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TOCATerrol Dew Johnson and Tristan Reader, Tohono O'odham Community Action

"We seek to walk with the community as it seeks out its own gifts and strengths. Our goal both as individuals and as a leadership team is to create more than a vital and sustainable organization; our goal is the creation of a vital and sustainable Tohono O'odham community."
- Terrol Dew Johnson and Tristan Reader, Tohono O'odham Community Action

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April 25, 2003

Leadership Talks Archive

Join Leadership Talks on Friday, April 25, 2003 at 1 pm EST for a live, online interview with 2002 Leadership for a Changing World awardees Terrol Dew Johnson and Tristan Reader, Co-Directors of Tohono O'odham Community Action (TOCA), a community-based organization dedicated to creating cultural revitalization and sustainable community development on the Tohono O'odham Nation. Johnson and Reader will discuss the challenges of community development on a reservation with the lowest per-capita income of any tribe in the United States and one of the world's highest rates of adult-onset diabetes.

TOCA strives to create effective culturally based responses to the problems that confront the community. In pursuit of a sustainable community, TOCA's programs work directly to create: 1) Sustainable economic development, 2) a community food system to keep the community healthy, 3) programs which rejuvenate cultural traditions, and 4) ways of encouraging young people to become strong members of the Tohono O'odham community.

Johnson and Reader educate the community about the nutritional value and cultural importance of wild desert foods and share information with tribal members about medical problems associated with modern diets. They are raising production and demand for tepary beans, which are highly nutritious and salutary for people with adult-onset diabetes and a traditional food source for the Tohono O'odham. They also lead a multidisciplinary task force that brings together tribal programs, federal programs and community members to develop local approaches to the prevention and treatment of diabetes. In April 2000, they joined with the Comcaac (Seri) Indian community in Mexico and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to organize an 11-day, 250-mile walk across the Mexico/U.S. border to raise awareness of traditional foods, bringing often-isolated tribal members together.

"Our elders expect us to take responsibility for creating a healthier and stronger world," says Johnson. Unlike Reader, who is not a member of the tribe, Johnson is a Tohono O'odham who, as a boy, was urged by his grandfather, a traditional healer, to nurture the community spirit "the desert people's way." Johnson is also an award-winning basket weaver. Johnson and Reader work closely with the Hopi and Salish Kootanai communities. They also bring people together with craft traditions, such as an annual Celebration of Basket Weaving, which attracts more than 300 Native American weavers from 17 tribes in 10 states (as well as Native people from Mexico, Australia and Canada). They explore ways in which basketry weaves together the many strands of life in Native communities: culture, economics, artistry, identity and health. They also created a marketing cooperative to ensure fair compensation for weavers and to gain access to public and private lands traditionally used to collect weaving materials. A weavers' mentoring program ensures that weaving traditions and techniques are passed on to a new generation. They are helping to develop a North American network for sharing of strategies, skills and visions of indigenous community-based organizations.

More Information

Leadership for a Changing World profile
Tohono O'odham Community Action homepage


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