Summary – Indigenous People of the Southwest – Culture, Tradition and Religion

            There are many American Indian tribes native to the Southwest of the United States.  They come from the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Southern Colorado, and the northern part of Mexico.  The indigenous people who are categorized as Southwest Native Americans fall into three main categories:

·         The Farmers – The Yuma, Pima and Mojave tribes

·         The Villagers – The Zuni, Pueblo and Hopi

·         The Nomads – The Apache and Navajo

The languages of the Southwest Native Americans included Siouan, Algonquian, Caddoan, Uto-Aztecan and Athabaskan.

There is evidence between 40,000 and 13,000 years ago the Bering Land Bridge connected Alaska and Siberia as a route the Pueblo people eventually traveled to the Southwest.  This was a bridge of land that appeared and disappeared based on the rise and ebb of the ocean due to glaciers melting and freezing over and over again; this happened over thousands of years and many scientists feel the ancient people went back and forth between the two continents.

 Scientists have based much of their research on the size of the points on spears  found  called Clovis points– they started out very large and diminished to smaller blades and points as ancient people changed their type of hunting from big game to smaller animals.  Until recently the Clovis people were identified by their spears.  The Clovis people appear in all parts of the United States; they were big game hunters who were always on the move following the large animals.  There is evidence of these paleohunters in the Colorado River basin of the Southwest. Because they moved from site to site, they left little behind and it is though that most of their goods and personal possession were made of items that didn’t last. It is thought they hunted in small groups, killing animals to the point of extinction and continued to move south in search of animals eventually settling in the Grand Canyon area.  Archeologists can surmise that the Paleo hunters conceptualization of time followed the pattern of the celestial and natural world. “ In hunter-gatherer societies, humans lived by the recurring rhythms of nature” (Esposito et all 2011).  The decrease of large game led them to explore new sources of food and they became small game hunters and gatherers of nuts, seeds and other plants.  By 9,000 more people had immigrated to the Grand Canyon area and the Archaic period began (Sheridan 1996). There are very little records of these early people; evidence of Clovis points and how they evolved, but little else and the Clovis people all but disappeared.

Traditionally, Native Americans of the Southwest lived in community structures divided by clan. Most tribes in Southwest Indian culture are matrilineal, with heritage and property/livestock ownership following the female line. Children born into matrilineal societies are part of their mother’s clan; even boys who later marry and reside with their wife’s clan. A Navajo is born to the mother’s clan and born for the father’s clan (Parezo 1996).  When a new child is born the baby takes the clan of the mother – no matter if it is a boy or girl. The women  own the land and when a couple is married it was traditional custom for the groom to move-in with the bride and her family. (Miss Navajo).  All clans are equal and Navajos believe half of the body is female – the other male, but they exist as one. 

Many modern tribes still follow matrilineal practices, though an increasing number of Native Americans reside in smaller family units.    Hand-built dwellings such as the Pueblo kiva and the Navajo hogan, an octagonal mud hut, have gradually been replaced by modern housing large enough to accommodate extended family. In current Southwest Indian culture, the kiva and hogan are used for ceremonial purposes. Elements of their construction can be found in many Indian buildings. 

The religion, ceremonies and beliefs of the Southwest people were based on Animism; they believed the universe and all natural objects within the universe have souls or spirits.   These souls or spirits exist, not only in humans, but also in animals, plants, trees, rocks and all natural forces and phenomena such as the rain, sun and moon and geographic features such as mountains, caves or rivers also possess souls or spirits.  For example, the Navajo see life as a journey – walking and talking are central to their culture.  The Navajo walk “the Beautiful Trail” in search of harmony, order and peace. 

The Jesuit missionaires have had tremendous influence on the rituals and ceremonies of the indigenous people of the southwest.  The Raramuri from Northwest Mexico celebreate Holy Week or Semana Santa and it is the most sacred time of the year for the them; it is very extravagant and the ceremony with the most Christian/Catholic using images, symbols and traditions dating back to the Spanish Jesuit missionaries.  Semana Santa  is a spring festival  “to renew the strength of Father Sun, so he can nourish his people and … fight off the evil influences of the annoyer, that is the devil or outsiders “ (Raramuir Designs 2011) .The Raramuri call it When We Walk in Circles because their religion procession walks around and around the church. During the celebrations the Raramuri place pine tree branches showing the way to the various processions similar to the palm fronds that were laid for Jesus on Palm Sunday.

The Indian people of the Southwest have a great variety of different places which are considered to be sacred. Some of these are structures have been constructed by the people; some are places associated with origin stories and oral traditions while others are places that  have been used for ceremonies and other spiritual activities.  Non-Indians sometimes have difficulty in understanding and “seeing” the sacredness that Indian people attach to certain places. Often this is due to a difference in the spiritual experiences of Indians and non-Indians. Among Indian people, with their long association with the land, there are locations – such as geographical features – which have a prominent place in their oral tradition and in their origin stories. Some of these are places where acts of creation occurred prior to the existence of human beings and others are places where the activities of ancient ancestors took place. Once a place has become a part of the sacred landscape, it is always sacred.  Native American sacred places continue to be sacred even after the people no longer live in the area.   Baboquivari Peak is the most sacred place) teaching the people that life is a maze of obstacles that must be overcome along life’s path or himdag. to the Tohono O’odham people. It stands fifty miles southwest of Tucson, Arizona on the Baboquivari Peak wilderness, a 2,065 acre area overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.  I’itoli or Elder Brother Lives Inside Baboquivari.  The rock god I’itoli, also spelled I’itoi, lives in a cave on the northwest side of the mountain that he enters by a maze of passages. Legend says he came into this world from a world on the other side, leading his people, whom he had turned into ants, through an ant hole. He then changed them back into the Tohono O’odham people. The Tohono O’odham still regularly make pilgrimages to the cave, leaving offerings and prayers for I’itoli. I’itoli often appears in basketry as a male figure above a maze (Man in the Maze symbol

History for the people of the Southwest is oral and passed down through generations. The Apache name locations by what they see the first time; the name is a visual description of the physical landscape of a location.   For centuries locations were passed from generation to generation as a place to gather food, obtain water, good places to grow food, etc.  As they described the location, they named the place.  The Apache names for places connect them not only to their homeland but to their ancestors.  They hear the descriptions and can imagine how different the land was then versus as it is now; they see their ancestors made good decisions in deciding to stay based how they describe what they saw and experienced.

            Native American Indian culture has long been steeped in tradition and ceremony. Native American rituals of the Southwest share similarities, largely because traditions were passed between tribe members that intermarried. However, each of the more than 20 distinct tribes of the Southwest differs slightly in their spiritual and community practices.      Pivotal moments such as the birth of a child or a girl’s entrance into puberty are celebrated with rituals. Zuni girls grind corn at the home of their paternal grandmother to signal their transition into adulthood. Many of the courtship and marriage rituals of the Hopi have evolved over the last fifty years, but there are still several marriage customs still in practice:  a four-day stay by the bride with her intended in-laws. During this time she grinds corn all day and prepares all the family’s meals to demonstrate her culinary competence. Prior to the wedding, the aunts of both the bride and groom engage in a sort of good-natured free-for-all that involves throwing mud and trading insults, each side suggesting the other’s relative is no good. The groom’s parents wash the couple’s hair with a shampoo of yucca in a ritual that occurs in other ceremonies as well. A huge feast follows at the bride’s mother’s house.  Marriage to non–tribal members is extremely rare, a fact that has helped preserve Hopi culture.  (Lassieur).  Even a tribe member’s name can become part of Native American rituals. Babies born to the Hopi tribe of northeastern Arizona are not named until twenty days after their birth. During a special naming ceremony, parents choose the baby’s name from among suggestions given by each relative present.

Health and healing are among the most important concerns of Native American ritual. It is essential to understand the concept of health other than in the terms of Western medicine. Many Native American cultures understand illness not as the result of some biochemical, physiological, or psychological malady, but as a sign of disorder in society or the world, which is then reflected in the illness of an individual. Diagnosis thus consists of discerning the status of the community or the world. Healing requires repairing or restructuring these environmental concerns.   From the Native American perspective, medicine is more about healing the person than curing a disease. Traditional healers aim to “make whole” by restoring well-being and harmonious relationships with the community and the spirit of nature, which is sometimes called God or the Great Mystery. Native American healing is based on the belief that everyone and everything on earth is interconnected, and every person, animal, and plant has a spirit or essence. Even an object, such as a river or rock, and even the earth itself, may be considered to have this kind of spirit. When a tribe member is ill, a medicine man is called to perform a healing ceremony. Rites differ in each tribe; among the Navajo, healings culminate with the creation of a sand painting. Maize pollen is used to bless the hogan in which the ceremony is conducted. The tradition of using corn for purification is common among Native American rituals of the highly agricultural Plains and Pueblo Indians. Though some modern Southwest Indian tribes utilize “Western” medicine, most rely on centuries old plant medicines and blessings administered by local medicine men.

Outsiders are normally prohibited from participating in – or even seeing – Native American rituals with spiritual significance. However, ceremonies that involve the entire tribe through song and dance may be performed for public audiences.

The Rain Dance, one of the most stereotypical and iconic Native American rituals still practiced today, draws crowds to the Zuni Pueblo every summer. The dance was originally intended to bring about rain in the naturally arid climate of the Southwestern desert. During the ceremony, Zuni men and women don masks and perform ritual movements dressed in shawls and fox skins to encourage the watering of crops.   The Kachina Dance is one of the most powerful and important rituals of the Hopi tribe. The colorful kachinas are believed to be powerful spirits that can bring rain, encourage crop growth and assist with other tribal needs. Hopi men of all ages participate in Kachina Dances that take place throughout the year. The Bean Dance, for example, is performed in late winter after the earliest signs of plant growth. Similar rituals are performed at the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico. Among their important kachina dances is the New Year celebration of Shakalo, which involves costumed dancers trekking across a small river and through the village to bless each house.

Changing Woman, the principal deity of the Navajo religion, represents the many roles that a woman takes on in her lifetime. Changing Woman also created the first Navajo clans and guidelines for living and established the matrilineal system.   Navajo women have always been at the core of social and economic control in their culture and occupy a strong position in Navajo life. Women are the potters and weavers, crafts they have been practicing for centuries. Women have traditionally owned the land and livestock, passing these possessions down to their daughters, who have been trained to manage them. 

The Hopi area considered one of the more traditional Indian societies in the continental United States. The social organization of traditional Hopi society is based on kinship clans determined through the woman’s side of the family.  Women are the backbone of Hopi society.    Women own the farming and garden plots, though men are responsible for the farming as well as the grazing of sheep and livestock. Women are also centrally involved in Hopi arts and crafts. By tradition the women’s products are specialized and determined by their residence. Women make ceramics on First Mesa, coiled basketry on Second Mesa, and wicker basketry on Third Mesa. Hopi men do the weaving.  (French)

Basket making was one of the earliest skills developed since baskets were needed for carrying goods, for storage, for trapping and fishing, and for religious ceremonies.  Unlike pottery, baskets do not survive for extended periods of time.  Most that are available today were constructed in the last 120 years, particularly after native people in the Southwest began to make baskets with the idea of selling them and moved baskets into the category of artistic collectables.  The most valuable baskets are those made by the Apache and Yavapai. Apache designs are less symmetrical and, at times, seemed cluttered; the Yavapai used similar methods to those of the Apache .  They frequently include figures (human, dog, deer, and snake).  Weavers suggest that it is helpful to let the basket talk to them and tell them the design rather than planning it ahead of time. Hopi baskets are among the most plentiful reducing their value. Navajo basket making has declined in recent decades but survives because of the importance of wedding baskets. Such baskets are used as part of the religious wedding ceremony and are expected to reflect a common pattern.  Basket making has gradually declined with the Akimel O’Odham but is still common among the Tohono O’Odham, who have an association that supports production. Certain designs have been commonly used including the Man in the Maze, the Sunflower, and the Turtle.

The culture of the people of the Southwest is fascinating and filled with a tradition and history that for many of us is new, but foreign.  I think what we can learn from these people is fascinating – they truly are survivors.



Basket Making Among Southwestern Native Tribes.  The Smoki Museum.  Web.  1 June 2013.

Basso, Keith. 1996 Wisdom Sits in Places:Landscape and Language among the Western Apache.

Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.


French, Ellen and Richard C. Hanes.  “Countries and their Culture : Hopi”.  Web. 24 April 2013.

Kennedy-Simpson, Georgianna. Navajo Ceremonial Baskets: Sacred Symbols Sacred Space.  Native Voices, 2004.  Web.  1 June 2013.

Lassieur, Ellen.  2002  The Hopi.  Print. Mankaato : Capstone Press

Luther, Billy. “Miss Navajo”.  Public Broadcast Station (PBS).  Film. 2006.  Web.  24 April 2013. 

Mehl-Medrona LE.   “Native American medicine in the treatment of chronic illness: developing an integrated program and evaluating its effectiveness”.   Alternative Health Medicine.   5 (1999) :36-44.  Web.  17 May 2013.

 “Native American Healing”.  American Cancer Society.  Web.  17 May 2013.

Raramuri Design – About the Tarahumara.  2011 Web.  April 24, 2013.–tarahumara.html

Roessel, Jaclyn.  “Growing Up Navajo”.  2013 Web.  25 April 2013.

Sheridan, Thomas and Nancy J. Parezo.  1996  Paths of Life: American Indians of the Southwest and Northern Mexico.  Print.  Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

“Southwest Native Americans”. The Indigenous People of the United States. 2012. Web.  4 April 2013.  2012

Subau, Isabelle and  Mircea Sabau.  2004. Electronic document,, 7 June 2013.

The Hopi Foundation.  Web 26 April 2013.

“We:s T-We-M’am BoJu: Together We Will.  History and Culture”.  Official Website of the Tohono O’Odham Nation. Web.  6 May 2013.

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Oprah – The Gospel of an Icon

    I think what makes Oprah so popular is she allows us to be human – but rather than feel disenfranchised, she empowers us to be everything we can be – not unlike the God of many different religions.  We’ve all been breathing Oprah’s reality, vocabulary, consumer choices and worldview.  We’re not been immune to the Gospel of Oprah, but I don’t always think we are really ware of the influence she has on all of us.  Oprah, in Lofton’s terms, “ …represents the state of contemporary spirituality: the spirit of consumer goods” (Frykholm). All roads, no matter how spiritual, lead back to buying more stuff. Oprah is both pitchwoman and preacher of this worldview—two roles that are indistinguishable.  As Loften puts it Through her careful product recommendations or her selection of particular books for her reading club, “Oprah spiritualizes materiality, saving us from drowning in the seemingly inexhaustible profane sea of commodities and images that assault us virtually 24-7” (Vasquez).  Oprah draws together various cultural dimensions and then gives them her personal stamp. She encourages her viewers to do the same, collecting whatever products, ideas or beliefs will suit their ideal existence. Oprah makes her own choices into a spectacle so others can sift more easily through the unrelenting parade of contemporary ideas and products.

Personal transformation is central to the Gospel of Oprah and we have watched her over the years transform over and over again – each time making it ok to be fat, to stand up against corporate America, to live without being married – all suddenly are ok, because Oprah said so.  She offers new beginnings to everyone at all times through the proper use of commodities and practices. All personal problems, from a messy closet to an unhappy marriage, can be resolved by the miracle of the right advice by the right experts, consumption of the right products, and what Lofton calls the right psychological and emotional expulsion on Oprah’s show.  Oprah is living, breathing GRACE- always ready to forgive, to provide much needed advice, to provide $500 shoes that will simply make you feel better.  Oprah tends to look at the surface and make you feel better, but deep down, the problems still exist  regardless of being “Princess for a Day”, going on vacation with Oprah, getting a new pair of shoes, new DVD, book or whatever gift she is giving away- she doesn’t provide true salvation.

Artman, Amy Collier.  “Kathryn Lofton, Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon”.  The Journal of Religion.  92 (2) : 320-321.  Web.  13 June 2013.

Frykholm, Amy.  “Oprah, by Kathryn Lofton”.  Christian Century.  5 Feb 2012.  Web.  13 June 2013.

Vásquez, Manuel A.  “The Gospel of an Icon: De-provincializing Oprah”.  18 Apr 2011.  Web.  13 June 2013.

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Southwest Native American Religion and their Relationship to the Environment

Native Americans have long had an immediate relationship with their physical environment; they t lived in relatively small units close to the earth, aware of its rhythms and resources. They defined themselves by the land, by the sacred places that bound and shaped their world. They recognized a unity in their physical and spiritual universes, the union of natural and supernatural. Their origin cycles, oral traditions, and cosmologies connected them with all animate and inanimate beings, past and present.­­­

They were herded like cattle onto reservations  losing the land that they love and with the Dawes General Allotment Act of 1887, they were transformed from hunters to farmers and herdsmen and often simply to become paupers on their own land.  Subsequent acts of Congress opened Indian Territory, withdrew forests, reservoir sites, mineral and grazing lands, regulated Indian access to those areas, and even dodged the trust period to hasten the transfer of lands into non-Indian hands.

By the early twentieth century, the little land Native Americans controlled was mostly in the trans-Mississippi West.   They maintained a land base and a cultural identity, things that continue to set them apart, economically as well as socially and politically from other ethnic groups or classes in the United States. Although viewed as relatively valueless by nineteenth-century white standards, these lands were places of spiritual value and some contained resources of immense worth. This fact informs nearly all Native American environmental issues in the twentieth century. Land (its loss, location, and resource wealth or poverty), exploitation of land, and changing Indian needs, attitudes, and religious demands define the issues facing modern Indians and their environments.

Lewis, David.  “Native Americans and the Environment”.  American Indian Quarterly .  19(3) [Spring 1995].   Web.  10 June 2013.

The Native Americans and the Environment.  A.I.R. Policy Center-Knowledge and Education.  Web.  10 June 2013.

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Globilization -Tohono O’odham tribes of the Southwest

Globalization is as much a fact of consciousness as it is an economic fact; people everywhere, now, see themselves as individuals, possess an image of humanity-at-large, think of the world as a collection of sovereign nation-states.  Despite fears of cultural homogenization, localism has not died in a globalized age. Globalization fundamentally alters power relationships, both religious and scholarly.   The lines between things have shifted, and many doubt that they will ever have new fixed configurations.  Globalization highlights “religious” processes that extend far beyond church life. You can analyze human rights that religion gives as symbolic images of social life; few symbols are more sacred today, and the three “generations” of those rights – civil/political, economic/social, and group – symbolically represent three conflicting social processes: individuation, the growth of worldwide economic and social networks, and increased localism.   Globalization for Tohono O’odham tribes of the Southwest really started over 100 years ago as they began to fight for their own sovereign nation status and with people who greedily took from them leaving a nation today that is dissected by the boarder separating two countries and families who have been split apart because the Indian Way is not the way of the World.  Civil, political, social, economic symbols and the tribe as a whole, have been impacted by a government that they cannot trust.  It is difficult to imagine the Tohono O’odham  think beyond their own situation.  The global context is a warning for other impoverished people who possess something a greater nation or people may want and are so easily allowed to take.

The Tohono O’odham tribe have lived in the Sonora region of Mexico up to just north of Phoenix Arizona and west to the Gulf of California for thousands of years – before the USA and Mexico were nations.  From the early 18th century they were ruled by many different foreign governments and in 1853, through the Gadsden Purchase, O’odham land was divided almost in half, between the United States and Mexico.  “…according to the terms of the Gadsden Purchase, the United States agreed to honor all land rights of the area held by Mexican citizens, which included the O’odham, and O’odham would have the same constitutional rights as any other United States citizen” ( The majority of Tohono O’odham remained in the United States, but a significant number remain in Sonora.

In the late 1800s non-Indian farmers began to come to the O’odham land wanting to farm.  They dug ditches and channeled water affecting the water table and underestimating desert floods – their ditches took the water that would normally flood the crop area of the O’odham and for the next 20-25 years the Tohono O’odham lost precious farmland and their water table dropped.  The river was dry and unable to irrigate their farmland so farming ceased along the Santa Cruz River.  In addition, the city of Tucson was growing and the demand for drinking water increasing.  The city began to sink more wells and taping into the aquifer the Tohono O’odham owned.  In 1975 the Tohono O’odham had had enough and filed suit against the city of Tucson.  Their defense was based on the Winters Doctrine which”…proclaimed that Indians ‘have prior and paramount rights to all water resources which arise upon, boarder, traverse or underlie a reservation/  Moreover that water had to be supplied in sufficient quantity to satisfy for both present and future needs of the reservation” (Sheridan 1996).  Resolution of this lawsuit initially came in the passage of the Arizona Water Rights Settlement Act of 1982which granted the Tohono O’odham water.  The secretary of the Interior also declared that the irrigation system along some of the O’odham rivers were to be improved and that “the water could be used for any purpose, including lease to non-Indians… to subjugate reservation land” (Sheridan 1996) and to deliver water from the Central Arizona Project for irrigation.  This settlement was signed by President Reagan and the Tohono O’odham still continued to debate how the water will be used.

Mining in southern Arizona became big in the mid 1800’s and owners of the mines needed lots of help to get the ore.  Arizona was still a part of New Mexico and peonage was legalized in 1851.   Many Mexicans worked in the mines under legal peonage until it was abolished in 1867, the Tohono O’odham worked the mines too but not as servants; they still owned a lot of farmland and livestock and it seemed when water became scarce on their own land, the Tohono would seek work in the mines or in other jobs in the town of Tucson.  The mine owners had difficulty getting their ore to the metropolitan areas and in 1877 the Southern Pacific Railroad was given a charter to build a route across the Arizona desert; the railroad would transport silver ore, cattle and people back and forth.   With the advent of the railroad came a “…strictly defined, radicalized class system in which Mexican nationals and Mexican Americans alike found themselves subordinated” (Meeks 2007).  The Chinese were imported to help build the railroad and once completed were hired on at the mines.  Copper mines employed labor contractors who traveled into Mexico and hired Mexican peasants to work in their mines.  The railroad and copper mines also imported labor from Europe and a class system began to take effect; the ethnic Mexicans and Indians were hired for unskilled positions and paid the lowest wage.  According to the Dillingham Report, a government study on immigration, the majority of the workforce in the area was Irish, Anglo-Americans, southern and eastern Europeans, ethnic Mexicans and Indians.  There were vast differences in wages between these groups with the Italians, Mexican and Indians being paid the lowest.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs had hoped the Tohono O’odham willingness to work for wages would help assimilate them into the US culture while the cotton growers hoped to use groups like the Tohono for their own benefit as cheap labor.  The Tohono O’odham “…engaged in what scholars in Latin American history call ‘resistant adaptation’.   For centuries they had moved seasonally between multiple villages and desert camps, and, beginning in the Spanish colonial era, regional mines and missions” (Meeks 2003)  With the arrival of  commercial  agriculture, mines and railroad,  the Tohono  adjusted and moved as they had for centuries and moved back and forth between their villages and the towns,  mines and  the fields.    “They utilized the traditional flexibility in the structure and gendered division of labor of their families to shape their entrance into the regional wage economy, and, more broadly, their incorporation into the national political economy” (Meeks 2003).  They didn’t just conform; they used life skills to adapt to their changing world.

The push for Arizona statehood became a not only an issue of Republican vs. Democrat, but was race-based.  Ethnic Mexicans and Indians, as well as, Italian, Spanish and Slavic were discriminated against through wages; delegates from the mining unions believed employers should limit the rights of new immigrants believing that 80% of workers should be “…native born citizens of the United States…and qualified electors” (Meeks 2007).    Arizona did not become a state until 1912, making it the 48th state to enter the union, Alaska and Hawaii entered many years later in 1959.

Arizona may have finally become a state but the O’odham and other native groups still continued to be discriminated against not having the same rights under the constitution that all other US citizens had.   It wasn’t until the Civil Rights Act of 1968 that an Indian Bill of Rights was established giving the O’odham and other indigenous people sovereignty, the right to vote, religious freedom, but they still have lost much of the land that they loved.  The O’odham history is played out daily as they assimilated into a society as they choose.  While their future is troubled by water issues, it is also clouded by immigration disputes and to recognize their rights to a homeland that transcends the U.S. – Mexico border.  Many Tohono O’odham were born on tribal land and do not have birth certificates making it very difficult to obtain passports.  The Tohono O’odham Citizenship Act of 2003 granted citizenship to about 8,400 tribal members not currently recognized as U.S. citizens but continued to bar those who did not have proof of citizenship making it impossible to cross the border between the US and Mexico.

Ofelia Rivas of O’odham Voice Against the Wall, a group of elders and youth concerned with carrying on their traditional ways in 2004 summarized how many of the O’odham feel “…. people need opportunities, not just near here, but in the whole of Mexico. It’s the U.S. pushing them out of their communities. They don’t have anything to support sustainable economic development and self-government. Young people tend to get coerced into trafficking. Then they’re given severe sentences and are sitting in prison” (Cultural Survival 2004).  It appears there are many issues the O’odham people face, but considering how they have assimilated over thousands of years if given their land back, they would know  what to do with their water rights and they again, would become top agricultural and livestock producers.  It’s really all about the water.


Cultural Survival

August 9, 2004 Border Troubles Barrage O’odham Lands.  Electronic document.

Accessed 7 June 2013.

History and Culture of the Tohono O’odham .  Internet Document.  Accessed June 6, 2013.

Meeks, Eric V.

2003  The Tohono O’odham wage labor and resistance adaptation.   Electronic document. The Western Historical Quarterly 34(4) 469-489.  Accessed June 6, 2013.

Sheridan, Thomas E and Nancy J. Parezo

1996  Paths of Life:  American Indians of the Southwest and Northern Mexico.  Tucson: The University of Arizona.

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Wisdom Sits in Places – Apache identify through places


The Apache name locations by what they see the first time; the name is a visual description of the physical landscape of a location.   For centuries locations were passed from generation to generation as a place to gather food, obtain water, good places to grow food, etc.  As they described the location, they named the place.  One example given was Tliish Bi Tu’e or Snakes water and the author describes a scene of Cibecue Apache arriving at this location for the first time, probably thirsty, looking for water (Basso. 1996:15).  They see a spring, bubbling out of the rocks forming a pool and start toward it and are quickly halted by the leader who notices snaking sunning themselves on the rocks.  He halts the group, telling them to stay put as he moves toward the snakes, talking quietly to them, convincing them to move one so the people can gather water.  The people then are able to drink (Basso, 1996:15).

Imagine the Cibecue Apache coming year after year, decades after decades and one day, they come and the water is gone and now, centuries later, we come to the location and only see an outcropping of rock and dust on hard packed earth. (Basso, 1996:16) The only way anyone has a glimmer of what the landscape was like before now is through the Apache names of the locations.  History is oral and passed down through generations.  We know that at some time when the first people visited this location, there WAS water.  Their names give us a visual landscape of what used to be and how much the land has changed and effected by natural (and unnatural) forces (Basso: 1996:15).  There are no maps, gps coordinates for positioning, written records telling the Cibecues where to find these places, only the names given long ago describing what the people saw and experienced, showing what was and what is the same.

            The Apache names for places connect them not only to their homeland but to their ancestors.  They hear the descriptions and can imagine how different the land was then versus as it is now; they see their ancestors made good decisions in deciding to stay based how they describe what they saw and experienced.  Rather than desert that the Apaches see now, the names describes places that had more water, were good places of protection or good areas to grow crops (Basso:1996:5).  The people of these places named themselves after the places and today’s generations are living proof that they were successful; today many still live in the same places, plant corn and tend to the corn field as their ancestors did – the place and farming is a connection to past Apaches.  The Anglo word homeland truly describes these Apaches places – it has been home for their people for hundreds of years and many have stayed, while others return home every year; there is still that connection to the land regardless of where people live.

                The Apache elders recount the stories of place names and link them with the past and present by first of all speaking in present tense, describing what the elders experienced so the listener is there, internalizing, and becoming a part of the story.  You are not a spectator but a participant, seeing what is described, feel the emotions of the story.  What you see today suddenly vanishes and you see the descriptors of what was then. 

You are Apache and still share the same belief system so you understand the emotions in the story, the supernatural experiences of the ancestors and see the value of what is being taught through the story.  How to live a quiet ,respectful life that focuses on the Apache way is taught through the stories that have been told through generations – patience, resilience, integrity , dignity, respect for the land, the Diyi’, for elders are taught through the places names. (Basso: 1996)

                Keith Basso (1996) traveled with Apache elders over the course of weeks to experience the connection with the Apache with their landscape.   He discovered a description of a landscape that was much different than what he was currently seeing and realized that this landscape was woven in between history and ecology.  The ancestors were prudent in the places they chose to keep their people safe and provide land that would sustain them.  The wisdom is seen in the names the people gave to the land, illuminating the relationships the ancestors had with the land and not only show the wisdom in their choice of land but also  teach respect and how to live a moral life (Sabau and Sabau 2004:1).  Some of the place names given are difficult to pronounce and even that mispronunciation is a sign of disrespect and worrisome; worrisome because the spirits are always watching and you don’t want to make a mistake.  Describing the places that are so different now also reminds the Apaches of the supernatural forces that are always at work in their world and that what was then may be different now because the some of their ancestors may not have lived a life that was pure, so the spirits punished and changed the landscape over time; that reminder helps the people to live a life above reproach.  By remembering the places in the past the Apache not only see the place but they have the opportunity to discover the wisdom of their ancestors through the stories of their naming, the stories of how to farm, how to deal with difficult situations and how , what and when to celebrate.  At the end of Wisdom Sits in Places, the author Keith Basso asks one of the Apache elders he is with “What is wisdom?” and the elder responds “Wisdom sits in places. It’s like water that never dries up. You need to drink water to stay alive, don’t you? Well, you also need to drink from places. ” (Basso1996: 127).Bosque del Apache scenery


Basso, Keith

1996 Wisdom Sits in Places:Landscape and Language among the Western Apache.

Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.


Subau, Isabelle and  Mircea Sabau

2004 Keith Basso. Wisdom Sits in Places:Landscape and Language among the Western Apache.

Electronic document,, 7 June 2013.

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35,000 year old warrior channels through local woman

More than one third of American adults believe that on “…some level they’ve made contact with the dead”(Sagan and Druyan 203).  JZ Knight is one of those adults; in fact she has quite the following of well educated, older adults that pay her a lot of money to contact the dead – in the case, Ramtha. 

Who Is Ramtha?

Ramtha is a 35,000 year old warrior from the ancient city of Lemuria. The Lemurians were oppressed by highly advanced citizens of Atlantis because they believed the Lemurians were “soulless.” At age 14, Ramtha led a small army against the Atlantians and defeated them. More people joined his army, and he soon became a great warrior. He was stabbed severely during one battle, but miraculously he did not die. His enemies began to believe he was immortal. Ramtha “learned the mysteries of the unknown god and became enlightened” during the seven years he was recovering from his wound. He rose through higher levels of consciousness and eventually transformed into a being of light. He ascended as a God, but vowed to return.

Ramtha channeled through JZ Knight in 1977 while she was playing around with pyramids.  Standing in her kitchen a mere ten feet from JZ was an enormous figure, dressed in flowing robes and surrounded by purple light. He proclaimed, “I am Ramtha, the Enlightened One. I have come to help you over the ditch.” He went on to say to a bewildered JZ: “It is the ditch of limitation and fear I will help you over. For you will, indeed, beloved woman become a light unto the world.” Ramtha then warned JZ that she was in danger and she must leave the house immediately, at which point he disappeared. JZ heeded this warning, moving her family into a new home. Days later, the house was ransacked by thugs. The trusting relationship between JZ and Ramtha was thus cemented.

            From an early age, JZ Knight always had always  experienced psychic and paranormal phenomenon, but the experience with Ramtha was life changing and in 1988 she started the Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment right here in Yelm, Washington. 

Ramtha first spoke to the public in 1978, when he made an impact with his vast knowledge and insight. The local media soon picked up on this story helping Ramtha’s (and JZ’s) popularity to spread. The fact that Ramtha emerged in the heart of the New Age movement considerably helped his cause; people were lining up to hear him speak. JZ became a full time channel and began charging money for admittance (an idea brought to her by Ramtha himself). Even Actresses Shirley McLean and Joan Hackett became disciples of Ramtha (The Enlightened One predicted McLean would win the “highest award” for her role in Terms of Endearment). Knight’s popularity among the stars lead to her appearance on the Merv Griffin Show in 1985. JZ’s school has earned her millions of dollars and lots of adoration. She is among the leading New Age channelers with 3000 followers. Disciples come to her ranch in Yelm, Washington to learn the Great Work.

Ramtha’s teachings are encompassed in a work known as the White Book, and these ideas are based on ancient Gnosticism of the Mediterranean. The core principles of Ramtha’s School are 1) a supreme deity is a part of every man, and 2) the key to reaching the God within us is through Gnosis or knowledge.  Ramtha himself does not wished to be revered as a God, but rather as an equal. He says in one of his channeling sessions, I am but a teacher, servant, brother unto you.

Ramtha’s origin story is difficult to grasp. The main point is that consciousness exists on multiple levels, with human form being the lowest; the higher the level, the greater the level of consciousness. The entities (Gods) used consciousness to create objects at their whim. In other words, they manifested their dreams to create all the objects in the world. The Gods came down to the lowest levels to experience life in its material form, but they still had their divine powers. The early humans could easily move between levels and manifest their dreams or desires. Over time, however, this ability was lost. Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment allows students to regain these powers, and carry on the task of Gods: to make known the unknown.

The Great Work of Ramtha’s teachings is literally manifesting dreams and desires. In essence, the Great Work requires reaching maximum potential of the mind. The key to manifestations lies in the cerebrum, which, according to Ramtha, has the power to make dreams a reality. In the past, humans would hold a dream or desire in their mind, and it would manifest. Today, humans play a passive role to manifestations. They absorb the world around them in their mind, and this then becomes reality. In a sense, they are trapped in the present reality. Ramtha desires to teach students the power to manifest any desire and make known the unknown.

JZ has undergone a lot of scrutiny as one of the most prominent American channelers. Her overall performance as Ramtha is seamless. While she is channeling, her posture, walk, voice and the color of her eyes changes. Actress Linda Evans, a student of Ramtha’s, argued that if JZ is a fraud then “she is the greatest actress in the world.” A skeptical psychologist became uncertain of JZ’s legitimacy when JZ put her hand on his head revealing such power that he could hardly take it.  Even if Ramtha was not real, he said, there was definitely a power within her that science could not explain. Later, a team of scientists did tests on JZ during channeling episodes over the course of a year. The results of the test categorically ruled out fraud or multiple personality disorders. We know something’s going on here, said one of the researchers, we just can’t say, at this point, specifically what it is.  Her students swear that JZ and Ramtha have entirely different personas leading them to believe that Ramtha is indeed channeling through JZ.

Other evidence points to the contrary. One of JZ’s business managers saw her “practicing” the Ramtha personality. Her husband Jeff Knight also noticed her slip in and out of the trance to take cigarette breaks (JZ, unlike Ramtha, was a smoker).  And according to the Skeptics Dictionary Website: “…it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the likelihood of a 35,000 year old Cro-Magnon ghost suddenly appearing in a Tacoma kitchen to a homemaker to reveal profundities about centers and voids, self-love and guilt-free living, or love and peace, is close to zero.”   It takes a great leap of faith to believe that JZ is a channeler, although scientific evidence may not be enough to discredit Ramtha.





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A 20/20 segment portrayed JZ as a fraud who was exploiting peoples’ beliefs in Ramtha for money. The show also claimed that Ramtha was teaching people that they are above morality due to their divine status. These beliefs, they surmised, could only lead to amoral behavior. The 20/20 exposure led to more attacks from the press on JZ and the School. 

Today as Ramtha’s school continues to succeed; it is receiving “signs of a certain legitimacy among the religious community. JZ has an unprecedented number of students, and her books and tapes are selling well.  Although Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment is surrounded by controversy, there is no clear evidence that JZ is a fraud or that the school is a danger to anyone. Sociologists and psychologists do not believe that students are “brainwashed” to follow this movement, nor are they held against their will. Ramtha’s students are searching for answers to life’s most important questions, and the School is helping them resolve these issues.


Carrol, Robert Todd. “Ramtha aka J.Z. Knight.” The Skeptics Dictionary. Web. 6 June       


Diamond, Steve. “Into the Mystic: Ramtha Meets the Scholars.” The New Times.

Web.  6 June 2013.


McDonald, Sally. “J.Z. Knight Channeling New Support.” Seattle Times May 9, 1998.

Web.  6 June 2013


McDonald, Sally. “Christianity vs. New Age.” Seattle Times May 9, 1998.

Web.  6 June 2013.  t


Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment – The American Gnostic School.  2013. Web.  6 June    


Saga, Carl and Ann Druyan.  The Demon-Haunted World:  Science as a Candle in the                                                                                                

           Dark.  Print.  New York : Ballantine.  1997.  Web  6 June 2013.

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Mohammed : a Promoter of Women’s Rights

At the time Mohammed was born in the 7th century, Judaism had already completed the Bible and the Babylonian Talmud.  Christianity was the official religion of the Roman Empire and its leaders had already agreed on the collection of the New Testament.  Although Rome had fallen to the Visigoths, but Constantinople was still the center of the Byzantine Empire.  Mohammed’s recitations of God’s word to him threatened the Jewish and Christian strongholds around the Mediterranean Sea.  Inspired by God, he unified the tribes of Arabia into one people – the Muslims.

When Muhammad was born women had few, if any rights.  In fact, even their right to live was questioned, especially if there was a drought or if food was scarce, it wasn’t uncommon for young girls to be buried alive. In the Qur’an, it is on Judgment Day “buried girls” will rise out of their graves and ask for what crime they were killed. Part of Muhammad’s legacy was to end infanticide and establish explicit rights for women.

            Muhammad was orphaned at an early age. He was raised by his paternal uncle and accompanied his uncle on trading journeys to  Syria where he gained experience in commercial trade, the only career open to Muhammad as an orphan.  When he was 25 of age, he caught the eye of the owner of a caravan, a wealthy, twice-widowed woman named Khadijah, who 40 at the time.  Khadijah had intermediaries propose marriage, Muhammad accepted and the marriage was long-lasting and successful. In Khadijah’s lifetime, Muhammad did not take any other brides, which was unusual in a culture where men routinely practiced polygamy; Khadijah died when Muhammad was in his fifties.  As the father of four daughters in a society that prized sons, he told other fathers that, if their daughters spoke well of them on the Day of Judgment, they would enter paradise.

              Islam teaches that men and women are equal before God. It grants women divinely sanctioned inheritance, property, social and marriage rights, including the right to reject the terms of a proposal and to initiate divorce. The American middle-class trend to include a prenuptial agreement in the marriage contract is completely acceptable in Islamic law. In Islam’s early period, women were professionals and property owners, as many are today. Although in some countries today the right of women to initiate divorce is more difficult than intended, this is a function of patriarchal legislation and not an expression of Islamic values. Muhammad himself frequently counseled Muslim men to treat their wives and daughters well. “You have rights over your women,” he is reported to have said, “and your women have rights over you.”

             Muhammad was working to establish a new community. In that context, over the next 10 years, he married several women. In some cases, these marriages occurred in order to cement political ties, according to the custom of the day. In some cases, the marriage provided physical and economic shelter to the widows of Muslims who had died or who had been killed in battle, and to the wife of a fallen foe. Of all his marriages, only one appears to have been controversial, and it was to the divorced wife of his adopted son.

              Only one of his wives had not been previously married. Her name was Aisha, the daughter of one of his closest companions. Aisha was betrothed to Muhammad while still a girl, but she remained in her parents’ home for several years until she reached puberty. Years later, when absent from Medina, Muhammad often recommended that, if religious questions arose, people should take them to his wife Aisha. After Muhammad’s death, Aisha became a main source of information about Muhammad, and on medicine and poetry as well.  Aisha’s assertion that Muhammad lived the Qur’an became the basis for Muslims ever since to emulate his example.

               Muhammad’s daughters also played an important and influential role, both in his life and in the establishment of Islam. Most notable was his daughter Fatima, who is still revered by all Muslims, particularly Shiite Muslims.

              Following the Battle of Uhud (625), in which scores of male combatants died leaving unprotected widows and children, Muhammad and the Qur’an decreed that, in order to protect the orphans of such families, men might take up to four wives. The permission itself is surrounded with language that discourages the very thing it permits, saying that unless a man can treat several wives equally, he should never enter into multiple marriages. The usual supposition in the modern monogamous West-that Islam institutionally encourages lustful arrangements-is rejected by Muslims themselves as an ill-informed stereotype. At the same time, Muslim feminists point out that in various cultures at different economic strata the laws of polygamy have frequently operated to the clear detriment of women. Polygamy is an uncommon occurrence in the modern Muslim world.


Halsell, Michelle “Muhammad and Women”.  PBS Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet.  2002.  Web.  4 June 2013.

Hahn, Harley.  “Interesting People : Muhammad”.   Interesting People in Harley Hahn’s Internet Yellow Pages.  2013.  Web.  4 June 2013.

Matthews, Warren.  World Religions.  Belmont : Wadsworth.  2010.  Print

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