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FACTBOX-Once nomads, Tohono O'odham carve out lives in U.S. desert

by Thomson Reuters Foundation | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 12 April 2017 14:00 GMT

By Ellen Wulfhorst

CHUKUT KUK, Arizona, April 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - T he Tohono O'odham people live on the third largest Native American reservation in the United States, straddling the U.S.-Mexico border.

A border wall ordered by U.S. President Donald Trump threatens to split their ancestral land in two.

Here are a few facts about the Tohono O'odham people.

- Tohono O'odham (pronounced to-HO-no oh-O-tahm) means "Desert People" in their language. They once were called the Papagos, or "bean eaters," by Spanish conquerors.

- At 4,375 square miles (11,331 square kilometers), their reservation is smaller than the Navajo and the Uintah and Ouray reservations.

- Estimates show four in 10 Tohono O'odham residents live in poverty.

- Summer temperatures in the Sonoran Desert where the reservation is located typically top 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) and frequently hit 118 degrees F (48 degrees C).

- The reservation consists of nearly 70 villages, some as small as four homes, often built around a water well.

- The Sonoran Desert is the only home to the Saguaro cactus, which can grow to some 50 feet (15 meters). The cactus typically does not grow its arms until it is 50 to 70 years old and lives to be 150 to 200 years old.

- Traditional foods include tepary beans, a heat and drought tolerant crop. According to Tohono O'odham beliefs, the Milky Way is made of tepary beans scattered across the sky.

- Petroglyphs found in the desert are believed to have been carved into rocks by nomadic ancestors of the Tohono O'odham, dating as far back as 500 AD.

SOURCES: Pluralism Project at Harvard University, Tohono O'odham official website, Tohono O'odham Community Action (TOCA), "Saguaro National Park" by Jane Eppinga, Native American Netroots, U.S. National Park Service, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.