by Penny Crane

I attended the 2010 ACB conference/convention in Phoenix - the fifth-largest U.S. city, where every noisy, bustling modern convenience abounds. I was amazed to learn that this huge, cosmopolitan city was built over the ancient remains of a site used by a prehistoric people - the Hohokams.

For 17 centuries, the Hohokams successfully and continuously operated an irrigation system in this great desert valley. No one knows why these people disappeared, long ago, but modern men and engineering have built modern structures upon the ancient canals. About 10,000 years ago, the Pueblo and southwest tribes moved into this desert area.

On my visit to Phoenix's renowned Heard Museum - a tour had been arranged for attendees - I learned a lot about these tribal desert dwellers. The Heard Museum is dedicated entirely to Native American art, especially of the southwest Indians who live in this arid area. Their culture, experiences and struggles are shown.

As a nation, in our sometimes bloody conquests, we could have learned so much from these people. The museum tour left me with a feeling of appreciation, sympathy and understanding for these Native American peoples. Our guide was a beautiful, soft-spoken Navajo girl, who visits her grandmother on the reservation once a month.

The following is just a small glimpse of a few of the Southwest tribes:

Navajo: The Navajo are the largest tribe in America, in fact. 100 years ago, there were barely 10,000 of them. Today there are over 70,000! The 16 million acre Navajo reservation completely surrounds the large Hopi reservation, and expands over the entire northeast part of Arizona and the adjoining northwest part of New Mexico. They have their own language, courts and judges. The Heard Museum has a vast collection of beautiful Navajo rugs, famous the world over. Many pieces of silver jewelry and numerous sand paintings are on display.

Hopi: Their tribal name means "the peaceful ones." Many Hopi villages were built on narrow mesa tops as a defense against the Spanish. The Heard Museum has more than 17,000 kachina dolls, which the Hopi call katsina. Male and female kachinas called Salako, with their colorful headdresses, represent grace and beauty. The Hopi regard the kachina as spirit essences. The dolls are made from the root of the cottonwood tree. These dolls are given to Hopi girls and infants. The Hopi also make beautiful pottery.

Apache: Apache means "the people." Like the other Southwest tribes, they are a matriarchal society. One of their most important ceremonies is the four-day maiden puberty rite. During the ceremony, the spirit dancers wear elaborately painted headdresses, made of slats of agave stalks sewn together. The Heard Museum has many beautiful cradle boards. Contrary to general belief, according to our guide, these cradle boards are not worn on the back. The back is to carry burdens, and their beloved children are not burdens.

Tohono O'odham: The name means "the desert people." This tribe has been weaving baskets for at least 2,000 years, and makes more baskets than any other tribe. These coiled baskets come in a variety of shapes. They are made of "devil's claw" and yucca sewn over a bundle of bear grass. Some are woven so tight that they can hold water. The museum also has a large collection of their willow baskets, horsehair lariats, carved wooden bowls and pottery.

After the conference/convention, I headed home to the most southern part of the state of Arizona. I live just about in the shadow of the Chiricahua Mountains, former home of the Chiricahua Apaches. I live in a county named after that most famous Chiricahua Apache chief: Cochise. I'm so glad that this year's conference/convention gave me the opportunity to visit the Heard Museum, and learn so much more about Native American tribal culture and heritage.

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