MUL-CHA-THA BRINGS GILA RIVER INDIAN TRIBES TOGETHER FOR FUN WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS ! 30 YEAR STUDY OF PIMA BLOOD MAY CURE DIABETES
Sacaton is a unique place few other Arizona small town can match! Many small towns in the South West are made up of transplants all of which hail from somewhere else and come together to make a community. Most everyone in Sacaton was born there, their fathers and mothers were born there and their grandparents likewise lived in
the small but vibrant Indian community, the Capitol and ancient homeland of the Gila River Indian Tribes. American Indians living today in the Gila River Indian Community history shows their ancestors were the first people to set foot in the Americas 30,000 years ago. They have lived in the Sonoron Desert near the Gila River in southern Arizona for at least 2,000 years. Called the Pima Indians by exploring Spaniards who first encountered them in the 1600s, these early Americans called themselves “O’Odham,” the River people, and those with whom they intermarried, “Tohono O’Odham,” the Desert people. Archaeologist say the Pima Indians descended from the Hohokam.
They are said to be a generous people, they gave the homeless Maricopa Indians (Pee Posh) a home and they became part of the Gila River community. Anyone who followed the Gila river, the southern route to the Pacific, encountered these peaceful traders who gave hospitality to travelers for hundreds of years. “Bread is to eat, not to sell. Take what you want,” they told Kit Carson in 1846. Today, it is not bread, it’s popovers-a glob of flour boiled in lard which is a huge hit during the 53rd Mul-Cha-Tha each March, when everyone comes out to see family and friends and to enjoy the day together. The “Community Day” celebration begins with a two hour parade Saturday morning,
followed by a mad dash and total gridlock to the Fairgrounds. Brown Amusements Carnivals was setup on the south end of the enormous fairground. Nearby were food carts, informational displays on health and teeth care, the Pow Wow arena, the Rodeo grounds, Horseshoe competition, and the Traditional Dancing Groups have their own stage while Chicken Scratch Musicians in a “Battle of the Bands” play to the full Waila tent and plenty of folks who can’t resist getting up and stepping out. The first band kicked off the competition with a spirited version of “Ghost Riders”, dozens, young and old danced on to the dirt dance floor. Waila is a combination of European polka and waltzes with a little Mexican influence mixed-in. Waila music is performed throughout southern Arizona by Tohono O’odham, Pima and Maricopa musicians.
I asked several people about their favorite Mul-Cha-Tha activity and surprisingly “Eating” was high on the list and an easy first! Some said they would grab the first food that grabbed them, others focused; one lady said “Popovers” without any of the toppings like red chili and cheese, or a combo with beans added, nor honey and powdered sugar toppings. A nice guy in the ticket line, escorting one year old Sophia, said he loves a large bowl of chips covered in hot salsa. Stopping by the food booths on the midway, I asked what was selling the most and it was a close race between popovers and hamburgers said the lady who was nonstop flattening out popover paddies to drop into the hot oil.
This year she brought her lunch trying to eat better she said, she brought a turkey wrap, but her son ate it. Up to
then she had only a corn-on-a-stick which is real popular every year. Next door, at the Kieto’s Navajo Taco Stand, everyone was busy filling the Navajo Taco orders
for the fry bread popover, covered with chili meat, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes. The sales team and cooks all looked frazzled and worn out but they were working furiously. Tortillas were gently laid upon the hot griddle and burnt fingers gingerly flip the tortillas, tenderly plucking the warm bread off the hot dome. One co-worker took a moment from the furious pace when I asked what the money from all these tacos will buy. The single mother said, her daughter Cherish, was graduating from high school and today’s profits would pay for her graduation cap and gown, plus pay for the announcements and give her cash to enroll at the University of Arizona in the School of Veterinary Science. Tears of happiness welled up in her eyes as she spoke about Cherish and how she had excelled in school and how she knew she would be a great animal doctor. Then she went back to filling orders for the huge crowd lined up in front of the booth.
I have always enjoyed the variety of events at the Mul-Cha-Tha, but the All Indian Rodeo can often be the most exciting, when local cowboys get beat up by the rough stock. I ask one Cowboy what his favorite part of “Community Day” and he looked taken back and asked “Really”! “I come for the Team roping, the Bull riding and the Wild horse Stampede! “I’m a team roper he proclaims proudly”, and the hundreds of people in the grandstands were all rodeo fans.
Lots of family come out to cheer on uncles, brothers, dad’s and wives, sisters and aunts. One rodeo fan was anxious to see the four reservation team roping event, which would give someone crowing rights, about who were the best ropers in Southern Arizona.
There was two Pima teams, one San Carlos Apache team and the Tohono Oodham stacked the desk with three teams and won. No one seemed to mind, they like good roping, and Indian rodeos in Arizona feature a lot of team roping, calf roping and steer wrestling. But the favorite hands down is the Wild Horse Stampede. Eleven three-man teams competed to saddle a wild horse and ride it! This year-the horses won, so did the bulls, they resisted anyone getting a eight second ride on Saturday. One bull fighter was launched more than ten feet from the ground but that was the only ride of the day. Earlier, in the week, on Thursday the Master’s Rodeo took place, featuring contestants over fifty and Friday was the Junior Rodeo featuring all the cowboys and girls under seventeen but older than six years of age. On Sunday, Pima women compete in the Thoka Tournaments, a lacrosse-style stick game, played in a large open field.
The Traditional Singers and Dancers, featured some favorites-two local Pima singing and basket dance groups, the Tohono O’odham Santa Rosa dance group performed, as did the Tohono O’odham dancers from Mexico, finished up with the Alex Gomez old time fiddlers. Keep in mind all of this is going on at the same time so folks either stick to their favorites or they go around catching a little bit of all of the performances.
Either way, when the sun goes down another group came out to hear their favorite performers after dark and late into the night. Thousands of people turn out for “Community Day”, at a time in Sacaton when the weather is perfect so they empty the nursing home, the “Caring House” and push residents about the grounds in wheelchairs. Everyone joins in the fun, earlier, as the rodeo announcer begins to warm up his crowd, he asks how many in the crowd are “visitors” and a small applause rises, then he asks how many are “Sacaton residents”, the applause is louder-but when he asks “How many are proud Native Americans” the grandstands explode with applause…
Today, the Pima Indians of the Gila River Indian Community are still an agricultural people, nurturingeleven thousand strong members of the Gila River Indian Reservation who have participated in 30 years of research to help people avoid diabetes, have healthier eyes, hearts, and kidneys, and to understand how and why people gain weight and what can be done to prevent it. When researchers find a family with one parent who is diabetic and one who is not, they study the genes of both parents and their children to find the genes shared by those who have diabetes. After finding these genes, scientists hope to break the codes that cause insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes and kidney disease. Researchers are working on this complex genetic puzzle by studying blood drawn from every member of the Pima community who comes into Hu Hu Kam Memorial Hospital for exams. Their blood is checked for healthy levels of blood sugar, cholesterol and other nutrients. Then blood and serum are typed and some is reduced to a very small pellet of DNA. This genetic material instructs cells to function one way or another. So researchers study these families in an effort to find the genes that lead to diabetes.
“The Pima Indians are giving a great gift to the world by continuing to volunteer for research studies. Their generosity contributes to better health for all people, and we are all in their debt,” says Dr. Peter Bennett, Chief of the Phoenix Epidemiology and Clinical Research Branch of the National Institute of Arthritis, Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The Pima Indians’ help is so important to the ability of doctors to understand and treat diabetes, obesity, and kidney disease because of the uniqueness of the community. There are few like it in the world.
PIMAN PATHFINDERS FOR HEALTH…CLICK HERE
MORE PHOTOS FROM SACATON’S MUL-CHA-THA CLICK HERE
<a href=” SPANISH TRANSLATIONS:CLICK HERE