Desert Walk

I have been following this Desert Walk since the announcement at its beginning. I recommend joining the IndigiFoods mailing list and getting involved in the growing of such foods and learning to recognize them in the wild.

We are growing the tepary bean with corn and squash. This trio is known as the Three Sisters. Good for winter storage.

They make a beautiful ensemble in the garden - are a complete meal - the flavor will be of God's good earth - and this is a gentle blow for Freedom:
The Right to Eat Real Food!

Presented here as it came by email from IndigiFoods

In Desert, Finding Blooms That Heal

Cheryl Ungar for The New York Times
Danny Lopez an O'odham elder.

BUENOS AIRES, Ariz. -- We spent the night sleeping on the grass under a full moon, with Baboquivari Peak, the Tohono O'odham's sacred mountain, looming to the north, and the high-pitched barking of coyotes breaking through our dreams.

Amalia Astorga, a Comcaac medicine woman, had massaged sore legs and blistered feet with a salve made from the leaves of the creosote bush. We had made camp at the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, a few miles north of the Mexican border, and a soothing tea of desert lavender helped aching bodies sleep.

The next morning, after a little pinole, thin porridge made of chapalote, the oldest corn in the Southwest, nopalitos (prickly pear cactus, which tastes a bit like okra, a bit like beans), eggs and tortillas, we set off for another 20 miles.

About 40 "desert pilgrims," as they called themselves -- a multicultural group of O'odham, Comcaac and Yoeme Indians, as well as their botanist-ecologist friends -- had started out March 10 to walk 240 miles from El Desemboque, a Mexican village on the Sea of Cortez, across the Sonoran Desert in the footsteps of their ancestors.

Ranging in age from 17 to 70, they walked into the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, in Tucson, 12 days later on the heels of the spring equinox.

Tears streaming down their faces, they may have been limping, but their hearts sang from what they found in the desert.

Eating only native foods and treating their ailments with wild plants from the desert, they walked to raise awareness of diabetes, which affects half the O'odham people of southern Arizona (historically, the River Pima and Papago), the highest rate in the world.

The disease is entering the remote Mexican villages of the Comcaac (known as the Seri). The walk was also an occasion to raise money for Native American Internship Program (See URL below), designed to educate about plant propagation, sustainable harvesting of desert food and medicinal plants, and healthy food preparation.

Many participating in the walk had relatives or friends with diabetes,
which affects 250,000 American Indians in the Southwest,
even children 6 years old.

Before World War II, when those tribes began to trade their diet for white bread and high-fat foods, the disease was virtually unknown.

And so these pilgrims were going cold turkey on soda and beer, cheeseburgers and doughnuts and all the other high-fat, high-sugar foods that exacerbate the disease, living instead on foods that desert people had evolved with for thousands of years, like:

tepary beans, squash, cactus and mesquite.

These foods are low in fat and sugar but high in the complex carbohydrates and soluble fibers that studies among desert dwellers, both in Arizona and Australia, have shown to lower blood glucose, insulin and cholesterol. But their connection to desert tribes is more complex than the dance of biochemicals.

"You could can these foods and make McDonald's burgers out of them, but you would lose the connection between people and the land," said Dr. Gary Nabhan, director of conservation and science at the Desert Museum, as we walked one morning along an arroyo bordered by saguaro, live oak and ocotillo just beginning to open its blood-red flowers.

Those plants hold the key to myths, sacred ceremonies and self-identity. And the march, inspired by Dr. Nabhan's own year of living off the land, honored those connections.

It also shone a light on the plants and animals that are vanishing, as development eats the desert. The number of ironwood trees, for example, which have sustained desert people for thousands of years while providing habitat for more than 500 species of plants and animals, is being sliced in half by suburban growth.

Cheryl Ungar for The New York Times
Marlene Saraficio-Juan soothes tired feet.

At night, as Adolfo Burgos, a Seri elder, shook his tin-can rattles, festooned with colorful ribbons, and sang in a nasal, high-pitched staccato, Seri youths took turns dancing on a board that signified the carapace of a sea turtle, each trying joyfully to outdo the other.

It was like tap dancing from the other side of the world.

When the O'odham dance, they join hands around their elders, who sing seated in the middle of the circle.

Christine Johnson heard her son, Tony, sing the songs she had nearly forgotten, after a feast of rabbit, venison, beans, giant tortillas and mesquite cookies at an O'odham community center in the settlement of Little Tucson.

"He was so angry with me for not teaching him the old ways," said Ms. Johnson, who is a diabetic. He went off to college and came back one summer to ask his uncle to teach him the ancient songs.

When her brother died, Tony apprenticed himself to Danny Lopez, an O'odham elder, giving up graduate studies at Harvard to learn from the living treasures before they disappear.

And before he left for the desert walk, he told his mother: "I'm walking for you. Take your medicine."

Ms. Johnson watched him go as she ate a bowl of cholla cactus buds, which are full of the complex carbohydrates and soluble fibers that doctors now think can not only protect her from diabetes, but control the disease by regulating glucose and insulin levels.

Native foods, in other words, may be her best medicine.

The two tribes once traveled this same route, the O'odham trading squashes and watermelons for the Seri's sealskin sandals and pelican skin robes.

Sometimes they fell in love and had children. And these modern-day walkers, who have replaced smoke signals with satellite phones and who post daily pictures and notes on the Web, recalled long-lost relatives and horrors of mass killing.

One morning, after leaving the coast, where dolphins brought good weather, they stood at a rocky hillside full of petroglyphs, fascinated by the drawings of men, rattlesnakes and family marks of their own people.

Two of the Seri elders recalled a massacre more than 150 years ago.

An O'odham cowboy had married a Seri woman, and her relatives arrived at the ranch he managed for a Mexican landowner. He killed a few cattle to feed them all, and the rancher called out soldiers.

The Seri woman and her clan escaped, but the O'odham, were crushed in their sleep by huge rocks the Mexicans rolled down the hill.

"When other O'odham arrived days later, they found the bodies of their relatives, but no sign of any Seri," said Dr. Nabhan, who often translated for the Seri. "So they thought the Seri had killed their people, and they never returned." More than 150 years later, members of both tribes stood and wept.

Now the Seri, one of the last hunting and gathering tribes in the world, number only 650. They are prohibited from hunting sea turtles around the islands and coastal lands to which they have been restricted by the Mexican government.

Many of their wild resources, like the ironwood trees that have provided them with food, medicine, long-burning fuel and durable carving wood, are cut and chipped for "mesquite" charcoal, and cut down with chain saws to make knockoffs of Seri carvings.

The O'odham have abandoned the crops they once planted. They no longer gather the fruits of the saguaro cactus for the sacred rain dance.

"During World War II, O'odham men entered the military," said Tristan Reader, a co-director of Tohono O'odham Community Action, one of the sponsors of the walk. Then they worked in commercial cotton fields, with little time to prepare their own fields for the summer monsoon.

"If you're not planting your fields, you're not going to care as much if the rain comes," Mr. Reader said. So the O'odham stopped picking saguaro fruits and making wine for the rain ceremony.

It was a lot easier to go to the commodities store.

And diabetes came to the O'odham.

Years ago, young O'odham men made this same journey to gather salt from the Sea of Cortez, and to pray for strength and acumen.

Although these modern pilgrims had a backup of vans carrying their gear, extra water and cholla buds out of a can, many were experiencing the shock of walking 20 miles a day, not to mention gravity's pull on all those accumulated cheeseburgers.

(SMITH HERE: It is interesting to note that the cholla buds
were considered as important as the water!)

The sun was hot, and it was easy to stumble on the cobbles of the steep trail that headed toward the pointed peak of Baboquivari, the home of I'itoi, the O'odham's creator.

"When the earth was newly made . . . ," Mr. Lopez sang out in his native tongue, the voices of his young apprentices rising with the creation song. His eyes were moist, but there was a decisiveness in his ironwood walking stick. Far ahead, long-limbed young Seri men streaked along a switchback, their bodies silhouetted against the mountain like figures in a cave painting.

"Look at them," Mr. Lopez said softly. "They still hunt and fish. They are so slender. And look at us."

After a few silent paces, he added: "I've been doing a lot of thinking these past few days. All the food we gobble. The macaroni and cheese, the canned stuff."

More silence.

"It seems to me we're always standing there with our hand out," he said. "We don't even make our own houses anymore."

And yet, diabetes has reached the Seri too, along with the convenience stores near Kino Bay, 20 miles from their villages. It's the only place where you can get a cold drink. And when you live without electricity, you know what that means.

"My sister died of diabetes four years ago," said Guadalupe Lopez Blanco, 70, president of the Comcaac council of elders. "People started getting it about 10 years ago."

Alcoholism riddled Terrol Johnson's family, but his father, an O'odham who was a mechanic for 30 years, always put food on the table.

Mr. Johnson grew up with television and white bread. But a year in Australia as an exchange student changed his life. "I saw that the Aborigines were just like my people," he said. "Stuck on reservations, with diabetes and alcoholism. That's when I realized I'm not white. I'm O'odham."

He came home, dropped out of school and apprenticed himself to a basket weaver, discovering the threads of culture in the ancient designs. Now his work sells for up to $5,000 for large gourd baskets, but he spends most of his time teaching weaving and the traditional medicine he learned from his grandfather, a medicine man.

He founded Tohono Cultural Action in his own home, with Tristan Reader, and the group now runs an alternative school that focuses on native foods, agriculture and traditional arts.

Mr. Lopez, who has a master's degree in language arts, is teaching at the same school, and last year his students learned the songs and dances that bring the rain (it came) and planted tepary beans in the drenched fields.

Days earlier, in El Desemboque, Angelita Molina, a Seri weaver, had shown O'odham weavers how to prepare the long stalks of limberbush for making baskets. And both had lamented the scarcity of materials, like beargrass, devil's claw and yucca.

"We used to pick yucca around Three Points," said Mr. Johnson, referring to the town in Arizona. "But people have bought land there, and they're just bulldozing our yucca."

One hot morning, under a glaring sun, Dr. Nabhan pointed out an agave, known as the century plant, which had bloomed and died along the arroyo.

"The plant's roots are full of a starch called inulin, which is more slowly released into the bloodstream" than simpler starches, said Dr. Nabhan, an ethnobotanist who received a MacArthur Foundation grant (See URL below) 10 years ago for his work linking the health of desert people to native seeds and crops.

He pointed out that "the gooey stuff" in prickly pear and other cactus plants, is extracellular mucilage, which helps the plant conserve water and continue the process of photosynthesis under a beating sun.

Those same gooey substances help to slow digestion and to stem any sudden rise of blood sugar, he said, "and the O'odham metabolism may have adapted, after centuries of dependence on these foods."

We came to a shady grove of Emory oaks and ironwood trees, where the ruins of four stone houses lay abandoned.

"My mom herded her cattle up here in the summer," said Elaine Lopez, who remembered picking apricots and pomegranates from the trees and shrubs that once grew on the terraced beds right outside the door. 'We spent the summer up here because it's cool and the rains hit here first, in June." The Lopezes planted corn and melons in the wet fields below, chilies and cilantro in the shade of the fruit trees.

We rested a while by the door of her parents' house. Its thick walls kept things cool in summer, but most nights, Ms. Lopez said, they slept outside under the watto, an arbor made of mesquite and ocotillo.

"My mother has a Crock-Pot and a microwave now," Ms. Lopez said. But the flavor of tepary beans cooked in an iron pot over coals still calls to this pilgrim.

For your convenience here is a list of the plants mentioned in this article and any references to their importance and use:
And they slept outside under the watto, an arbor made of mesquite and ocotillo.

Here is some information that could change your life - even lengthen it!

We order seeds from NativeSeeds SEARCH
Many of these seeds are from Tohono O'odham (Papago). Their catalog is an education in itself, and will open new vistas. They have Devil's Claw and Tobacco, for example - and have a program called "The Diabetes Project."

Special discounts to Native American Indians and many materials are FREE.

Here are some related URLs that were gleaned from our links pages.
About Southwestern Plants Index
Navajo Nation
Natural Heritage Program
Preserving Biological Diversity
The Ani-Stohini/Unami Nation:
Herbs and Crafts
Aboriginal Lifestyles & Technologies
Primitive Skills
Traditional Native American Tobacco Seed and Education Program
The Red Pathway
Native American Medicine
Institute for Traditional Medicine
You will need Adobe Acrobat for this
and can download it there.
Uniting Indigenous People
of the Western Hemisphere
Indigenous Knowledge
and Development Monitor
Relating to sustainable development
Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden:
Book written by Hidatsa woman in 1817. Centuries-old information.
See our Preservation Links Page
for methods, seeds, and people who care.
Native American Internship Program
Can be found in this directory.
The MacArthur Foundation
Apply for your own grant.

Tohono Cultural Action I could not find online.

If you are new to the Four Corners Clamor, a thorough reading of the Previous Issues will show the connections between the genocide of the Native American Indian and all other world-wide groups, with the plight of our "modern" society and all of our ills: spiritual, mental, and physical.

Knowledge and Belief
(According to Smith)

OK, here's what I know:
The Creator put this goodness on the planet for the sustenance and pleasure of us children, while we learn our lessons for growth into the Great Beyond.

(And to those who claim to know where or what this is I say, "Good for you, but this is the reality we live in, so let's take care of the 'little things' before we argue about the 'greater things.')

And here is what I believe:
Our Father (one of my favorite lines about God is, "I thought She was Black.") - did not strand us in localities that would require searching for some distant food or medicine.

So, our needs have always been at hand.

And here is what is plain for all to see:
In our greed, ignorance, and sometimes just plain meanness, we have pillaged, burned, stomped (add your favorite ugly word here) the Blessings, and supplanted them with commerce.

And now the planet and the people are sick.

The Desert Walk is but one example of a simple return to a simple life.

The same could be accomplished by a journey across any untouched locale: a forest - a river bank - the prairie in Chase County, Kansas.

Education (prayer is good) and cooperation (prayer is good) are required.

Here is what we are doing.

Most of my family is under a doctor's care and many of the pills they take have side effects that require more pills. I don't go to doctors.

We have begun to use natural products from a health store.

Our goal is not to rely on these, but to use them as a therapeutic middle program until we can supplant them with our home-grown food.

Within one month my mother has stopped taking Prilosec, which was for acid-reflux and throat polyps. This was done with the simple solution of diet change and aloe vera water. The polyps are gone.

My brother has eliminated Monopril, a very commonly prescribed drug for heart/kidney/blood pressure. This is a major relief to all of us, but we have not gained the confidence (prayer is good) to stop the use of Monopril for my mother.

Both Mom and Dave are using a mixture of Hawthorn Berry, Coleus, Ginger, Dandelion Root, and Grape Skin, and this is what replaced the Monopril for Dave. As far as I know, only the ginger is not native to Kansas.

We know that our needs in this area are simply a matter of identifying and enjoying whatever is out the back door.

As general supplements for all of us, we are using potassium, garlic, natural multivitamins, and Vitamin C. Rose hip tea is a concentrated source of Vitamin C.

Dave is taking a couple of specific nutriments for eye repair and joint repair. My studies have shown me where these are naturally found - everywhere.

The trace elements that we all need have been hybridized, poisoned, and processed out of our foods.

We are all using a Pectin concentrate. Pectin is found in apples, grapefruit, and, as I just learned from my NativeSeed SEARCH catalog, on the seed coats of the Tepary Bean.

This is a perfect example of the far-ranging supply - in different locales - of our needs. Apples, north; Grapefruit, south; and Tepary Beans, SouthWest.

God is not only Good, but pretty smart, too.

We need to catch up - and prayer   .   .   .

Related Article: Indigenous Peoples' Seattle Declaration

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