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Respectful ways go a long ways on Ariz. Indian lands
By Enric Volante
The Arizona Daily Star
The second largest Indian nation in the United States - roughly 2.8 million acres of saguaro forests, craggy mountains and small villages west of Tucson - has barely opened itself up to outsiders.
It's no wonder.
For centuries, members of the Tohono O'odham Nation and other tribes have not only been resisting encroachment on their lands and water, they've been putting up with visitors who blow it through intrusive, offensive behavior.
``Basically, Native Americans treasure their privacy just like anybody else,'' explains George John, a Tohono O'odham Police Department captain and member of the distant Navajo Nation.
Although the O'odham lands are roughly the size of Northern Ireland, there are no hotels and few restaurants. The only place that draws a lot of non-Indians is the semi-urbanized, eastern side of the tribe's San Xavier District, which features the glittery Desert Diamond Casino and historic San Xavier Mission. O'odham officials drafted plans to offer tour packages to more-remote districts in 1993, but never put them in action.
Tucsonans who want to learn more about this tribe and others can venture into Indian country - if they do so in a respectful way and don't go where they're not invited.
``Almost all tribes put out the welcome mat if they have the capacity to do so in terms of land and so forth,'' says Tony Machukay, a San Carlos Apache and executive director of the Arizona Commission on Indian Affairs.
The O'odham hold a Spring rodeo in Sells, about 60 miles west of Tucson, that's open to the public. So is an annual pow-wow at San Xavier, featuring dancers and other artists from tribes throughout the country.
The other tribe near Tucson is the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, whose mile-square reservation southwest of the city is too small for much tourism. The reservation includes public gambling at the Casino of the Sun.
The Yaquis are well known for their elaborate Easter rituals, some of which are open to the public.
Here are some protocol tips on visiting Indian reservations, based on interviews with tourism officials and members of several tribes:
Sherry R. Curley, a Navajo and research associate with the University of Arizona Native American Research and Training Center, says: ``It is a basic, basic belief that the elders hold the wisdom of the tribe, and when they speak, you listen.''
- REMEMBER YOU`RE A GUEST. Unless you're an enrolled member of the tribe, you have no legal right to be there. The land you're visiting has been reserved for Indians - either by past tribal leaders who negotiated treaties relinquishing other lands, or since then by acts of the U.S. Congress or presidents. Behave like a respectful guest and avoid getting kicked off the ``rez.''
- ASK QUESTIONS FIRST AND SHOOT LATER. At public ceremonies, check in advance on whether the tribe lets visitors take photographs or record video or audio tapes. Some tribes, like the Pascua Yaqui and Hopi, ban photos or even sketches of ceremonies.
If you want to photograph an individual, politely ask his permission. If he says no or ignores you, don't be pushy. Don't be surprised if he or she requests a fee for posing, since many Indians have grown weary of exploitation by outsiders.
- GET PERMITS OR GET BUSTED. You don't need state licenses to hunt or fish on reservations that welcome visitors, but you must buy tribal permits for those sports and others, such as boating or backpacking. Check in advance with tribal game and fish departments, tourism offices or police to see what activities are allowed and which require permits.
- DON`T LUMP ALL INDIANS TOGETHER. Tribes have many similar characteristics, but they're not the same. Each is unique with a distinct culture and society. So don't assume that what you saw on one reservation is typical of others.
- GIVE PEOPLE SOME SPACE. Don't go up to homes unless invited. You don't like it when strangers stomp through your yard; neither do reservation dwellers.
- FORGET WHAT YOU SAW IN THOSE OLD JOHN WAYNE MOVIES. Although films have improved in recent years, Hollywood has a history of romanticizing, denigrating or otherwise distorting Indian societies. Discard those stereotypes of tribes as primitive or warlike before you venture on Indian land.
- WATCH WHAT YOU WEAR. Dress with modesty. Some tour groups advise, for example, that women not wear halter tops, shorts or other revealing clothes. Inappropriate clothes can turn off your hosts in traditional villages where modest dress is the custom.
- LEAVE ARTIFACTS AND RUINS UNTOUCHED. The ancestors of today's tribes left a lot behind. So should you - by resisting the impulse to pick up souvenirs. Archaeological sites are protected by tribal, state and federal laws that carry stiff penalties. Leave pottery shards and other items where you found them so that others can view or study them.
- UNTIE YOUR TONGUE. All Arizona tribal officials use English to communicate with non-tribal members, but don't expect everyone to speak it. English is common, but it is a second language for many Indians. Some elders in particular speak only in their tribal tongue or - as among the Yaqui and Tohono O'odham - in Spanish.
Throughout the U.S., about 250 Indian languages are still in use. Learning and using some Indian words - such as a simple greeting - can demonstrate your good will and interest in tribal culture.
- GET THE NAMES RIGHT OR ZIP YOUR LIPS. For example, if you visit the Tohono O'odham, whose name means ``Desert People,'' avoid the common mistake of pronouncing it like an Irish name. Pronounce it like this: Toe-HO-no AH-tomb. And don't call them Tohono for short. Just use O'odham, the people.
You may still read or hear about ``Papago'' baskets, but the O'odham tribe officially dropped that name in 1986.
Today's tribal leaders generally are not ``chiefs.'' The top officer of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe is the ``chairman.'' The Gila River Indian Community is led by a ``governor.'' A ``president'' leads the Navajo Nation.
If you don't know how to refer to someone, either ask how or don't try.
- SHUT YOUR MOUTH AND OPEN YOUR EARS. Polite, attentive listening - particularly when an elder is speaking - is considered a traditional virtue in many communities.