Photos taken by: Rebecca Cohen, Collaborator from Baboquivari High School
Written by Caleb Weaver, Youth Education Program Manager
When we think of the US/Mexico “borderlands,” we often think of the cultural exchange and trade flow among and between two vibrant countries. Taking a closer look at this culturally and biologically diverse region, we can see that these exchanges and flows have been a way of life for peoples following historic trade routes for millennia. The indigenous Tohono O’odham, or desert people, still live along what is now the border between Southern Arizona and Northern Sonora – their historic homelands reduced to a reservation west of Tucson and bifurcated in 1854 by the southern expansion of the US/Mexico border with the Gadsden Purchase. When we think of the US/Mexico “borderlands,” we must expand our idea of a bi-national border to a multi-national border.
The Tohono O’odham (TO) have witnessed massive changes to the lands they’ve stewarded. Since the arrival of Spanish missionaries, around 96% of the surface water – the historic creeks, rivers, and streams – have disappeared outright. In 2016, high school youth from Baboquivari HS and Tohono O’odham HS gathered together for the first-ever TO Nation Youth Climate Change Forum. Students learned the state of their Nation’s water resources, threats from nearby urban sprawl, and climate projections call for less rainfall, higher temperatures, and more violent rainstorms. According to those present, students voiced a desire to focus on resource conservation and environmental protections, notably rainwater harvesting and ecosystem restoration.
At a recent Food & Social Justice Forum, representatives from Indivisible Tohono, a “Grassroots group concerned with current federal and Arizona legislation primarily impacting the Tohono O’odham Nation” expressed a desire to collaborate with Borderlands Restoration Network to engage TO youth in habitat restoration. We worked closely with Rebecca Cohen, one of the founders of Indivisible Tohono and the College & Career Mentor at Baboquivari High School (BHS), to design and fund a program for youth at BHS.
Su:dagī o wud doakag translates from O’odham to “water is life,” and is the name of the program that has brought together BHS and BRN to train youth to restore the BHS campus. Every week, twelve Tohono O’odham youth gather with the shared goal of harvesting rainwater both into the earth and in cisterns to support new life on campus. At this point, youth have already been meeting for a month within the Su:dagī o wud doakag program. After visiting Manzo Elementary School in Tucson, the Watershed Management Group’s office in Tucson, a cistern installation with Flowers & Bullets, the outdoor classroom and pond at Patagonia Union High School, and earthworks at the BRN offices, youth within the Su:dagī o wud doakag program are now redesigning a courtyard on the BHS campus. Once the design is accepted by BHS staff, youth within the Su:dagī o wud doakag program will then harvest rainwater to support native pollinator-attracting plants, and desert-adapted food crops alike. Keep following their progress on Facebook and with the blog.