Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Nursing a dream

My Tucson



After months of exploring “Arid-zona” while working at the Phoenix Medical Center, I transferred to the Tohono O’odham Nation – a desert green, rural environment, silent enough to hear the wind whoosh off crows’ wings.

The Tohono O’odham have lived here for thousands of years. That makes them as indigenous as the saguaros and the Earth itself.

My co-workers at the Santa Rosa Health Clinic were raised in traditional homes, speaking their language, learning their history. Now older and planning for retirement, they had seen a blur of white faces over the years.

Many had been forced to leave as children to attend Indian schools where they were punished for speaking their own language. Aspiring nurses attended the segregated Indian Nursing School in Albuquerque.

Yet they were very kind. My time there felt like very gentle spiritual polishing.

Our patients were transported from small remote villages to our small remote clinic by Community Health Workers, (CHRs). They brought their illnesses, accidents and healthy new babies.

Yet, despite tribal support for nursing education, difficulties exist for Native students.

“A huge challenge is standardized testing vs. respecting individual learning styles and cultural learning styles. With standardized testing we get a narrow vision of what an individual really knows,” says Stacia Reeves, a teacher at Hohokam Middle School.

“The beautiful part is the (Native) students really look out for each other, appreciating each other’s strengths,” she added.

StrengthBuilding Partners, collaborates with The Pascua Yaqui Tribe to keep kids in school. Pamela Clark-Raines, an adjunct professor at Arizona State University, is the founder of StrengthBuilding Partners.

“We train teachers and mentors who teach kids how to identify their strengths, find a vision for themselves and take control of their lives,” she said.

Nancy Duran, a licensed practical nurse, is Navajo. She has been a StrengthBuilding mentor for five years. “I had to understand her (mentee), she’s different, so soft spoken… It’s exciting to see her change and grow. It’s been a good experience.”

Prejudice persists, however.

Norma Valenzuela, also Pascua Yaqui, was raised in Marana.

” My mom didn’t teach us our language. She was afraid we’d be beaten in school. We’re not supposed to be smart. If you were Indian they would yell at you. I said, ‘I’m Mexican.’ ”

These issues are addressed at the Tucson Indian Center.

“We challenge the kids on public speaking, get them to get up and talk on subjects, know the different tribes,” says center worker Marlene José.

The center’s Urban Education Program assisted Francis Cupis, LPN, to achieve her goal of becoming a nurse.

“I was totally caught up in the white world. The cultural roles, freedoms, there was no limit,” Cupis recalls. “It was different from our (Yoeme) traditional female roles.”

She is now the HIV/AIDS coordinator for the Pascua Yaqui Health Department.

Twin sisters Tula and Aurora Tapia of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe were featured in a Tucson newspaper in 1966 when they became registered nurses.

“A lot of people didn’t think we’d make it,” Tula recalls. “Our world was our village. We were homesick. We were very shy; it took a lot for us to get out there.”

She’s now Tula McCarthy, director of nursing at the Pascua Yaqui Health Department. Her sister, Aurora Hoeffner, is partly retired from a 30-year career as a nurse at Kino Hospital. (It’s now named University Physicians Healthcare Hospital at Kino Campus.)

“My fear is that we won’t have tribal nurses. They graduate and go elsewhere,” Tula said.

As the new Arizona budget affects nursing education, health care on and off the reservations will change. In a state with one of the largest growing populations, can we afford less?

Kathi Sabot enjoys traveling in the pursuit of truth and beauty. She works as a registered nurse promoting health with Native Americans. E-mail: kasabot@gmail.com

‘I was totally caught up in the white world. The cultural roles, freedoms, there was no limit. It was different from our (Yoeme) traditional female roles.’



• Give time – one hour a week for a year as a StrengthBuilding mentor. Contact Marie Stickford, 546-9296, www.strengthbuilding.org.

• Give stuff – warm clothing, school clothes, diapers. Contact Demetria B. Zazueta, TANF Program Pascua Yaqui, 879-5644.

• Give food, clothing, anything of use to families. Contact Hugo Guerra-Pascua, Yaqui Social Services Department 883-5640, www.pascuayaqui-nsn.gov

• Donate – to the Sells Children’s Home, (520) 383-6100.

• Give to any of the Tohono O’odham Nation’s 11 districts individually or contact the tribal government in Sells, (520) 383-6000, www.tonation-nsn.gov.

Our Digital Archive

This blog page archives the entire digital archive of the Tucson Citizen from 1993 to 2009. It was gleaned from a database that was not intended to be displayed as a public web archive. Therefore, some of the text in some stories displays a little oddly. Also, this database did not contain any links to photos, so though the archive contains numerous captions for photos, there are no links to any of those photos.

There are more than 230,000 articles in this archive.

In TucsonCitizen.com Morgue, Part 1, we have preserved the Tucson Citizen newspaper's web archive from 2006 to 2009. To view those stories (all of which are duplicated here) go to Morgue Part 1

Search site | Terms of service