

Normally, on my way home from work, I nap from the minute we hit the main highway out of Sells and don't wake up until we pull into the parking lot of our shuttle stop in Tucson.  My body is set to an internal clock, which I don't fight.  On any normal day, I can't stay awake between 7 and 8am or 5 and 6pm, even if I'm not on a shuttle. 

Today wasn't a normal day.   

I'm not sure if the change in temperature in the shuttle or the smell of rain woke me.  Even inside the noisy, bumpy, metal bus, it felt like rain.  I inhaled deeply and took in the sweet smell of the desert. 

Bo him g ju:k.

The rain is coming. 

I could see far off in the distance, a wall of darkness, hanging like a sheet in the middle of the sky.  The rest of the sky was bright, even sunny in places, though I knew it could quickly change without warning. 

I inhaled that familiar smell and my body became giddy.  I felt like laughing.   

I wondered if I would make it home before the rain. 

Once in my car, I slowly drove toward the deep, dark blue sky.  I was careful not to seem too eager, although I felt the urge to speed up and chase her. 

My Mom says you'll scare the rain away if you anticipate it too much.

I've rushed to bring in the laundry off the clothesline, only to have the rain stand me up, often enough to believe my Mom's theory. 

I pretended not to watch the clouds, but I kept sneaking peeks. 

As I opened my car door in my driveway, the wind came to greet me.  My hair went flying and tiny flecks of precipitation kissed at my skin.   

I only came inside for a moment to put down my things, then found my husband standing in the backyard, waiting too. 

We sat outside and watched the sky change colors.  The sound of the excited, blowing wind and occasional, distant crash of thunder filled my belly with butterflies.  We watched as unassuming lightening bolts lit up the sky and hoped that it could coax the shy raindrops down. 

Bo him g ju:k.

The rain is coming. 

The sun has set and the sky is thicker now with heavier clouds. 

Inside, you can hear booms and see flashes that seem to be playing a game of hide and seek with you.  Once you listen for the booms, you hear silence, once you look to the sky, you see a flash behind you.  You're always looking in the wrong place. 

The rain will come when she wants. 

She knows we've been waiting for her all year. 

The rain is coming to the desert. 

She's almost here. 

Picture from KOLD News 13
First Alert Monsoon Need-to-Know quiz

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Crepe Paper Flowers

In my family, we make crepe paper flowers. 

My Mom and Hu'uli-bat started including me in the paper flower making process when I was just four or five years old.  At first, it was only simple flowers, star cut-outs, layered on top of each other and held together with homemade paste.

My Mom, Aunt, Sister and Grandmother would sit surrounded by piles of more complicated paper flowers, chatting and gossiping in O'odham, while quickly shaping colorful works of art.  Scissors, glue, different crepe paper colors, and wire were constantly traveling around the room, from person to person. 

Hu'uli always reminded everyone to put our good thoughts and prayers into each flower.  That way the person who received them knew how much we loved and cared about them.  Although we took pride in the beautiful flowers that were made, in the end, the fact that we took the time to make them, was more important than how they actually looked. 

I was probably just six or seven when I started being expected to produce the more difficult and complex flowers alongside the other women in my family.  Not that I minded, it was an exciting and happy time and I was always eager to help.

I loved to sit and watch as my Hu'uli would confidently make cuts into the bright, colorful paper.  She used a huge pair of extra sharp, shiny, metal scissors that were too heavy for me to even use.  It was mesmerizing to watch her unrolling the crepe paper into long strips, refolding, stretching, bunching and suddenly forming a perfect flower.

My favorite part about making flowers was always showing them off to Hu'uli.  She always looked at my flowers like they were the most beautiful things she had ever seen.  If we had visitors, she'd want me to show them my creations so they could also ooh and aah over them.   

Over the years, I've made thousands and thousands of paper flowers.  I've made them for sad occasions and happy occasions.  Funerals. Parties. Weddings. My daughters make them with me. 

Flowers are a big part of my family's everyday life.  I didn't actually realize that until recently, after I purchased a smart phone, with a nice camera.  The majority of the photos in my phone are of flowers! 

Yesterday, my Mom made her famous roses.

I know someone is going to ask if they can have specific directions on how to make these so I tried to ask my Mom:

She said, "Do four petals at a time. You roll them. Bunch them. Stretch them. Separate the petals. Fold the first petal into thirds. Then layer with seven or eight petals. Oh, and use glue. Then tie it."

Although I can follow the directions, I still found them really funny.

Sorry if you read this whole blog expecting step-by-step directions.  I don't think I have the patience to write out directions.  I'm more of a fan of community paper-flower making sessions.  That way, you get to hear all the juicy gossip.  ::wink::


Friday, July 5, 2013

...And She Came to a Screeching Halt.

:Blog about Blogging and other issues I'm running into as a Native who writes.

Blogging has been very interesting and addicting.  If you've been following my blog, you might understand why I've even found it a bit exciting at times.   

I don't know what I was expecting to come from starting a blog.  Maybe I thought only some of my Facebook friends would want to read it, maybe nobody.  The point was to push myself to try to become comfortable with other people reading and criticizing my writing, so I can improve.  I don't know what my end goal is, I'm a fan of baby steps.  I just wanted to get words on paper.   

I've never been a fully confident writer.  I can't have anyone read over my shoulder when I write, and I hate showing people my rough drafts.  Writing opens the door for misinterpretation, misunderstanding and criticism. Writing makes one vulnerable and is a deeply personal, intimate process.  I'm always worried someone will find errors in my writing, or find my ideas offensive or just dumb.  I'm a classic overthinker.  Even now as I write this, in the back of my mind I'm semi-wondering who I'll offend with today's blog.  Don't get me wrong, I'm okay being offensive.  When push comes to shove, I'm always going to choose to express myself, but I do take it into consideration before I gain the courage to click "Publish".   

I didn't expect to get such a wide audience.  On my end of the blog you can see how many people visit my blog each day, how they connect to my page (from or, etc.) and what country they're from.  There's a huge section on devoted just to statistics and I find it completely fascinating. 

The country statistics have been my favorite thing to see.  I have no idea how people from other countries are finding my blog, or why on earth they're (you're) choosing to read my blog, but they (you) are and I seem to have a rather large following (other than U.S.) from Russia and Germany. ::Waving to Russia and Germany:: counts the number of clicks on my page, so I either have one person in Russia who has clicked on my blog 60 times, or 60 people who have clicked on it once, or some variation in between.  The same with Germany and other countries. 

I've had a couple of people request specific topics for me to cover.  I was asked by friends to share my opinion regarding Johnny Depp's portrayal of Tonto ::rolling my eyes:: and my opinions and experiences dealing with Border Patrol Agents on or just outside of my reservation. 

The topics were already things that I had an opinion on, but after posting the blog about the Freeway Images  (Unintentionally) Disrespectful Art and after a couple of news reporters, other bloggers (ones who have an ACTUAL audience) and a local newspaper contacted me or referenced my post in their own blogs (Thank you, by the way), I suddenly realized that I had to be a little more careful for the following reasons:

#1. I'm Native.  Shocker, I know.  Yes, I realize you probably knew that before you even found this page.  Maybe you were even looking for a female, Native, amateur writer's blog to check out, I don't know.  Maybe you're just reading this because I'm one of your cousins and you like hearing how your Auntie, my Mom is doing.  Ps. What the heck are you doing in Russia? Send me a postcard! 

Anyway, I realize I have to be more careful about what I decide to post for the world to see because sometimes, people who aren't accustomed to Natives sometimes forget that ONE Native does not represent the entire Native American population.  I am an individual, and although I may write things that other Natives can identify with, I am not a spokesperson for my community, my Tribe, the greater Native American Population of the United States nor the Indigenous peoples of the world.  There are going to be MANY people who disagree with me, my ideas and what I choose to share or not share on the Internet. 

#2. ::deep breath:: I'm a woman.  I chose to begin this blog after a friend of mine strongly encouraged me to participate in a Native Women's writing challenge on Facebook.  She felt that Native American Women weren't sharing their stories and that no matter how well meaning any male was, the Native Women's story was NOT actually coming from a woman.  She made me realize that by not sharing my own stories, I'm allowing others to speak on my behalf.  She and I discussed violence against women and how it impacts the women in our community and I was forced to think about my first experience feeling fear due to my gender.  I wrote They Were Maybe Five Years Old, a story based on a real experience that I had as a young girl.  I pushed myself to write about that intimate subject, and as I've been finding my footing as a "writer" and a "blogger", I've returned to the form that I'm most comfortable with, which tends to be a combination of prose/essay, written in a silly/whimsical tone. 

So, although I tend to be a whimsical and a mostly silly writer, I do take my writing very seriously.  As both a Native American and a Woman, I feel that I'm very much underrepresented in the writing community.  As a Tohono O'odham, there is even less representation.  Unless you have access to private collections of O'odham writing,  doctoral dissertations or recordings of oral histories, you will not find many books/essays/etc. written by Tohono O'odham.  Therefore, I'm sure you can imagine the sinking feeling I had in my belly as I read the following comment, left on my The Casa On The Rez (About) page:

"Cool! Thank you. I'm writing a second mystery novel, using Ajo, Highway 85, the TO rez, and Tucson. I've been looking for TO expressions. " - Clark Lohr
Although I appreciate that you've taken the time to check out my blog, I'm sorry, but my "expressions" are not for you to take and they are certainly not for you to profit from. 

As a side note, it particularly bugs me that a non-Native writer is "sharing the richness" of MY culture while at the same time, romanticizing the real life dangers of the illegal drug business which is threatening the lives of my family, friends and loved ones and the Tohono O'odham way of life.
Finally, the last thing I want to share is that I'm Tohono O'odham.  I am a Desert Person.  I do not call myself a "T.O."  When I hear someone say, "T.O.", unless they're talking about a high school, a college, or some other institution that is socially acceptable to refer to through the use of acronyms, such as TOHS (Tohono O'odham High School), TOCC (Tohono O'odham Community College), TOCA (Tohono O'odham Community Action), all I hear is, "I don't care enough to learn how to pronounce the name of your Tribe."

I take the time to teach the pronunciation to anyone who asks.  I will not laugh at you, I will not judge you.  I will respect you for taking the time to learn.  But if you call me, "T.O." I will consider you either lazy or ignorant or both.   

When I choose to shorten my tribal affiliation, I refer to myself as an O'odham.  O'odham translates to
person or people.  Tohono means desert.  I am not a desert.  I am a person.

Don't steal from me.  Don't discourage me. Don't underestimate me.   

I'm O'odham. I'm a Woman. I'm writing.

Brown fingers typing. 
*Photo op. My kid took this picture. 

*Native Women's Challenge page referenced is: On The Warpath Women Poetry.