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O’odham Storytelling Under the Stars With Barnaby Lewis

A group of people, including many young people, enjoyed the many O'odham stories next to a camp fire shared by Barnaby Lewis.

On a recent cool November evening outside the Salt River High School, under the stars and around a campfire, O’odham elder Barnaby Lewis shared precious stories of his people to a group of eager listeners, including many young people.

This year’s O’odham Storytelling event was held on November 21 in the high school courtyard. It included a free frybread taco meal and attracted about 50 people, including students of all ages.

Frybread sizzle. Indian Tacos were served at the O'odham Storytelling. Barnaby Lewis emphasizes an O'odham story with a shield and club.
Lewis, of the Blackwater Village in the Gila River Indian Community, shared stories and songs of the nearby mountains, the Blue Coyote legend, and other cultural-rich oral history as part of the school’s effort to promote the O’odham language. His stories were spoken in both O’odham and English.

“We say this and do it this way because we understand that not everybody today speaks the language,” he said, “but we want you to learn the story so that even though you are not telling it in O’odham, at some point in the future, you can pass these stories along to your family and relatives so these stories will be with us in the future.”

After Lewis finished, a group of high school students and teachers sang a going-home song, while others danced.

A group of people sit and wait at the start of O'odham Storytelling outside the Salt River High School.
Alvin Saenz, with the Salt River High School, helped organize O’odham Storytelling. He thanked the crowd for attending, and with others, he presented Lewis with a gift basket.

“We’ve taken on an endeavor of trying to promote O’odham language as much as we possibly can in the school system,” Saenz said. “We have a class now where people come in to speak to the children. This is one way of having a speaker come in and having them speak to you. It’s a way of revitalizing our spirit of promoting the language.”