Arizona's Desert People

Join Tohono O'odham Indian gatherings near Tucson

Tohono O'odham Indian gathering

Terrence Moore

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Skinny Coyote is warming up with "Louie Louie" as the morning sun rises over distant mountains. "Let's hear that one again," says lead singer Sonny Antone. Bass man Darrell Antone thumbs a few chords, breaking into a sly grin. "Oh yeah," he says. "L.A., here we come."

They share a knowing laugh--these middle-aged Native American rockers aren't going anywhere. Despite the big city's allure, they are like most Tohono O'odham: Their true journey is mostly internal, spiritual--and firmly anchored to their people's dramatic nation, which stretches west from Tucson and south to the Mexican border.

Those Sonoran Desert roots are pervasive here in the town of Sells at the 62nd Tohono O'odham Nation Rodeo and Fair. Today's stage will host big names such as Rick Trevino and Freddy Fender, along with local groups like Skinny Coyote. The music will feature a homegrown hybrid of Tex-Mex and polka called waila, or chicken scratch. It's accompanied by a scuffling, heat-accommodating two-step--hence, the nickname. But for now, everyone's waiting out the morning chill, as carnies check their rides, cowboys eye pens filled with bulls and broncs, and families wander about, talking quietly.


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