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Baboquivari Peak, One of the Tohono O'odham's Most Sacred Places

Updated: Nov 29, 2022

Baboquivari Peak is known as the center of the universe to the Tohono O'odham people, as well as the home of their Rock God I'itoli. I wonder if this might explain the pull that I felt here--I was staring at a particular point in the distant ridge line, and felt this incredible desire to be close to it. I've had this feeling in a couple of other special places before, and it always fascinates me. Regardless of my beliefs, this is a place of significance. And more importantly, this sacred place belongs to the Tohono O'odham tribe, but it is not currently part of their reservation.

landscape photograph showing southern Arizona mountain ridge line in the Baboquivari Peak Wilderness area. Grasses and yucca in foreground, and a fence marking the border of the wilderness area and the Papago Reservation is seen at bottom right.
fence visible in bottom right corner

In the video of our hiking trip, you may notice a fenceline, which marks the reservation boundary (we are standing on the wilderness area side). It is strange to see fences out in such a wild area, and to know their significance: another marker of the United States' effort to push Indigenous people from their native homelands. From the Tohono O’odham tribal website: “in 1853, through the Gadsden Purchase or Treaty of La Mesilla, O’odham land was divided almost in half, between the United States of America and Mexico. … On countless occasions, the U.S. Border Patrol has detained and deported members of the Tohono O’odham Nation who were simply traveling through their own traditional lands, practicing migratory traditions essential to their religion, economy and culture. Similarly, on many occasions U.S. Customs have prevented Tohono O’odham from transporting raw materials and goods essential for their spirituality, economy and traditional culture. Border officials are also reported to have confiscated cultural and religious items, such as feathers of common birds, pine leaves or sweet grass.”

For thousands of years, Tohono O’odham people lived across the southwest, from what is now known as Phoenix, AZ, to Sonora, Mexico, to the Gulf of California. What was once a large nation of migratory people has now become an artificially divided population, forced from their homelands and onto shrinking reservations by spreading US settlement. “Though the Tohono O’odham never signed a treaty with the Federal Government, they were assigned to a reservation that incorporated a portion of their original Sonoran desert lands.” (Source).

This article mentions that “the Tohono O’odham have been actively trying to reclaim their sacred peak as part of their reservation,” but it offers no explanation on these efforts. I was unable to find anything about this in my own research, but would be interested in learning more about supporting them if this is still an active goal. If you have any information, please let me know. You can learn more about the #LandBack movement to restore stewardship to Indigenous peoples here. Colonialism and US imperialism have stolen these lands, murdered its inhabitants, and taken everything possible from the native people of Turtle Island. It is past time that we do something to attempt to repair the damage done. Another great resource for learning more and getting involved is The Red Nation. Explore their website, listen to the podcast, read articles, and donate to support their critical efforts.

I am so grateful to be living in this region and be able to hike into Baboquivari Wilderness, but it is not lost on me how privileged I am to be able to do this. For those of us who enjoy exploring the outdoors, especially those who are white, cis, male, wealthy, etc., it is critical that we remain aware of our positions of privilege, research the land that we are on, and support the tribes and movements that relate to those lands.

landscape photograph showing a creek, ocotillo, distant mountains, and a woman with a backpack hiking on a rocky trail
my friend hikes ahead of me, we admire the unusual January flow of the creek below

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