Monday, January 11, 2010

The Walk Home: Journey to Native American Wellness

During Ganondagan's 2009 Native American Dance and Music Festival, Ganondagan was honored to receive guests from the Tohono O’odham Nation. The article below is based on an interview conducted with Terrol Dew Johnson, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Tohono O’odham Community Association during the group's visit:
Walkers from the Tohono O'odham Nation were welcomed warmly at Ganondagan's 2009 Native American Dance & Music Festival
L to R, Maray Johnson (age 14), Shane Johnson (age 16), Terrol Dew Johnson and G. Peter Jemison (Seneca). Photo by David Mitchell.

Terrol Dew Johnson is Co-Founder and Co-Director of Tohono O’odham Community Association (TOCA), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to creating a healthy, sustainable and culturally vital community on the Tohono O’odham Nation.

If you had told him 19 years ago that he would be walking with family members from Bar Harbor, Maine to his home in Southern Arizona where the Tohono O’odham Nation is located, he’d probably have looked at you in skeptical disbelief.

In July, Terrol, his niece and nephew took time out of their 3000 mile walk to participate in the annual Native American Dance & Music Festival at Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor, NY. where he shared insights about his mission.

“I was fortunate to grow up with my grandparents. My grandfather was a Medicine Man and my grandmother was knowledgeable about herbs and plants. I was raised with the idea that I should help my family and my people.”

Terrol learned basketweaving at an early age and traveled the world through his art, but brought his skills home to share with his people.“I was giving basket weaving lessons and the size of the classes was starting to outgrow my home when a Missionary came to our Nation. He wasn’t like many, only interested in sharing his beliefs. He was my age and interested in our indigenous foods and gardens. He was also knowledgeable about grant writing.

“When I discovered he was doing gardening, I went to visit him. As we talked and found out more about each other, he offered to write grants to provide services that would enrich the community. That was the beginning of TOCA.”

Today, under the nurturing efforts of Johnson and TOCA business partner, Missionary Tristan Reader, the non-profit organization has grown in size and scope. The organization’s activities include Food System and Wellness initiatives, a Basketweavers’ Guild, Arts and Cultural Revitalization, Youth & Elders Programming and Food and Fitness Collaborations. Johnson and Reader have achieved most of the things they set out to do including growing the farm to 1800 acres, building classrooms in which to teach, founding an art gallery and a café and offering enhanced economic opportunity to the community.

So how does that lead to a 3,000 mile walk?

“For most of my life, I’ve been focused on my people, but I realized if I didn’t take better care of myself, I wouldn’t be there for them. I am a diabetic and I wasn’t eating right or getting exercise. I needed to make a stand, which is how ‘The Walk Home: Journey to Native American Wellness’ came about. The walk is a fundraiser for TOCA, but it’s also meant as an inspirational message to the Native community.”

Johnson enlisted four nieces and nephews, age 12 to 16 to join him in his walk.

“Like many of our people, my family members are dealing with painful situations at home – drugs, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, premature death – and I wanted to share the world with them and give them hope for change.”

Two of the four young people who started out have returned home due to family complications.

“I was really upset at first, but I realized I just had to ‘Let Go, Let God’ and believe there was a reason for their early return home.”

It was by fortuitous coincidence that Terrol and his two companions arrived at Ganondagan in time for the late July Festival.

“When I was looking at our route, I put a message out on Facebook, asking for contacts in this area. A mutual friend, Loretta Oden who has been a chef at Ganondagan’s Native Foods Feast, suggested I contact Jeanette [Miller] and Peter [Jemison].

“Since we’ve been here at Ganondagan, the outpouring of support and friendship has been amazing. People have come up and given us food baskets and money. They’ve offered prayers and blessings. I’m used to caring for others, so it feels odd to have others taking care of me. I’m certain there will be future collaborations between TOCA and Ganondagan.

“If there was something I’d like others to take away from our walk, it’s that there are people out here who are trying to make a difference. That’s why we’re walking.”

For more about TOCA, The Walk Home: Journey to Native American Wellness, or to make donations toward this initiative, visit
By Carol White Llewellyn
Photo by David Mitchell.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.