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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.''