Cover Story

Language and History Technician Anita Rivers talks to Community member Joseph James Antone about the new technology the department uses to help preserve the O’odham and Piipaash Language.

Cultural Resources Department Has a New Place to Call Home

By Tasha Silverhorn
Au-Authm Action News

On Friday, February 1, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Cultural Resources Department held an open house for the newly refurbished building they will call home. The department is composed of three divisions: the Cultural Preservation Program, the Huhugam Ki Museum and the O’odham Piipaash Language Program. All three now will be housed in the building, which is the former Youth Home, Youth Services and Social Services building located between the Salt River Clinic and the Housing Division.

The open house started with an opening prayer recited by Community elder Barbara Johnson in the O’odham language. Following was a brief history of the department by Cultural Resources Department Director Kelly Washington.

“Our department is one of the newest in the Community. We’ve only been around for about seven years as a department,” said Washington. “The Huhugam Ki Museum itself is much older … [it’s] been around for 25 years, but it was just its own division before joining the Cultural Resources Department. The O’odham Piipaash Language Program has been around since the early ’90s.”

Washington and Huhugam Ki Museum Manager Gary Owens were the first two employees hired for the OPLP, in 1995. Around the same time, Cultural and Environmental Services was developed; at that time they were under the Community Development Department and had two different components, one cultural and the other with environmental.

“Around 2004, there was strategic planning and reorganizing, and at that time there was a new concept to put the cultural programs together so they could coordinate and facilitate together,” said Washington. “When we organized this department, we were all located in different areas; probably one of the most challenging things from the get-go was that we wanted to have a place we could call our own.”

“Today we are celebrating the day that we do have a facility that fits our needs. Most of our department is now under one roof, and it really helps.”
The Cultural Resources Department has been in its new space for about three months, and the fact that it’s an older building actually fits well with the department’s mission.

“The building is an older building, which we don’t mind because we like old stuff in our department,” said Washington. “There are stories and history [here], … This building is like a lot of our culture and history—you can think of it as old, and abandon it and destroy it, or you can breathe new life into it and repurpose it for a better future.”

Assistant Community Manager Kent Andrews said a few words encouraging Community members and employees to get involved in the classes, training and events the department has to offer. He also expressed his appreciation to the Public Works Department for helping to renovate the building.

“The resources that were put into this program are valued by the Council. I know the work you are going to do [here] is going to bring in more people from the Community [and] the sister tribes that can contribute to what we’re trying to do here in this Community,” said SRPMIC President Diane Enos. “I expect, hope and support that our language and cultural programs will continue and that more and more of our population will become interested and involved with preserving our language.”

Following the speakers, the ceremonial ribbon-cutting was done by Washington and Assistant Director of Cultural Resources Roberta Carlos. Then the guests were welcomed in by the entire Cultural Resources Department staff, including the Huhugam Ki Museum and Repository staff. Guests were taken on tours and provided with small presentations on each individual division. Staff members handed out promotional items, traditional seeds, O’odham and Piipaash language books and more.

Guests ended the event with food and traditional singing and dancing.

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