Tohono O’odham Nation of Arizona


Last Updated: 3 years

The Tohono O’odham people live on one of the four separate pieces of land that make up the federally recognized Tohono O’odham Nation of Arizona.  There are also Tohono O’odham who live in Mexico.

 Official Tribal Name: Tohono O’odham Nation of Arizona

Phone: Phone Directory
Email: Contact Form

Official Website:

Recognition Status:mFederally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning: Tohono O’odham (pronounced TOHN-oh AUTH-um), meaning “Desert People.” 

Common Name / Meaning of Common Name: Papago Tribe. Pima name for them adopted by Spanish conquistadores. The Pima were competitors and referred to them as Ba:bawĭkoʼa, meaning “eating tepary beans.” That word was pronounced papago by the Spanish and adopted by later English speakers.

Alternate names / Alternate spellings:

Name in other languages:

Region: Southwest

State(s) Today: Arizona and northwestern Mexico

Traditional Territory:



Reservation: Tohono O’odham Nation Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land
Land Area:   2.8 million acres (4,460 square miles), approximately the size of the State of Connecticut

Of the four lands bases, the largest contains more than 2.7 million acres. Boundaries begin south of Casa Grande and encompass parts of Pinal, Pima and Maricopa Counties before continuing south into Mexico.

San Xavier is the second largest land base, and contains 71,095 acres just south of the City of Tucson. Smaller parcels include San Lucy District located near the city of Gila Bend and Florence Village, which is located near the city of Florence.

Tribal Headquarters:  Sells, Arizona
Time Zone:  Mountain

Population at Contact:

Registered Population Today: Approximately 28,083 (as of 2007)

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

Ph. (520) 383-8700

Genealogy Resources:


The Tohono O’odham Nation is comprised of three branches of government; Executive (which houses the Chairman and Vice-Chairman’s office), Legislative (which houses the tribal council representatives-two reps from each of the 12 districts) and Judicial (which houses the courts and judges).

Name of Governing Body:  Tribal Council
Number of Council members:   24, two from each district, plus executive officers
Dates of Constitutional amendments: 
Executive Officers:  Chairman, Vice Chairman over the whole tribe, plus each district is comprised of a Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer.


Tribal Emblem:

Tohono O'odham Nation seal The Great Seal of the Nation consists of items that are symbolic to the Tohono O’odham. Starting from the outside of the Seal is a purple border containing the words “Great Seal of the Tohono O’odham Nation.” Inside the yellow border there are eleven stars which represent one of the eleven districts of the Tohono O’odham Nation: Pisinemo, Hickiwan, Gu Vo, Chukut Kuk, San Lucy, San Xavier, Baboquivari, Sif Oidak, Schuk Toak, Sells and Gu Achi.

At the bottom of this border are the dates 1937-1986. 1937 is the year in which the original constitution and by-laws of the Papago Tribe was approved by the United States Department of the Interior. 1986 represents the year in which the Nation adopted a new constitution and changed its name from the Papago Tribe to the Tohono O’odham Nation.

The inside picture has a view of the sacred mountain, Baboquivari Peak, home of I’itoi. Also in view is a saguaro, prickly pear and barrel cactus from which the O’odham pick fruit and have various uses from each of these cactus to cook and use for building materials. 


Language Classification: Uto-Aztecan  => Southern Uto-Aztecan => Pimic (Tepiman) => Pima-Papago (Upper Piman) => O’odham

Language Dialects: The O’dham language has a number of dialects.

    • Cukuḍ Kuk
    • Gigimai
    • Hu:huʼula
    • Huhuwoṣ
    • Totoguañ

Number of fluent Speakers:



Debates surround the origins of the O’odham. Claims that the O’odham moved north as recently as 300 years ago compete with claims that the Hohokam, who left the Casa Grande Ruins, are their ancestors. Recent research on the Sobaipuri, the now extinct relatives of the O’odham, shows that they were present in sizable numbers in the southern Arizona river valleys in the fifteenth century.

Bands, Gens, and Clans

Related Tribes:

Traditional Allies:

The Tohono O’odham share linguistic and cultural roots with the closely related Akimel O’odham (People of the River), whose lands lie just south of present-day Phoenix, along the lower Gila River. The Sobaipuri are ancestors to both the Tohono O’odham and the Akimel O’odham, and they resided along the major rivers of southern Arizona.

Traditional Enemies:

Historically, the O’odham-speaking peoples were at odds with the nomadic Apache from the late seventeenth until the beginning of the twentieth centuries.  According to their history, the Apache would raid them when they ran short on food, or hunting was bad. Conflict with European settlers encroaching on their lands resulted in the O’odham and the Apache finding common interests. The O’odham word for the Apache ‘enemy’ is ob. The relationship between the O’odham and Apache was especially strained after 92 O’odham joined the Mexicans and Anglo-Americans and killed close to 144 Apaches during the Camp Grant massacre in 1871. All but eight of the dead were women and children; 29 children were captured and sold into slavery in Mexico by the O’odham.

Considerable evidence suggests that the O’odham and Apache were friendly and engaged in exchange of goods and marriage partners before the late seventeenth century. O’odham oral history, however, suggests that intermarriages resulted from raiding between the two tribes caused the intermarriages. It was typical for women and children to be taken captive in raids, to be used as slaves by the victors. Often women married into the tribe in which they were held captive and assimilated under duress.

Ceremonies / Dances:

O’odham musical and dance activities lack “grand ritual paraphernalia that call for attention” and grand ceremonies such as pow-wows. Instead, they wear muted white clay. O’odham songs are accompanied by hard wood rasps and drumming on overturned baskets, both of which lack resonance and are “swallowed by the desert floor.” Dancing features skipping and shuffling quietly in bare feet on dry dirt, the dust raised being believed to rise to atmosphere and assist in forming rain clouds.

Modern Day Events & Tourism:

Every February the Nation holds the annual Sells Rodeo and Parade in its capital. The rodeo has been an annual event since being founded in 1938. It celebrates traditional frontier skills of riding and managing cattle.

Legends / Oral Stories:

Art & Crafts:





The O’odham were a settled agricultural people who raised crops. The original O’odham diet consisted of regionally available wild game, insects, and plants. Through foraging, O’odham ate a variety of regional plants, such as ironwood seed, honey mesquite, hog potato, and organ-pipe cactus fruit. While the Southwestern United States did not have an ideal climate for cultivating crops, the O’odham cultivated crops of white tepary beans, Papago peas, and Spanish watermelons. They hunted Pronghorn antelope, gathered hornworm larvae, and trapped pack rats for sources of meat. Preparation of foods included steaming plants in pits and roasting meat on an open fire.

Since the 1960s, many tribal members adopted “Western” diets that were not healthy for them, suffering obesity, and a rise in type 2 diabetes. Half to three-quarters of all adults are diagnosed with the disease, and about a third of the tribe’s adults require regular medical treatment.

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

The San Xavier District is the location of a major tourist attraction near Tucson, Mission San Xavier del Bac, the “White Dove of the Desert,” founded in 1700 by the Jesuit missionary and explorer Eusebio Kino. Both the first and current church building were constructed by the Tohono O’odham. The second building was constructed also by Franciscan priests during a period extending from 1783 to 1797. The oldest European building in the current Arizona, it is considered a premier example of Spanish colonial design. It is one of many missions built in the southwest by the Spanish on their then-northern frontier.

The beauty of the mission often leads tourists to assume that the desert people had embraced the Catholicism of the Spanish conquistadors. Tohono O’odham villages resisted change for hundreds of years. During the 1660s and again in the 1750s, two major rebellions rivaled in scale the 1680 Pueblo Rebellion. Their armed resistance prevented the Spanish from increasing their incursions into the lands of Pimería Alta. The Spanish retreated to what they called Pimería Baja. As a result, the desert people preserved their traditions largely intact for generations.

It was not until more numerous Americans of Anglo-European ancestry began moving into the Arizona territory that the outsiders began to oppress the people’s traditional ways. Major farmers established the cotton industry, initially employing many O’odham as agricultural workers. Under U.S. Federal Indian policy from the late 19th century, the government required native children to attend Indian boarding schools, where they were forced to use English, practice Christianity, and give up much of their culture in an attempt to promote assimilation into the American mainstream.

The Tohono O’odham have retained many traditions into the twenty-first century, and still speak their language. Since the late 20th century, however, American mass culture has penetrated and in some cases eroded O’odham traditions as their children adopt new trends in technology and other practices.

Burial Customs:

Wedding Customs

Tribal College:  Tohono O’odham Community College

O’odham Chiefs & Famous People:

Catastrophic Events:

Tribe History:

In the News:

Further Reading: