Dawn Sinoqui cut off a piece of Agave and transported it back to the Community.

Community Members Take Part in Agave Workshop

By Jennifer Jimenez
Au-Authm Action News

Several Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community members are currently taking part in the Agave Workshop, offered through the O’odham Piipaash Language Program (OPLP), in which they are making traditional burden baskets and other items from agave fibers. Royce Manuel is currently teaching the class, and the participants have said they are learning a great deal about the culture and the traditional way of life. The OPLP is also incorporating many O’odham and Piipaash words into the activity.

“This class is always working with OPLP, giving [names and definitions] for the different things we work with in this workshop,” Manuel said.

Erma Smith and her son Phillip Smith are enrolled in the workshop. She said it was important for both of them to take this class in order to understand their culture.

“My mom used to tell me I was related to all these people, and you knew where your relatives were,” Erma Smith said. “My son doesn’t know how it was a long time ago, with no running water or electricity, when you had to haul the bathing water from the ditch, and then you had to go and hitch the wagon and go to the pump to fill it for drinking water.”

She said the youth of the Community should know what it used to be like before they were here and understand what people used to do just for day-to-day living.
“We need to open up the minds of the youth to teach them. My mom was very private and did not share a lot of things with us,” Erma Smith explained. “But I am glad Royce is willing to share.”

Joscelyn Jay said this was the first time she has attended a class offered by the OPLP.

“I found out through another student, since she had taken it last time,” Jay said. “I was always interested in working with plants because I went to Arizona State University and did a papermaking class where we used plant fibers to make paper. I had the interest already and wanted to find out what else I could do.”
She said Manuel has been really good about sharing the history of the people. Jay also said she noticed how some elders would get offended when you would ask them questions; after taking the Agave Workshop, she realized they wanted people to learn by observing.

“You need to be here with us to know why we do what we do. This idea of constantly asking questions was not part of their upbringing; you had to live it to understand it,” Jay explained. “That is one reason I really like this class, because you have interaction with all the people and get to learn about each other, and I think that is very important.”

Dawn Sinoqui has taken several culture classes and said it is important because this is part of her culture and tradition.

“I have four daughters, and in case they want to do pageants I want to be able to make their dresses for them and not have to ask people,” she said. “I need to learn my culture to pass it on to my children, and I want to learn as much as I can. Besides, if they are offering the class to us, we should take advantage.”
Sinoqui said through this class she has been able to understand all the things you can make from agave. She thought you could only make burden baskets, and she knew Manuel was bringing that back.

“I didn’t understand the whole process, and it was interesting how he took us out [in the desert] to show us where we get the plants and what kinds of plants to get. We learned how to cut them off and prepare them; [it wasn’t like someone was] just giving us the material [already prepared and just telling us] to make it,” she said.

“It is crazy to think about how hard it was for our people to travel so far, halfway into enemy territory, and having to carry it back, and that makes you think about your people and gives you a different perspective.”
Sinoqui hopes to complete her burden basket within a year’s time.
Sinoqui hopes to complete her burden basket within a year’s time.

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