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The term 'Papago' is everywhere around the Valley. But it's not one the Tohono O’odham embrace

By Lauren Gilger
Published: Tuesday, February 22, 2022 - 11:43am
Updated: Wednesday, February 23, 2022 - 7:52am

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Papago Park
Jean Clare Sarmiento/KJZZ
Papago Park in Phoenix.

Language changes all the time, but the Tohono O’odham have long rejected a term that’s ubiquitous here in the Valley: Papago.

They say it’s not interchangeable with "Tohono O’odham," the name they officially adopted back in the 1980s. But is it a term that’s generally offensive as well? Some experts say no, that Papago Park, the Papago Inn and more are perfectly acceptable names.

Ofelia Zepeda can explain the origin of the term, the history of its use and how it fell out of favor.

Zepeda is a professor in the department of linguistics at the University of Arizona; she is also director of the American Indian Language Development Institute there.

The Show spoke with her to learn about the term "Papago," which she said historically means “bean eaters” and, the story goes, was given to the Tohono O’odham by Spanish settlers.

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