On Saturday, April 28, youth and adults from The Owl and Panther Project traveled to Sells, Arizona to meet with Tohono O’odham elders and youth. This day of cross-cultural sharing included over fifty people from many countries including Bhutan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Somalia, and the United States.
The Owl and Panther Project is funded by the Hopi Foundation and is “a unique group designed to help families affected by trauma through expressive arts”. Iskashitaa Refugee Network’s Resource Coordinator Natalie Brown and Community Education Coordinator Kathy Zaleski volunteered with the Owl and Panther Project and had the joy of joining them on their journey to the Tohono O’odham Nation.
The day was packed with activities and began with a photo scavenger hunt to make the bus ride go a bit faster. The youth were excited to identify the birds, plants, and landmarks throughout the journey. Many thanks go to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Marie Long especially for assistance with funds and availability of knowledgeable docents to share their insights throughout the day.
Upon arrival at the Tohono O’odham Cultural Center and Museum, we were greeted by Tohono O’odham youth and elders. Tohono O’odham women taught the women and girls present how to play toka, a traditional game for women only that is similar to field hockey and very competitive. Toka begins with traditional singing and was a great fun for all.
Later in the day, Tohono O’odham women demonstrated their skillful tortilla making. As their guests each took turns making tortillas, we learned the word for “flat bread” in many languages and realized that most cultures have some equivalent: chapati, roti, naan, etc.
Food continued to be a unifying force as we began our global feast. Many participants brought food to share that was traditional from their homelands. The Iraqi dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) were just one of the big hits of this meal! Iskashitaa Refugee Network was happy to supply locally harvested grapefruit and loquats, which were left as gifts for the Tohono O’odham since citrus is not abundant on the reservation.
After we ate, a local Tohono O’odham band provided wonderful music and soon everyone was dancing! The day concluded with traditional storytelling and poetry writing. I think all present would agree that this was a day none of us will soon forget! Many thanks to all who were involved in making this great day a success!
By Natalie Brown