The Tohono O'odham are fostering strength and wellness in their community by translating increased economic self-sufficiency and resources derived from gaming into social, health, and educational services which maintain their tribal traditions, thereby providing an effective path toward the maintenance of cultural identity, or O'odham Himdag. Cultural identity serves as a source of client strength and as a protective factor contributing to client wellness. O'odham Himdag describes a way of life, encompassing Tohono O'odham culture. This article is a theoretical exploration of O'odham Himdag as a path toward cultural identity among the Tohono O'odham of Southern Arizona and Northern Sonora, Mexico. It addresses the importance of tribes developing their own services within tribal values and describes O'odham Himdag as a path to health and wellness, with practice examples drawn from the literature and interviews with mental health, health, and lay practitioners belonging to and serving the Tohono O'odham.
The Tohono O'odham (pronounced toe-HONE-o Ah-tomb), formerly known as the Papago, reside in Southern Arizona and Northern Sonora, Mexico. Despite being the second largest group of Indigenous Peoples in the southwestern United States in both population and reservation size (Zepeda, 1995), with a main reservation the size of Connecticut (The Papago Tribe, 1972), there is a dearth of literature available to guide social work students and practitioners seeking to learn how to provide culturally competent social work practice and models of service delivery to this group. Other than a set of articles discussing O'odham indigenous community mental health services (Kahn & Delk, 1973; Kahn, Henry, & Lejero, 1981; Kahn, Lejero, Antone, Francisco, & Manuel, 1988; Kahn, Williams, Galvez, Lejero, Conrad, & Goldstein, 1974), the available literature is written from an anthropological, educational, linguistic, or health perspective, or relative to issues of land and water rights.
The O'odham are fostering strength and wellness in their community by translating increased economic self-sufficiency and resources derived from gaming into social, health, and educational services which maintain their tribal traditions, thereby providing an effective path toward the maintenance of cultural identity, or O'odham Himdag. This article presents a brief history of the Tohono O'odham, then discusses the importance of tribes developing their own services within tribal values, introduces the concept of O'odham Himdag, and describes the relationship of O'dham Himdag to strength and wellness. It concludes with examples drawn from a variety of indigenous programs, including services to incarcerated youth, elders requiring skilled nursing facility care, and people living with diabetes which successfully incorporate O'odham Himdag. This article begins to address the need for more literature to prepare social work practitioners and students to work with O'odham Peoples. The Tohono O'odham can serve as a model for other Indigenous Peoples seeking to balance increasing economic self-sufficiency with the maintenance of their cultural identity and traditions.
The Tohono O'odham
In 1936, Ruth M. Underhill, an anthropologist, published a noteworthy memoir, The Autobiography of a Papago Woman, which laid the foundation for our present knowledge of the history and culture of the Tohono O'odham. Along with the Pima, the O'odham are descendants of the Hohokam, or "the people who are gone" (Nies, 1996, p. 49). Father Kino, made the first documented contact with the O'odham in 1698, establishing a mission at San Xavier (Greene, 1998; Kelly, 1963; Underhill, 1936). The Spaniards called the people they encountered Papago, meaning "bean eater" (Volante, 1994, p. 1B). The Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo, signed at the conclusion of the war between Mexico and the United States (1846-1848), left the O'odham territory intact; but, the Gadsden purchase in 1854 divided the territory roughly in half between the United States and Mexico (Heard Museum, n. …