They say life is what you make it, but for the seniors of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, life is an abundance of memories of lives lived in Salt River when wagons were used as transportation, water was hauled and cooking was done over a fire.
On August 16, the Salt River Senior and Disabled Community Advisory Committee (SDCAC) brought together a group of seniors age 70 and older for the Elder Honoring Luncheon, to honor them for their wisdom and expertise as O’odham and Piipaash elders. The luncheon also offered the elders a chance to visit with each other and listen to stories about life in Salt River in the past, comparing it to how it is today.
Ron Carlos, who performed the welcoming song, said, “People used to go and visit people (the elders). They would spend all day with people; one question would [result in] a six-hour answer. A lot of what I learned [came] from sitting and listening.”
Former Chief Judge Paul Thomas, 88, asked for the other seniors to go up to him and remind him who they were and how he knew them. He said, “We have all changed, we’re getting old. And I can’t recognize some of you.”
Nellie Valenzuela encouraged seniors to write down their histories, because “Once you are gone so is your brain, and no can share your memories, especially if you don’t know them.”
Community member Norene Burke said she wishes she would have recorded the stories told by her father, Steven Jones. She recalled how he would tell her stories in the winter, and as she closed her eyes she said now they are “just a clouded memory.”
Past SRPMIC President and Vice-President Alfretta Antone took the podium, saying she was grateful that at this affair everyone was able to see some faces they hadn’t seen in a long time, including Paul Thomas, since he lives in New Mexico. Antone told the crowd of seniors how she was happy to see them and hopes that she will have another year. She wasn’t the last person to take the podium.
Filmore Carlos spoke to the crowd in O’odham, and had those who could understand laughing. But the main event for the day was honoring two of Salt River’s eldest seniors: Norma Loring, 93, and Silas Waters, 94.
Loring said, “I don’t know why they keep helping me my legs work, and my eyes work, but I’ll let them help me.” As a representative from the SDCAC handed her a gift, she had the crowd laughing as she looked out and said, “I am getting smaller and everyone else is getting bigger.”
Today people are not sitting and listening to the elders; Antone said it best: “I love visitors; I love for them to come over and talk.”
Like Carlos, Antone and Valenzuela encouraged people to listen to the seniors and to write down their stories.
If you would like Au-Authm Action News to help tell your story, contact reporter Angela Willeford at (480) 362-7728.