Vee Quiva Casino Expansion at the foot of Muadag Tho’ag, November 25, 2012.
Dialogues and visions from O'odham Jeved
The new initiative that attempts to rescind the February 7 Loop 202 Referendum vote is based upon several ploys, including misinforming GRIC people about No Build as a valid option, making promises of a one-time, State-funded, per capita payout that cannot be guaranteed, and undermining the Tribal vote in favor of a smaller interest group. To be clear, de facto GRIC landholders are diverse and cover many different kinds of individuals and those who signed PANGEA’s papers cannot speak for every landholder or tribal member. PANGEA can speak only for the signed-in, GRIC entrepreneurs who want to develop their land, which would damage environments and living communities in District 6. I have engaged and argued with “PANGEA/Gric Landowners” over the following:
• Landholder rights are at issue, as this initiative is pitting the intentions of the individual vs. the well-being of the tribe. I abide by the rights of landholders, but I argue that a freeway will impact more than those of landholders’ families, and its negative impact to all outweighs the positive benefits to some.
• Additionally, any on-reservation alignment will need to transect Tribal as well as Allotted land, thus the input of the entire Community is required (and has been addressed by referendum twice thus far).
• PANGEA and signed-in landholders argue that they want to help the economy of the whole Community. My argument is that Pangea has an interest to their profit margin and any investors, not just the landholders. The bottom line does not always speak for the Tribe’s best interests.
• “PANGEA/Gric Landowners” claim that their master plan is centered on agriculture and the environment. My argument is a third-party consultant is not needed to revitalize agriculture or sustainability on the reservation, nor does it require more public capital like a freeway or parkway. P-MIP and Gila River Farms and others have been doing this in part for decades.
• “PANGEA/Gric Landowners” claim they don’t need a freeway or parkway at all. My argument is that PANGEA will not pay for the necessary roads and infrastructure to their plan if they don’t have to. They rather ADOT (and in certain degrees the Tribe) pay for it.
• “PANGEA/Gric Landowners” claim the only reason they put the initiative out there is to “save the mountain”. I argue that this issue is complex to landholders. Some landholders believe this in their heart, but rationalize No Build as unrealistic. To others, protecting Muadag Tho’ag has become the selling point to save a City Concept they bought into, and which is dependent upon public capital and infrastructure. And others, well they simply want to develop their land for profit. I’ve called on the worst aspects because that actually misleads the true protectors of Muadag Tho’ag. This is the crux of the issue.
I have spoken here at this page as an independent GRIC member. Yet there are some things that can be said that describe No Build advocates. This is not “my group” or a small group of “radical” outsiders. From what I seen, these are workaday people from across the Community. The No Build supporters I met fight for some of the same things that “PANGEA/Gric Landowners” claim to, and I know some landholders sitting silently in the background can whole-heartedly agree.
But the notable difference is that No Build advocates speak on behalf of our long-term health as a whole with no interest to gain a $2000 check or $2 Million one. No Build advocates will not accept that the completion of the Loop 202 is inevitable out of denial, but out of sheer determination. Muadag Tho’ag is resilient like we are as people, and despite being occupied and cut into by Ahwatukee/Foothills development, it still stands tall. It is a reminder that this issue is not just about the mountain, but the people standing behind it—those living beside it.
On the other hand, based on all I seen here at this FB profile, I sense that PANGEA’s City Concept is not going to eradicate our Community’s problems, only make profits for investors (if even that) which will trickle down to increased revenue for some. The personal attacks, deceitful words, and false promises all belie a group that is hell-bent on Saving PANGEA’s City Concept. Banking on this master-planned pseudo-utopia does not teach our People empowered destiny so much as teach people how destroy communities, value money over brotherhood, and continue to lose sight of our indigenous identity. I encourage people to find out how landscape is related to who we are as indigenous caretakers and think about how our fragile sovereignty is earned by knowing who we are. That will empower us to be resilient culturally–more holistically, not just economically.
We can come together and help one another to protect our community and way-of-life, and that entails stopping the freeway. There are no promises or guarantees in life, and the vote for No Build did not mean we can dust our clothes off and say “job well done”. To pursue No Build, we need many strong leaders and powerful allies. If “PANGEA/Gric Landowners” are being truthful when they say they don’t need a freeway, then they should cease this initiative and focus on their master plan of urbanizing Indian Country. If “PANGEA/Gric Landowners” care about “Saving the Mountain” and revitalizing culture, then they must look at how any freeway alignment will destroy cultural sites, add to our pollution problem, disrupt living environments, and sever connections to our important places.
People who share interest in allotments are simply holding their land for future generations. We will not live forever and our children will have to live with the decisions we make now. The answer to the question “if you put a dollar in one hand and soil in the other, which will last longer?” is without a doubt our land. Its all we have, it has sustained us for millennia, and it can only be invaluable if it’s kept indigenous and coherent, not under jurisdiction of the Arizona Department of Transportation.
I challenged you to tell me how an amusement park puts our people on a “Healing Journey” to repair the detrimental effects of colonization—I am still waiting. You said studies were conducted and presented to each District in the Community. I asked for copies of the reports and studies you have done. I want details about your investors, details on your urbanization plan, and I am asking you share them here with us all.
Thanks for your time.
Alicia: Roads and Landscapes
Days spent alone walking the desert south of Lone Butte I would notice broken pottery, rusted metal bits, cracked and dried plastic parts all strewn along highways, back roads, ancient canals. All refuse from transportation routes which brought in many vital supplies in the past and continue to do so today. I kept walking among the trash as sand drifted along and obscured the oldest as well as newest of such corridors. I noted that along the same trails and canals connecting villages and sacred places, people retread the same lines.
“In 1865, 465 cords of wood were cut and sold for firewood by Indians whose crops had failed. By 1905, nearly 12,000 cords a year were being cut and sold in Phoenix” (Hackenberg 1983; [a cord equals 4’ x 4’ x8’ of well-stacked wooden logs])
The effects are still visible today along Maricopa Road. Distorted, twisted stumps of wood lie upright in among sparse rifts of wolfberry and salt bush. When I was younger I assumed these stumps were natural—part of normal life cycles. Little doubt now that the local ecosystem is still bouncing back since the rapid deforestation during the late 1800s. The historic sale of firewood to nearby Tempe, Kyrene, Hightown, and ultimately Phoenix was facilitated by transportation routes—especially the railroad which connected the Valley cities with Maricopa, an important stop along the transcontinental Southern Pacific Railroad.
Alicia was the Milgahn name for a small O’odham settlement and store that sprung up at a stop along the Maricopa & Phoenix Railroad (near the present intersection of Riggs and Maricopa Roads). The old railroad is now a congested double highway that brings commuters from the town of Maricopa to the greater Valley. In fact, Southern Pacific initially wanted to build the connecting railroad around the west end of Muadag Tho’ag, however political sway from Tempe brought the railway through the east valley in the early 1880s. The junction of the two railroads created present-day Maricopa.
Alicia was a flash in the pan, really, barely noticed at all. The settlement rose and eventually fell as people moved to better lands and opportunities. Several kikik and vatos, and a well all supported transient movement between people from Gila Crossing and the railroad. According to the late Joseph Giff and Sally Pablo, Jack Owens ran a store at Alicia, who was half Milgahn and O’odham. A bachelor, he passed away in 1919, ingesting kerosene supposedly to remedy his ailing stomach. The store closed upon his passing, and soon after Alicia was only a memory to elder Community members. After Alicia was abandoned, the M&P Railroad continued until it too was abandoned in the late 1930s—replaced by the current State Highway.
This transportation corridor provided a means of livelihood for many O’odham, Pee Posh, and other community members who strove to make it by in a time when water was scarce. Opportunity arose from the incoming settlers — beginning with wheat crop trade in the 1700s onward to eventual fuel wood sales, wage labor, and business establishment in the case of the late Jack Owens. Nothing much has changed in those terms, however, but the means of transport has: vehicles which appeal to the individualistic mindset now get us to places, all while ingesting fossil fuels and leaving behind noxious exhaust.
There is a cost for the opportunity, then as now, and the surrounding ha’ichu vuushdag took the bill. Alicia faded, like any other establishment based on finite resources. Boom and bust, as was the case for many settlements in the West. This scenario plays out today as the Community struggles to adapt to global systems.
The cash economy was adapted as means to survive when the river failed. In many ways our elders’ values changed, and became more wealth conscious. Dislocation from fields that were long-worked, losing language, knowledge of how to grow food, all drove us further apart from one another. And it only continues today, as such notions of a simpler living are rejected for the luxuries of today.
Can we come to terms with what we do to our landscape, how it will change our homeland ‘forever’? Can we think in generations and not for the “here” and “now”? Can we plan for long-term survival beyond simply conforming to a capitalistic state?
Who we might be in four or five generations from now cannot be justified by tokens and motifs without meaning. Alicia, the railway, and the natural landscape tell a story, however small, which is being repeated today in much larger ways.
“Clear water was flowing in [the Gila River] and many beautiful cottonwoods, willow, and arrow weeds were abundant along the banks…Springtime was willow and cottonwood gathering times as the leafy shoots came forth for the basketmakers. The Indians made their own brush dams to channel the water to their fields. Although council meetings were unheard of they went about in a business-like way and had meeting where all their needs were discussed and problems were solved and carried through. There was always a chief elected to be the leader and whatever he thought was best was accepted by the people. They governed themselves in a good sensible way.”
-Grandma Eva Hill
photo of O’odham farmers on shore by irrigation dam, ca. 1900, by C.C. Pierce.
Taking on a freeway is no small task. You have to fight job creation. Fight investors, federal agencies. Fight against the wishes of the majority. Stopping a highway pits one against the only thing that people in America move for: millions of millions of dollars. But this is exactly what I decided to help with a little over a year ago. Why do I want to stop the South Mountain Freeway from being built? Well, it’s the principle of the thing. It’s the fight worth fighting for, among a plethora of issues more immediate and long-standing.
“its going to be built anyways, we should just be involved so we have a say and are compensated”
I was never comfortable with this. There was something more than simply letting the western world roll right over (almost) everything I knew about my self and my identity. So when my friend asked me what I thought, but more importantly, what I was going to do about it, I realized doing something was the only thing that made differences in the world around me.
So I set out to learn and do.
So-called traditional culture was not something I was completely immersed in when I was growing up. Much of it was mixed Euro-American pop, western philosophy, Christianity and revisionist, plains-infused native beliefs. Much of my traditional upbringing was simply not there and it was only later through my own recognizance as a teen did I seek out teachings and stories from my O’odham homeland. Yet this does not limit me and my ability to defend and strengthen traditional lineages that remain intact. I continue to be pupil of my heritage, for what I know is lacking.
Muadag Tho’ag is the home of Se’he – a sacred place. Stories with place names and history are imbedded in Muadag Tho’ag’s very silhouette and folds. When one forgets this, or is never taught this, we as a people begin to lose the identity and life-ways that have made us strong. “O’odham” is becoming closer to meaningless without places and names, stories and shared experience. Culture may be in flux and ever-changing. Yet to be connected with our ancestors (which is our legacy and forms our political crux) we need to keep our experience connected with physical places of ancestry to stay healthy as a whole.
Preservation of our life-ways, stories, and language, requires that we as a people actively propagate and nurture our environment and our community. This includes taking into account all social ills and problems, freeways included. Building the freeway will not kill our culture per se – we are taught resilience from birth— but it will be a part of a series of nails in our own coffin if we let our traditional places become subjugated to the will of others.
Growing up, Muadag Tho’ag and Komadk Tho’ag set the stage to the center of my world, home for all my dreamscapes. The forefront of each mountain – its shadow and mass – all conveyed new reality to my education, my first comprehension of what it meant to be O’odham. While far from being a farmer or living simply, I nevertheless understood intuitively and non-verbally how to respect and feel the natural world around me. The landscape of course is inherent to sustaining our people, as it has for thousands of years. Ak-chin and floodwater farming are no longer practiced, yet irrigation continues to flourish albeit with increased use of Colorado River water and underground aquifers.
If built, the South Mountain Freeway will join the likes of Interstate 10, the John Wayne Parkway (wtf?), and State Route 87 in contributing to increased pollution and the potential for greater ecological disaster. Neighborhoods on all sides usually bear the burden for the sake of access, transport and commute for all. Yet true community concern is rarely considered as heavily as corporate investment and economic growth.
I know the freeway has been planned for the last 20 years. The idea here is that we can determine what is environmentally best for GRIC by utilizing our political power. Why should we continue to foster a culture of environmental degradation, letting Community members in District 6 bear the greatest burden? The landscape is living, with biotic communities that should include people as tenets not their master, especially given the marginal desert setting. Who understood this (in their own terms) better than our ancestors?
Land leveling, utility installation, home-building, strip malls, roads, highways, freeways, urban decay, and collapse—a model of growth fitting metro Phoenix’s history. The Sprawl encroaches and hugs our Community’s border with razor-sharp delineation of space and territory. Yet it is obvious where the boundary has been breached. Lone Butte Industrial Park, Wild Horse Pass Casino, Vee Quiva are all places set aside by the tribal government for small business owners and large corporations alike. Yet by allowing this growth, accept some of the urban sprawl into our community. It is an action that at once gives our Community the ability to sustain ourselves economically, yet puts our People at odds with total culture loss.
Reconciliation of these effects can be compensated. Funds can be and are used to invest in a language revitalization program, introducing a traditional curriculum in our schools, and other means. Groups like Pangea however are taking aim at our members, our elder’s vulnerability, and our preoccupation with material wealth.
The “City Concept” is proposed for nearly 6,000 acres of the Broadacres farm, west of Wild Horse Pass Casino. Key to this plan is the construction of the South Mountain Freeway. This area of so called “undeveloped” land is part of farmland that was utilized for at least the last 100 years by Euro-American and migrant O’odham farmers from Mexico.
Pangea envisions a master planned community of residential, corporate, and retail space situated around the proposed South Mountain Freeway. Proposed solar panel farms, amusement parks, concert venues, all point toward a utopian ideal of suburban living that echo past planned communities in the Valley and GRIC (remember the third installment of Wild Horse Pass? Those empty streets are curiously absent from Pangea’s proposal). Pangea is selling and banking on the “American dream”, to which some Community members wait in line for checks to cash, banking on the same.
But increasing sprawl, master-planned communities merely represent an extension of the “other” culture. In addition, the enticement of “saving our mountain” and even environmental nods such as the use of solar panels are all ploys to make profit and are not obligations to help our Community as a whole. All of us participate in the off-reservation culture to be sure, but we as a collective retain our identity for separate “rights” then the rest of the country. If we sell short our identity as O’odham and Pee Posh to enable casinos and a tax-free status we are actually participating in our own destruction as indigenous people. One can’t have it both ways, and our lines are drawn in sand for clear reasons: we don’t need another big box strip mall and retail space. There is plenty of retail and housing space to be had presently, created by recession and the housing market crash.
Sprawl is upon us here at GRIC, and freeways are just a part of the mechanism to bring it to our ancestral home. Historically, Akimel O’odham and Pee Posh never had any great conflict with the Americans, but that doesn’t mean our people did not fight or did not care. For the progressives here in the Community, we should remember we are part of the same body, and we are O’odham together, not separate.
Resistance to the freeway is what keeps our people thinking, second guessing, questioning, and engaged. No matter how isolated, minuscule, or left-of-center, the ability to speak and be heard in our Community is a benefit to those willing to be responsible for our future. If we don’t take time to question roads, highways, and other development —and we give into what our leaders think is best for us without accountability – then our fate will be complete colonization. We will be controlled by a select few, who will be no different in many regards to non-tribal members. Even in the face of inevitability, we need to know that we are still breathing and we still have a pulse. Not all will agree, some may not care, but each one of our tribal members is my brothers and sisters too, and they are who I think about in the course of resistance. We must stand for something or start lying down.
Resistance to encroachment is as simple as being aware and helping in small ways, whether it is discussing with one’s family, elders, or extended family members and neighbors or speaking out to the powers that be. There is a place for greater action, yet it’s the small steps by a great number of people which can effect change in our Community, and thus thrust the issue to leaders who are morally obligated to fight for the will of the people.
There is a certain scoff by people I talk to about the not building the Loop 202 extension. The thought is preposterous to most that a federally-funded freeway can be stopped. The might say that people in our community should be happy to have a say and for the millions of dollars of revenue brought to our people.
The point is either missed or understood innately. This freeway is no different that any other in the Valley, impacting the communities it cuts in two while bringing all the modern conveniences of current civilization at long-term costs no one yet understands. It’s clear that no one knows what its like to not live with these things anymore: when freeways and shopping malls didn’t exist. We can only imagine.
We have a consciousness of the fact that what we choose today will change how our children and their children see the world around us. Hidden so adeptly by master planned communities and TV towers, Muadag Tho’ag is still inhaling our dust and breathing life back to us. Whether one knew the stories or not, our O’odham/Pee Posh identity is wrapped up tight in granite and acacia, mesquite and silver sands. We know who we are but that may cease lest we start fighting for what little we have left, thinking about the center of the world, how our ancestors survived to bring us here today. How we grew and prospered without cash and per capita checks. Being strong and fighting for what is left and doing things for each other because we can.
In 1993 the Gila River flooded and flowed through the Community from one end to the other. A kid at the time, I remember the feeling well. I walked on the island sand dunes between my house and river, among green seas of saltbush. The river sand and silt moved under my feet as I dragged my fingers in the moving water. I took shelter under a glowing mesquite, watching the muddy waters slip by.
The landscape spoke to me. The mountains set the worlds limit, the fields around my house my playground. I may not have known the mountains name, but they were central to my dreams. Walking back through the Huhugam village, looking for the place where they brought the water up and over the terrace edge for growing things in the ground. The Ancestors grew things from seed, to bear fruit for sustenance—and to save for next season. All in time tuned rhythm with the movement of the sun.
I walked back from the river, watching the fields, feeling the sand under my feet. How was it that I came to be here? Living and growing in circles I thought. I can’t forget you grandmother-grandfather…how you made it possible for me to be here today. Alive and feeling this sand and this water…this expanding landscape.
I wasn’t living in my project house, my soul was playing in the field. I wasn’t growing in my strip mall, I flourished in this ditch.
They wanted us gone, but we live on in this place. I won’t pass forgetting who I am because I am this place…it lives in me as I grow in it. The sprawl encroaches, but we are the only ones who can understand: we are responsible for protecting this living place…to grow in for.