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Onk Akimel O'odham (Pima)

Chief Uva-A-Tuka, or Mavit - Kawutam (Puma Shiled), Antonio Azul

Pima is the common name applied to us, but it is not something we called ourselves prior to European arrival. In our own language, we refer to ourselves as O’odham, which means ‘The People’. We are part of a large O’odham population that resides in Arizona and Mexico. To be more specific, we are Akimel O’odham which means, ‘River People’, because unlike our desert dwelling relatives to the south, we have always resided along and depended upon the rivers that intersect our territory. To be even more precise, we are Onk Akimel O’odham, meaning ‘Salt River People’ because that is the specific river along which we reside.

Presently, the O’odham of Arizona reside on four major reserves:

  • Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community
  • Gila River Indian Community
  • Ak-Chin Community
  • Tohono O'odham Nation

Our ancestors have lived in this area since time immemorial. We refer to them as huhugam, a term we still use today in reference to the departed. Archaeologists borrowed this word from our language, spelling it Hohokam, and use it in reference to a distinct archeological time frame. The original O’odham word is not limited to the same time frame; rather, it extends from the beginning of time to present. (See: Huhugam vs. Hohokam)

Our Creation stories identify the Phoenix Valley, southern Arizona and northern Sonora as our place of origin and continued inhabitance. We have no history of migration from another location, nor were we relocated as was unfortunately the case with many other tribes to the east. Our deep history and connection to our aboriginal territory gives us a profound and lasting connection to it that extends well beyond the contemporary borders of our Community.

Like other indigenous peoples, our O’odham himdag (way of life) is dependent upon and reflective of the environment in which we live. When the rivers ran freely, there was an abundance of water that allowed us to grow plentiful crops and supported a riparian ecosystem that included forests of cottonwood, willow and mesquite. The plant and animal life was bountiful. The desert areas and mountains also yielded a diverse variety of plant and animal life. We relied on this environment for food and its raw materials for shelter, clothing, tools and medicine.

Today, our environment has changed dramatically and the rivers no longer flow. The Phoenix metropolitan area has developed around the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and we are fully immersed in the contemporary culture of the majority population. Maintaining our himdag is still important, though…perhaps more so than ever.