Camp members keep an eye out for wild animals as they maneuver on a nature walk to learn about the environment and the significance of the the Red Mountain area.


Red Mountain Culture Camp – the “Embracing Our Culture” Experience

By June M. Shorthair
Au-Authm Action News

On November 21 and 22, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community–based group Embracing Our Culture (EOC) held its first Culture Camp at Red Mountain. The camp was a collaboration between EOC and the SRPMIC Department of Health and Human Services, Behavioral Health Division (HHS/BHS) to provide a camp for approximately 45 people.

EOC is a Community grassroots organization interested in strengthening the Community by helping Community members and their families to become healthier. The type of support the group provides is through advocacy and increasing awareness of culture, traditions and language. EOC member Shelly Hayes stated, “The group would like to focus on identity, health and purpose.”

During 2014, HHS was very interested in establishing some type of cultural event for SRPMIC tribal members, including those involved in domestic violence, as the department had access to grant funds for such an endeavor. The department had discussions with various Community members and the SRPMIC Cultural Resources Department (CRD) on this subject. The input and enthusiasm of the Community members from the EOC grassroots organization was the catalyst for the development of a collaborative effort with HHS to begin planning a Community event in late summer 2014. The end result was the November Culture Camp at Red Mountain.

One of the core members, Leonard Rivers, stated, “This group goes hand in hand with my philosophy of life, that we are here for a purpose and that we not only to take care of ourselves, but to try to take care of others.” To emphasize the importance of the group involvement, he added, “I am glad Shelly [Hayes], Stephanie [Honeycutt] and others in our group were willing to commit themselves to this effort. It is incumbent upon somebody [the people], besides our government … to affect different groups in positive ways and to get to know our identity … to create a foundation.”

Utilizing a U.S. Department of Justice grant and resources of the SRPMIC, Behavioral Health Services worked with HHS and EOC to plan the two-day Culture Camp for Community members. The coordination with and support from the Community was crucial to the success of the event. Once a use permit was granted by Tribal Council to hold the event at Red Mountain, the SRPMIC Public Works Department, staff from the CRD, HHS and numerous individuals from the Community worked together to finalize an outing where participants would be immersed in different cultural elements. In addition, food, water, daily supplies and transportation, along with invited elder presenters and Community members who provided cultural history, customs and traditions of the Piipaash and O’odham, had to be arranged for the camp to be successful.

Early in the morning of each day of the camp, transportation to Red Mountain was coordinated for participants and presenters. To begin each day, a morning prayer was led by a Community elder. The first day, Fillmore Carlos gave instructions on how to pray as everyone walked to a special place to conduct the prayer and blessing. On the second day, Josie Enos had the honor of leading the morning prayer and blessing for the participants. Just as significant, each day included a morning “greeting circle” for all participants to acknowledge each other, say ‘Good morning’ and shake hands. Each day offered different cultural presentations and topics for discussion. The participants were provided presentations on the history and significance of Red Mountain and on the philosophy of the Piipaash and the O’odham. There were different sessions and discussions on the many facets of how spirituality impacts cultural traditions, as well as traditional gender roles of the O’odham and Piipaash communities.

An afternoon session included a nature walk through the mountains, during which Jacob Butler of CRD shared with the group how to identify indigenous plants and provided information on the traditional uses of certain desert plants. The walk provided participants opportunities to foster and forge new respectful relationships. They were willing to assist, lend a hand and reach out to fellow participants to help them maneuver or trek through difficult climbing areas of the mountain, helping especially with the elders of the group. As noted by BHS staff member Jordanna Burkett Crist, “It was nice to see people help each other. It didn’t matter [who they were]. Special bonds were formed.”

The purpose of the day camps was to instill a spiritual, mental and emotional healing experience through cultural restoration. The Culture Camp was the beginning of the experience. As noted by Myrna Pavatea, director of BHS, “The Culture Camp is multi-dimensional, [as it] includes elders, spirituality and cultural experiences; it observes people coming together as a Community.” For many of the participants, this was their first experience and opportunity to learn about their culture and traditions. As Rivers expressed, “Participants appeared to be grateful for the experience, and they showed interest and asked questions…. They seemed to be in-tune with the whole experience.”

Discussions are underway to have several Culture Camps over the next couple of years. The goal of both Embrace Our Culture and HHS is to offer the camps on a quarterly basis, depending on available funding and supporting resources that can be attained. Another goal is to have the event be an overnight camping experience, which will save on transportation costs; however, housing and sleeping arrangements will need to be addressed.

If you are interested in obtaining more information on future Culture Camps at SRPMIC, contact BHS Director Myrna Pavatea at (480) 362-5694.


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