Today’s conversation is with Melanie Rawlins from Interpretive Services at Tumacacori National Historical Park. She was interviewed by Kathe Sudano on May 8, 2020.
What are the ways the world is changing regarding environmental and natural history? Why are we hearing so much about diversity and inclusion? Why is that conversation necessary in the history of a century old mission in an area that sheltered and supported the Southwest’s Native people such as O’odham, Apache and Yaqui/Yoeme?
Tumacacori National Historical Park has a multitude of cultural influences that span centuries covering the colonial period of American history. The park is in the Santa Cruz River Valley in the region of what is now southern Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico. Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino (a Jesuit missionary from Italy) arrived in 1691 to set up a system of missions and smaller communities.
When interviewed for a survey as part of an AZ Master Naturalist /Arizona Association for Environmental Education research project to better understand underrepresented audiences in natural and cultural history programs earlier this year, Melanie Rawlins, NPS Park Interpreter, stated that the park’s most meaningful success in improving their diversity and inclusivity efforts came out of a very informal network that was in the works for several years. Several agencies were asked to fulfill the commitment to send home Native remains and artifacts discovered accidentally in the building of a Tucson roadway.
Rawlins and other NPS team members developed respectful and even affectionate relationships with tribal leaders through the process.
A bond was formed born of respect and the joint effort to honor the deceased. “If you make friends, they will show up,” Rawlins stated. The park nurtured and fed the relationship and, as any decent interpreter would, asked how are we doing telling the story? What was missing?
The NPS park staff had over two hundred webpages with about one third devoted to individual priests. It felt a bit ‘lopsided’ per Rawlins as there were clearly stories not being told. Using a searchable database containing individual, handwritten mission records and diaries that are still being translated called Mission 2000, more of the contributions to the community from underrepresented individuals are being revealed. People who might not have been educated or able to write themselves are still part of the story thanks to the efforts of staff and volunteers that link families and events together using baptismal, burial or marriage ceremony records. Efforts are still underway to recruit volunteer translators to comb through the collection.
The park website also has activities to encourage students to think in a critical way about how the early residents may have been portrayed. The relationship between the Native Americans of the area and the Spanish, Christianized natives, and mestizos was a relatively peaceful one. Native Americans were encouraged to learn a trade, worship in the church, and become baptized. The balance of power had shifted and per the Tumacacori records, discontent among some of the native people led to a well-organized revolt in 1751.
Tumacacori has been working to make all aspects of their interpretation more inclusive of the indigenous story. They created an event to celebrate the O’odham culture, and one to celebrate the Yaqui/Yoeme culture. There is a recently completed park video, in which the O’odham are the base of the story, rather than the Spanish. The park has revised the self-guided tour, working to keep the O’odham residents in view at all times. Piece by piece, Tumacacori NPS is trying to place the indigenous residents in the forefront.
Lesson plans available on the Tumacacori website for teachers ask students, “how can a word choice influence perspective? How do the reports and letters of the Pima Uprising of 1751 use connotative and denotative meanings to portray the events?” By “providing various answers to questions, students have an opportunity to investigate some of the possible causes of the rebellion.”
Are you interested in journeying into the past? Tumacacori National Historical Park is always interested in volunteers that help to connect the pieces of each person’s history. In this way, the park is striving to tell everyone’s story.