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Tohono O'odham - Arizona (U.S.)

Native American

Last modified: 2017-08-23 by rick wyatt
Keywords: tohono o'odham | arizona | native american |
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[Tohono O'odham - Arizona flag] image by Donald Healy, 1 February 2008



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The Band

[Tohono O'odham - Arizona map]
map image by Peter Orenski based on input from Don Healy

Tohono O'odham - Arizona

The Tohono O'odham Nation occupies a vast 2.75 million acres in southern Arizona (NAA, 275) is the land of the Tohono O'odham or Desert People (TDAI). Formerly known as the Papago, a term derived from the Pima language phrase "Papahvio-otam" or "bean people", the Tohono O'odham lands encompass the second largest reservation in area in the United States.

The land of the Tohono O'odham is the Sonora Desert where life has always been hard. In the thousand years that the Tohono O'odham have lived in the region they have become experts at survival in a climate alien to most human beings. They have found a wealth of food in the form of cacti, gourds, beans, squash and other hardy plants (ENAT, 176-178).

Today the Tohono O'odham continue to engage in agriculture, subsistence ranching and mining, especially the sale and lease of mineral rights to copper mining concerns to support their living (GAI, 120-121).

Donald Healy 2008


The Flag

The flag of the Tohono O'odham reflects their reservation's topography and flora in a simple but effective way. The main element of the flag is the bicolor of yellow over purple (sample flag provided by "The Turquoise Turtle", Sells, AZ). In these colors one can see the sun breaking over a distant mesa, grown purple by the shadows of its own walls. One can also see the brilliance of the colors of the flowers of the Saguaro cactus, a major food source for the ancient Hohokam, the ancestors of the Tohono O'odham. Crossing this field on the obverse only is a red staff from which hang eleven feathers. These feathers stand for the eleven districts into which the huge reservation is divided.

Flags for the Tohono O'odham Nation were made on the reservation and came in the full range of sizes. The local shop (The Turquoise Turtle, Sells, AZ) that made the small desktop flag has found that it has become so popular that a backlog of orders keeps them busy. It is one instance of local pride expressed through the tribal flag that has brought improvement, even a small one, to a severely under employed people. Recently, the popularity of the flag has outgrown the small local enterprise's capabilities and a commercially manufactured supply of 3' x 5' (approximately 1 meter by 1.65 meters) has arrived in the capital city - Sells, AZ.

With this new order a change has occurred in the flag. The tribal name has been added to the canton emphasizing the identity of the flag in red letters. In Sells, as one drives through the heart of the town, the popularity of the flag is quite evident. It can be seen at the tribal schoolhouse, the Tribal HQ, the tribal courthouse and several other buildings. This new design appeared only in the year 2000. Prior to that time, a streamer bearing the Tribe's name flew above the flag keeping one of the simplest and most dramatic Native flags in the United States uncluttered with writing.

[Thanks to the kind and generous staff at the Tohono O'odham Tribal Headquarters in Sells, AZ for their assistance and appreciation of our efforts to show their flag to the world.]

Donald Healy 2008
information provided by Peter Orenski, 1 February 2008


The Tohono O'odham Nation tribal flag features a red staff with a relaxed brown band attached near both ends that is festooned with eleven feathers. Versions of the flag from 2001 and later have the words "Tohono O'odham Nation" in the canton. Prior versions had the tribal name on a streamer detached from the flag, flying above the flag.

The symbolism of the flag includes a yellow sunrise over a darkened mesa cliff (purple), the tribal staff of unity of the eleven districts of families, the red of the blood of the ancestors, the brown of the band representing the earth, the black and white of the feathers representing the duality of life. The colors red, yellow, white, and black are also the colors of the saguaro cactus flower and opened fruit.

An unofficial flag also exists, "the man in the maze," and is used mainly as a sign of tribal identity among individuals. The man in the maze flag is a pan-tribal emblem between various O'odham (Piman) tribes.

David Cowell, 13 December 2009