O'odham language instructors presented Nia Enos his certificate of achievement.

O’Odham and Piipaash Language Program Dinner

By June Shorthair
Au-Authm Action News

On the evening of December 4, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC) Cultural Resources Department (CRD) celebrated and paid homage to a number of Community members at the O’odham and Piipaash Language Program (OPLP) Recognition Dinner. Participants, family members and friends—young and old alike—filled the room at the Salt River Community Building to honor and show respect for those who completed the O’odham and Piipaash language, basket-weaving and pottery-making classes/workshops during 2014.

Opening remarks by CRD director Kelly Washington summarized the overall tone and provided a clear perspective of the evening. He stated, “Here [on the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community] is where we originated; here is the only place in the world that our cultures exist. Therefore, maintenance of our traditional cultures becomes much more important.”

Washington added, “… Language, basket weaving, pottery making, singing and dancing—they’re all just single elements of our traditional way of life, but when we learn them, teach them and practice them, a doorway remains open to our ancestral heritage.”

Prior to the main program, everyone enjoyed a dinner of native foods consisting of red chili, beans, squash, potato salad and ce:mait (tortilla), with beverages and cake for dessert. There was plenty of food—it appeared that everyone was satisfied and thankful for such an offering.

Throughout the evening, different recognition segments explained and demonstrated to attendees what was involved in the language, pottery and basket weaving sessions. The participants included people of all ages, from children to grandparents, as well as complete families that participated in various classes. In addition to learning the language, participants engaged in some type of project, providing them very tangible elements of the different aspects of their culture. Their projects were on display around the room. Each display was hand-crafted and unique on its own. There were samples of various basket-weaving projects, including the natural materials that had to be gathered to make the baskets. There were numerous dwelling displays in various degrees of complexity, from simple Vatho settings, mud and sandwich home depictions, to intricate home displays that included animals, gardens and much more.

As each participant was called up to the podium by their tribal name (O’odham or Piipaash), it was visible on their faces and by their body language their pride, emotion and satisfaction as they greeted “their teachers” with handshakes and hugs. Each participant received a certificate, a gift bag and a round of applause in acknowledgement of their commitment and hard work.

Some of the participants were selected to speak to the audience about their personal experiences in the O’odham or Piipaash language classes. Most notable were the different levels of language mastery, from beginners to intermediate learners and the fluent speakers who lead the classes. For some participants this was their first experience remembering, learning and practicing their native language, which they shared was intimidating and downright scary at times; but, they were happy they continued in the class. For others, it was very noticeable they were continuing to improve their native language skills with pride and gratification knowing that they can speak their own native language. As with any language, a person must practice and use it, or it can be forgotten or not used properly.

Once the acknowledgements were finished, the Washington family performed Xalychidom Piipaash songs and dances to round out the evening. They provided a number of songs with dances that were handed down among family and tribal members. Most notable were all the dancers of one family that included father, mother, sister, young girls and a young boy, each paying special attention to the songs and the dance steps.

The next O’odham and Piipaash classes will begin in February 2015. The classes are offered to members of the SRPMIC. This may be your opportunity to feel the passion associated with your tribal languages and to help reinforce this important aspect of O’odham and Piipaash culture.

If you are interested in participating, contact the Cultural Resources Department at (480) 362-5501.

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