Tohono Oodham Elders Day 2011

By Roy Cook

S-ge’ehogkam Hemajkam O’S-Gewkam Nu:kud g-t Himdag-Elders Keeping Our Himdag Strong, 13th annual Elders Day Tohono Oodham registration is scheduled for 7am. There are many Elders driving in from their district communities for this special day. Promptly, Carmella Ignacio and Pricilla zip in with laments that all the early pre-registration forms from Waak (San Xavier) have been lost. They both quickly on site register and help me get included too. We all have name tags and tote bags with the days program and goodies. We move, as directed, to the breakfast buffet. Once seated the social butterflies move about, greet, laugh and eat. This is a table of lovely ladies who are enjoying this delightful day for them.

The first entertainment after the blessing and greetings is an old time fiddle and drum group from, Ge Oidag (Big Fields) Los Amigaes, presenting Waila tunes. They are very distinctive in their presentation-almost percussive from the more modern Norteno-Chicken scratch Waila groups.

The Tohono Oodham Veterans Honor Color Guard brings in the colors and Daniel Joaquin; I think he said he was from Covered Wells, takes over the Co-Emcee duties along with Ms Idaleen Reyes. He has a wealth of wonderful stories and hilarious jokes. This entire 13th annual Himidag Elders gathering, of 1000 attendees, is in the Oodham language! He explains that the staff on the tribal flag has 11 feathers for the 11 districts of the huge Tohono Oodham reservation. The official Tohono Oodham home page states that the reservation is about the size of the state of Connecticut.

Daniel humorously relates a new term that he has recently become familiar with ‘codgers’. His self deprecating humor is just right for this special audience. Following opening remarks by Gary Quinn and Rosemary Lopez of the Dept. of Health and Human Services the Tohono Oodham Nation Veterans bring in and post the colors. Daniel, with more humor he introduces Joseph Enos from Chui Chu village for a lengthy speech and song blessing.

The Tohono Oodham Chairperson and vice chair: Ned Norris and Isidro B. Lopez are recognized and have a short address. The 11 districts are introduced including those of the Tohono Oodham Nations people on the Mexican side of the political border. As elsewhere that Tribal America borders other countries the issue of Tribal sovereignty is brought into sharp focus. It is crystal clear that these Tribal people still speak their language, follow their Tribal customs and tradition and have relatives on both sides of the border.

Daniel comes to the mike again and relates his take of westerns from Hollywood in the 1940’s and 50’s. We receive a Keynote address by Erin Manuel, Miss Tohono Oodham Nation. He introduces the current Tohono Oodham Princess and her attendants. All make a statement in Oodham and move into the audience shaking hands and personally greeting the elders.

Dan introduces a Tohono Oodham children’s dance group from Santa Rosa Ranch School. They present, with song accompaniment, four directions, bird, rainbow and circle (round dance). This traditional dancing performance session ends with Joseph Enos announcing the Golden Age recognition of the Tohono Oodham treasures that have reached the age of 100, 90 and 80’s.

The days congeniality is thick with emotion. Conversations overlap decades and generations. The warmth of the Southern Arizona sun has brought these dynamic lives together from all the 11 districts and International Traditional Oodham communities too. Soft syllables of traditional language flow with the sparkle of laughter and smiles. To be in this world beyond time again is good for the soul and heart.

Following is the presentation by Ned Norris Jr of the community service awards from each district. Then there are a series of stretching exercises by the Healthy Oodham promotion program (HOPP).

More fiddlers accompany the luncheon of turkey and bowtie noodles with broccoli sauce along with salad and rolls. The meal is very continental and bon appétit is evident by all.

Since this is a seniors meeting there are selected: Prom King, Jonas Robes from Santa Rosa village and Prom Queen, Malinda Joaquin from Covered Wells village.

Oh my, the sounds of the Waila draw first a few and then a flood of dancers to the dance floor. Older dancers set aside mobility aids and by pairing and repairing of partners take to the dance floor. I wonder if some thoughts are of long ago dances in ‘home’ communities—it is so familiar yet new too. My dim memory can recall dusty dance areas and cement outdoor dance floors with a string of lights and now inside tribal casinos. The music is by Native Thunder, Martinez family, Waila keep it moving and the dancers weaving all over the auditorium.


There is a change of sound as a group with gourds and a small drum sing circle songs as the dancers weave and circle in orbits of himdag and joy of being themselves. Eagerly awaited is the giveaway round dance, sung by the Pisinemo Traditional singing group. Many fine and welcome gifts are available for those that latch on to the gift holders.

Finally the Tohono Oodham Veterans Honor Color Guard retire the colors. The last announcements remind everyone to pick up their dinner box to take home. Wow, what a day and to think it is only a year for the next one. See you there!

“O’odham Himdag `o wud t-gewkdag,”

“O’odham way of life is our strength.”