S’edav Va’aki Museum Renaming Ceremony Recognizes O’odham Himdag

Tribal leaders and local government officials pose with Painter/Muralist Thomas “Breeze” Marcus in front of his new mural. Left to right: SRPMIC Tribal Historic Officer Shane Anton, SRPMIC President Martin Harvier, Phoenix District 8 Councilwoman Kesha Hodge Washington, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, SRPMIC Council Member Mikah Carlos, SRPMIC Council Member Jacob Butler, painter/muralist Thomas “Breeze” Marcus, SRPMIC Council Member Deanna Scabby, Gila River Indian Community Council Member District 4 Jennifer Allison. Photos by OAN Reporter Juan Ysaguirre

At the corner of 44th and Washington streets in Phoenix, on traditional O’odham land, the wall surrounding the site formerly known as Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park now displays a new title: the S’edav Va’aki Museum.

The name S’edav Va’aki is the SRPMIC O’odham spelling for “Central Vahki,” which refers to the large platform mound, or Va’aki, that is preserved on the museum site.

On November 6, the S’edav Va’aki Museum held its official renaming celebration and exhibit opening after recognizing the O’odham Himdag (“way of life” in O’odham) by changing its name earlier this year.

The packed event was held at the entrance of the museum, where leadership, youth and tribal historic preservation officers from O’odham sibling tribes gathered with City of Phoenix officials to talk about the importance of the renaming.

The name change coincided with the reading of a land acknowledgement statement by Jarod Rogers, deputy director of the Natural Resources Division at the City of Phoenix, showing an example of what a municipality can do to put words into action.

Gila River Indian Community Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Barnaby Lewis began the event with a traditional blessing song relating to the Va’aki.

Representing the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community was President Martin Harvier, who, as an O’odham living in the SRPMIC so close by to the site formerly known as “Pueblo Grande,” always wondered why was it called that.

“Through information that has been shared, it sounded like archaeologists who did work here pretty much gave everything here in the area Spanish names,” said Harvier. “With the name change today, it’s important to the O’odham, being acknowledged.”

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego also addressed the audience, saying that as the gateway to Phoenix heritage, the S’edav Va’aki Museum helps pass on memorable experiences for visitors young and old.

“Right now, we’re standing on land spiritually connected to our tribal partners,” Gallego said.

After Gallego spoke, the guests shifted to the side of a building at the museum where a new mural was officially unveiled, created by SRPMIC resident and enrolled Tohono O’odham Nation artist Thomas “Breeze” Marcus with the help of O’odham artists Dwayne Manuel (SRPMIC) and Zachary Justin (Gila River Indian Community).

Marcus said that, even though he was selected to create the mural, he wanted to make sure that other O’odham artist were part of it. He explained that this is a special nod to how O’odham would have worked together in the past.

“This work is important to continue to do for me, because it’s a connection to our ancestral past here, especially at this place,” said Marcus. “The long, long legacy of our people being in the Sonoran Desert as ancestral O’odham, as our Huhugam—I wouldn’t be able to do this [artwork] at this scale without the strength of all that history and those people behind us.”

The ceremony also marked the opening of a new exhibit titled “What’s In Our Name?” It goes in-depth about the name change and creates a place where visitors can gain a better understanding of the museum’s history from its founding to today.

Information about the S’edav Va’aki Museum can now be found online at www.svmfoundation.org, which is run by the nonprofit S’edav Va’aki Museum Foundation. The museum can also be found on Facebook and Instagram @SedavVaakiMuseum.

Video news story by OAN Reporter Chris Picciuolo
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