University of Arizona Club Ties Students, Heritage

Tohono O’odham students on the University of Arizona campus are making themselves known by starting their own club.

“There is no visibility of us (Tohono O’odham),” said organizer Damascus Francisco. “This is our homeland and we should have a unity between us.”

Francisco, a senior double majoring in management of systems and business management, said he first thought of the club when he felt there was a non-functioning Native community on campus within the Native American Student Affairs group.

Francisco said he did not feel NASA represented the O’odham community as it should and that a club would be a great outreach to younger O’odham.

“Our club is not a move to segregate from NASA but more so build a support and unity through Tohono O’odham students,” said Francisco.

Amanda Tachine, interim director of NASA, said her organization tries its best to accommodate Native students and others. NASA provides support, leadership help, a mailbox and bulletin board, she said.

“I think the Tohono O’odham Club is a great idea and a great way to make students feel empowered,” Tachine said. “And if students feel left out, I want them to talk to me and make me aware of how they feel.”

Tohono O’odham roots at University of Arizona run deep The Tohono O’odham Tribe, formally known as the Papago, has 27,000 enrolled tribal members with a reservation measuring the same size as the state of Connecticut. The Tohono O’odham people are believed to be the descendants of the Hohokam and have resided in Arizona since the early 18th century.

Annemarie Stevens, a Tohono O’odham senior majoring in interdisciplinary studies, said she did poorly her first semester at UA and felt she did not have any support to help her, let alone to turn to. By having that experience she said she could see why other students get frustrated and drop out.

“If we become something positive and promote higher education, we can get students exposed to things they are not familiar with,” Stevens said.

Ofelia Zepeda, a Tohono O’odham linguistics professor at the University of Arizona and the club sponsor, said it is a wonderful initiative and is all for outreaching to youth.

“This is a great time to promote higher education to O’odham members,” Zepeda said. “The tribe needs educated people in all areas of the nation at this time and in the future.”

Club aims to offer help in several ways

Zepeda said she could see the club offering not only academic help but also personal, emotional and spiritual support to all the members. By having support it will be very important to those who might be struggling or those who are new to the campus and need a group to participate in, Zepeda said.

“I believe this club will offer a safe place for O’odham students who need it and will encourage them to extend themselves further into the campus once they have found their grounding here on campus,” Zepeda said.

Lea Miguel, a Tohono O’odham senior majoring in psychology, said the club is a good fit for the UA campus because the university is on traditional Tohono O’odham land. With that in mind, she sees a long future for the club.

“I am very glad to see the club being organized and being able to not only network but start outreaching to students,” she said.

The club plans to start reaching out to local high schools with a high enrollment of O’odham students, such as Ha:san Preparatory and Leadership School, Baboquivari High School and Desert View High School.

The club is also looking into having a float in the annual rodeo parade that takes place early February in Sells, Ariz., said Francisco.

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