What Was Life is an exhibit on display at the Huhugam Ki Museum built from interviews and photographs gathered with the kind help of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community members. The Huhugam Ki Museum and Repository is working to enlarge its collection of tribal history and materials that deal with everyday life here from the early 1900s to the 1960s.
In order to better serve the Community, the museum has undertaken the task of conducting audio and video interviews with long-time Community members to bring these decades of growth into public view.
The museum has assembled a collection of photographs and reminiscences by Community members that tell the story of growing up in Salt River. Participating Community members have shared their stories of daily life, family values and problems associated with the Community’s growth as the museum pursues the tremendous task of trying to hold onto traditional teachings and tribal language from an era that grows more quiet with each passing day.
The exhibit shows what it was like in the Community long before development, enterprises and technology. You can see what it was like for those who grew up in a time when multiple family members and friends lived under one roof of a “sandwich house,” which was constructed of rammed earth placed between saguaro ribs or wooden boards running horizontally. The houses had dirt floors, and cooking was done outside under a vato (ramada).
The exhibit also includes the history of the Salt River Day School, which was in operation from 1937 to 2007 and offered the same education to Community members as the public school grades K-6. In the early years, the school’s auditorium served as the Salt River Community Building, hosting plays, arts and craft shows, Council meetings, education events and business meetings. The Salt River Day School portion of the exhibit includes photographs of students participating in dancing, promotions, fun runs and traditional dance groups.
Another part of the exhibit was created through the museum’s scrapbooking sessions, during which descendants of the original Salt River allottees shared a bit of their family history by making 22-by-34-inch posters. The posters display their family lineage here in Salt River. Members shared their family history, giving people a good understanding of who their family members are and how we are all related.
“We did this [exhibit] because we wanted a comprehensible history of Salt River that goes beyond the baskets and pottery, because there was a lot that happened in the mid 20th century and that is what we’re trying to piece together,” said Huhugam Ki Museum Manager Gary Owens. “Instead of putting up what’s going on now regarding enterprises and tribal government, we wanted to have this as a historic postcard here on display. We eventually would like to take the history to the outside as well, not just here inside the museum. One of our new projects is to put up historical markers in the Community, because a lot of people talk about where the rodeo grounds and dance grounds [used to be] and where other historical events took place around the Community.”
The exhibit is built from the Salt River Community, for the Salt River Community. The Huhugam Ki Museum encourages those who grew up in this, the land of your ancestors, to bring the stories once again to life.
The museum asks the Community elders and those who know what life used to be like in the early days of the Community to consider being interviewed by the museum and talking about life as they knew it growing up here.
“If there are photos or recordings of those who have gone, we ask for the help to keep this record for the future generations of O’odham and Piipaash. We can see a small vision of what was left by our ancestors,” added Owens.
The exhibit will be up for three years. The museum staff plans to add different materials to the display and rotate the information they receive throughout that time.
“It’s almost like a project we’ll be working on,” Owens said. “We want people to donate images and interview more people because they have an insight into what went on. We encourage everyone to come here and see it, because it’s a good slice of history.”
The Huhugam Ki Museum is planning another scrapbooking class to create more family history posters in September or October. Contact the museum at (480) 362-6320 to get started on sharing your history and the history of the SRPMIC.