Artifacts, cultural pieces find home with Tohono O'odham 6-13-07

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - Priceless ancient artifacts and other American Indian cultural items that have been in Arizona museums for years are back home with the Tohono O'odham Nation.

The items, which include arrowheads, pottery, and agricultural tools, will now be housed and on display in a $15.2 million state-of-the-art cultural center and museum that will open Friday.

“Not only will the legacy of our past be celebrated, but the future survival of our heritage will be practiced through the interactive programs and events planned by the staff,” outgoing Tohono O'odham Nation Chairwoman Vivian Juan-Saunders said in a news release.

“We embrace our past, honor our survival and prepare to meet tomorrow's challenges with the same spirit as our ancestors,” she said.

The Tohono O'odham Nation Cultural Center & Museum is in the community of Topawa, about 60 miles southwest of Tucson.

The complex includes a community cultural and educational center with artist studios for a residency program, a special-collections cultural archive and two repositories for artifacts. Outside are an open amphitheater, a covered patio and a storytelling circle.

“This cultural center and museum is a dream that many have carried with them and wanted to see happen,” said Barbara Chana, a member of the museum's artist advisory committee. “It is a manifestation of a desire to validate O'odham artists. This gives people an opportunity to see their gift of art.”

The opening exhibit, “O'odham Brown - What It Means to Me,” will include paintings, photography and basketry.

Artifacts from the museum's personal collection and pieces on loan from O'odham families also will be on display in the museum, said Brenda Haes, curator of collections.

Pieces include baskets made from grass, metal and horsehair, and carved wooden bowls, trays and plates. The works are from the late 1700s to the present.