O’odham Nation contact with Europeans

As I write this blog, I am living in southern Arizona o the traditional territory of the O’odhan Nation. Often I visit San Tan Regional Park minutes from here to hike or attend talks or look for wild flowers. There is no general agreement about the origins of the O’odham nation. Some claim that they originally moved north from Mexico about 300 years ago.

The O’odham did not get along well with the Apache from the 17th century until the beginning of the 20th century. The O’odham were a settled agricultural people who raised crops for survival unlike the nomadic Apache. According to O’odham history (oral traditional knowledge) the Apaches frequently raided their settlements when they ran out of food because food was running short and hunting success was lacking.

When European settlers arrived things got worse. Though both now had a common enemy who seemed intent on grabbing all of their land it was difficult for their foes to cooperate. The O’odham word for Apache is ob, which means enemy.  Things were complicated because each from time to time worked with opposing European groups. Alliances just like those between Indigenous Nations in the North East, including Canada, made relations with European settlers (invaders)  complicated.

For example, in 1871, 92 O’odham joined the Mexicans and Anglo-Americans to fight the Apache. 144 Apache were killed in the Camp Grant Massacre. The dead consisted mainly of women and children. In fact 136 of the victims were women and children killed by the brave O’odham, Mexicans, and Anglo-Americans. 29 children were also captured and sold into slavery. To put this into perspective remember 1871 was 4 years after the Confederation of Canada. This is not ancient history. This is recent history. And it is not pretty.

Some historians claim that because there was a reduction of Indian hostilities in the region at that time, local merchants feared a looming economic crisis because they depended so heavily on Federal Government spending on supplies for their soldiers sent to pacify the nasty Indians, particularly Apache. In order to encourage support for more federal government support it was alleged, though not to my knowledge proven, that some local merchants initiated hostilities with the Apache leading to the attack on the Apache settlement at Camp Grant.

There is significant evidence that the O’odham and the Apache were friendly and engaged in trade. There is even evidence that they intermarried. Yet, at the same time O’odham oral history suggests that intermarriages actually resulted from raids between the two Native American groups. Those raids provided the successful party with women, children, and sometimes men, as slaves. Women would often marry into the tribe in which they were held captive and assimilated under duress. Sort of like the young girls captured by Boko Haram in the 21st century in Africa. Some things never seem to change. In any event, according to this oral history of the O’odham both Native American groups incorporated “enemies” and their children into their culture and this was done by force.

Historically, the Hohokam occupied a very large area of the southwest extending into the province of Sonora in Mexico, to north of Phoenix west to the Gulf of California and east to the San Pedro River. This land has been the home of the O’odham for thousands of years.

However, the arrival of Europeans starting in the 17th century became an increasing challenge to the O’odham. From early in the 18th century, foreigners occupied their land. First were the Spanish and later the Americans.

When Mexico became independent from Spain they colonized the O’odham. In 1853 with the Gadsden Purchase their land was divided nearly in half between the Mexicans and the Americans. That purchase was conducted, of course, between Mexico and the United States, but the real owners were the O’odham. It had been their land for many centuries, but that did not bother European colonizers or their offspring. The local people were mere inconveniences.

The Gadsden Purchase, or Treaty, was an agreement between the United States and Mexico, that was completed in 1854. Pursuant to that agreement the United States agreed to pay Mexico $10 million for a 29,670 square mile portion of Mexico that later became part of Arizona and New Mexico. The Americans wanted that land to complete a southern continental railroad and also to resolve lingering conflicts between the U.S. and Mexico following the Mexican-American War.

That agreement provided that the US would honor all land rights of Mexican citizens, which theoretically included the O’odham, and agreed that the O’odham would have the same constitutional rights as any other United States citizen. Of course, when the railroad was built and more and more settlers poured into the American Southwest and mining expanded more and more O’odham land was usurped by the Americans just as happened in many other places of the American west.

At first the O’odham were not even told about the sale of their land to the Americans. At  the time the border was not even strictly enforced. That border straddled O’odham territory as it does to this day.

In fact now Trump’s wall separates the O’odham who live in Mexico from those who live in the United States. Until then they had easy access between the two countries. The O’odham were not asked about that wall either. The Americans just built it. Some things never change.

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