Most Sacred Place of the Tohono O’odham

        Baboquivari Peak is the most sacred place 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. The peak itself is 7,730 feet high, a popular site for many climbers, tourists, and other visitors to Arizona. It is also, however, the very center of the Tohono O’odham cosmology and the home of the creator, I’itoli. In 1998, the Tohono O’odham community attempted to have the entirety of the peak returned to their custody, in conjunction with their Arizona legislator. The Tohono O’odham live on a reservation near the border of Arizona and Mexico.

        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) teaching the people that life is a maze of obstacles that must be overcome along life’s path or himdag.

       Many of the Tohono O’odham scared sites are located in the United States and for those living in Mexico, recent  immigration laws prevent the O’odham from crossing the boarder freely. In fact, the U.S.-Mexico border has become “an artificial barrier to the freedom of the Tohono O’odham. . . to traverse their lands, impairing their ability to collect foods and materials needed to sustain their culture and to visit family members and traditional sacred sites” (Together).  O’odham members must produce passports and border identification cards to enter into the United States.

       Baboquivari Peak remains as part of the wilderness area and not the Tohono O’odham Reservation. Opponents to turning the land back to the tribe cite a variety of reasons: it would be closed to recreation; climbing would be banned; the tribe would overgraze and mismanage the land; and the tribe would built a casino below the peak. The Tohono O’odham Nation begs to differ, saying it is sacred ground, they have a plan to manage the area, and that they have no desire to commercialize their sacred mountain.

“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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