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NATIVE AMERICAN FLAGS

The Tohono O'odham Nation

The Tohono O'odham Nation occupies a vast 2.75 million acres in southern Arizona (NAA, 275) is the land of the Tohono O'odham or Desert People (TDAI). Formerly known as the Papago, a term derived from the Pima language phrase "Papahvio-otam" or "bean people", the Tohono O'odham lands encompass the second largest reservation in area in the United States.

The land of the Tohono O'odham is the Sonora Desert where life has always been hard. In the thousand years that the Tohono O'odham have lived in the region they have become experts at survival in a climate alien to most human beings. They have found a wealth of food in the form of cacti, gourds, beans, squash and other hardy plants (ENAT, 176-178).

Today the Tohono O'odham continue to engage in agriculture, subsistence ranching and mining, especially the sale and lease of mineral rights to copper mining concerns to support their living (GAI, 120-121).

The flag of the Tohono O'odham reflects their reservation's topography and flora in a simple but effective way. The main element of the flag is the bicolor of yellow over purple (sample flag provided by "The Turquoise Turtle", Sells, AZ). In these colors one can see the sun breaking over a distant mesa, grown purple by the shadows of its own walls. One can also see the brilliance of the colors of the flowers of the Saguaro cactus, a major food source for the ancient Hohokam, the ancestors of the Tohono O'odham. Crossing this field on the obverse only is a red staff from which hang eleven feathers. These feathers stand for the eleven districts into which the huge reservation is divided.

Flags for the Tohono O'odham nation are made on the reservation and come in the full range of sizes. The local shop that makes the small desktop flag has found that it has become so popular that a backlog of orders keeps them busy. It is one instance of local pride expressed through the tribal flag that has brought improvement, even a small one, to a severely under employed people. Recently, the popularity of the flag has outgrown the small local enterprise's capabilities and a commercially manufactured supply of 3'x5' (approximately 1 meter by 1.65 meters) has arrived in the capital city -Sells, AZ.

With this new order a change has occurred in the flag. The tribal name has been added to the canton emphasizing the identity of the flag. In Sells, as one drives through the heart of the town, the popularity of the flag is quite evident. It can be seen at the tribal schoolhouse, the Tribal HQ, the tribal courthouse and several other buildings. This new design appeared only in the year 2000. Prior to that time, a streamer bearing the tribe's name flew above the flag keeping one of the simplest and most dramatic native flags in the United States uncluttered with writing.

My thanks to the kind and generous staff at the Tohono O'odham Tribal Headquarters in Sells, AZ for their assistance and appreciation of my efforts to show their flag to the world.

Don Healy, Bisbee, Az 85603