A’AGA Something to be told or talked about

By Billy Allen


A key issue for many American voters in this 2020 election was immigration— the wall, children in cages, America first, who can be a citizen. Our tribal community had that last issue come up in the mid-1800. The idea that immigrants are not welcome goes against principles of our nation and Native nations. The O’odham welcomed the Piipaash/Maricopa to strengthen both tribes. 


Much of the following information was taken from a 1980 Arizona Republic article by John Winters. The Kaveltcadom merged with the Piipaash/Maricopa to move upriver; soon Halchidhoma, Kohuana, Halyikwamai – all from the Colorado River area—would also move to Gila River land. Eventually these tribes would be absorbed by the Piipaash. The Piipaash know South Mountain as “Greasy” from a story of Coyote sloppily finishing a meal on the mountain. The Sierra Estrella Mountain they refer to as a Berdache, for one dwells inside. (In the 17th and 18th centuries, French explorers met Natives who could not be classified as men or women, the French labeled them “berdache.” Other explorers saw how tribes recognized and accepted berdache individuals, tribes among the Plains and O’odham. The term stuck but today two-spirit is used.)  


(How Coyote made South Mountain greasy is very similar to the Akimel O’odham story. Neither story is “wrong.” Natives respected diversity, accepting the sameness and differentness of others.)  

Historically July and August had the Yuman culture gathering mesquite beans. Supplementing the diet were rabbits, corn, melons and beans. (Black eyed peas arrived via slave ships. Spaniards heading north and later freedmen heading west bought black eyed peas to riverine areas.)


Fish was another main food source. Some men would stretch a net along the river while other men dove into the akimel/river to search beaver tunnels under the banks for hiding fish. (In the mid-1990s, Amadeo Rea was writing his greatly informative book about our ecosystem, At the Desert’s Green Edge, West End elder Sylvester Matthias would stay with him in San Diego. Mr. Matthias liked fish dinner feasts. “This is real Pima food,” he would say.) 


The Piipaash adhered to the Colorado River custom of formally lining up before battles in challenging and taunting the enemy, usually Quechan led. The war leader carried a wooden spike and directed the battle. Aji/Pima Butte/M Mountain is the last known site of a Native upon Native battle without any outside or foreign assistance within the continental U. S. It took place on September 1, 1857. O’odham and Cocopa were allies of the Maricopa.


Piipaash culture also revolved around dreaming, success or failure depended on dreams. Songs were dreamed. Illness and death could be caused by bad dreams. Aji was considered a dream source mountain. 

In 1980, there were roughly 600 Maricopa with half living in Lehi, north of Mesa. Yuman cultural practices are not forgotten, according to informant Perry Sundust, “The Maricopa carry on the cremation of the deceased people.” During that July week of 1980, two cremations were scheduled within the community. Their pottery is world renowned, and social dances are still held. 


Burnett Gates, living in Lehi and a member of the Salt River Tribal Council added, “We as Maricopas are more or less kind of warm, we live apart…still we value our relationship.” He lamented how use of the language has diminished, but praised efforts of elders teaching the language.


An election should provide a seamless transfer of leadership (but this is 2020!). Tribal elections follow with the same idea. But being a minority within a minority, there were some rocky times for the Maricopa in our community. In the forty years since the article was written, the Piipaash seem to have weathered such challenges in the revival and continuation of some cultural practices. Their contributions enrich our native world.  


Information was taken from Massacre on the Gila, An Account of the Last Major Battle Between American Indians, with Reflections on the Origin of War, by Clifton Kroeber and Bernard Fontana, U of A Press, 1986.  Sites accessed were:


Encyclopedia of the Great Plains | BERDACHE  and http://plainshumanities.unl.edu/encyclopedia/doc/egp.gen.004 . 


Voters in precincts on the Navajo and Hopi reservations in northea

stern Arizona cast nearly 60,000 ballots in the Nov. 3 election, compared with just under 42,500 in 2016. 

Tcoutcik vutcik  m mountain? Pg 7; Massacre Book