PAUL L. ALLEN Citizen Staff Writer
There are approximately 1,400 Hia-Ced O’odham living today.
They are a regional Native American group, distinct from the Tohono O’odham people, though they share the same language.
They have no formal tribal recognition, no reservation and were – until a decade ago -considered ”extinct” by a near-sighted federal bureaucracy.
The Hia-Ced O’odham – Sand People – were a hunting and gathering group, moving from camp to camp in a regular pattern, depending on availability of scarce resources.
Bernard L. Fontana, a retired University of Arizona field historian who has studied the O’odham peoples for many years, said the Hia-Ced O’odham probably numbered no more than 500 individuals in the pre-Spanish period.
”Given the nature of the country out there and fairly limited resources, the population was probably very small,” he said.
It is likely they supplemented their meager food supply with a very limited amount of dry farming, he said, noting that evidence of such activity has been found in the desolate Piñacate area in Mexico, a southern extreme of their homeland.
Fontana said the group ranged as far north as the Gila River area, to the Gila Mountains on the west, the Ajo Mountains on the east and the Gulf of California to the south, where it gathered salt and shells and other items for trade.
When the original Tohono O’odham (then Papago) constitution was established in 1937, and tribal members given formal enrollment, the Hia-Ced O’odham were ignored.
The federal government believed there were so few of them that they were considered ”extinct.” The Tohono O’odham did not consider them tribal members, and they were not included in any tribal decision-making or financial dealings.
Though members of the Hia-Ced O’odham were allowed to live on the Tohono O’odham Reservation, they were not allowed to enroll in the tribe – as Hia-Ced O’odham – until 1984.
Now officially recognized as ”Indians” by the federal government, they still have no separate tribal status and no reservation.
The Tohono O’odham Nation has established a Hia-Ced O’odham Project office to assist the group with efforts to gain official recognition, but 10 years of effort has shown few results, said Lorraine Eiler, spokeswoman for the Hia-Ced O’odham Alliance.