Our Elders

     The Bearers of Wisdom & Himdag

Tohono O'odham culture has always recognized and respected the wisdom of elders.  Over many years at TOCA, we have been blessed by the guidance of many elders who have shared their gifts with us.  For this we are always grateful.


Two particular elders, however, played a central role not only in TOCA's history, but in keeping the O'odham Himdag a vital force into the 21st Century: the late Danny Lopez and his mother-in-law the late Frances Manuel.


Danny Lopez

No single person contributed more to the survival of the O’odham Himdag into the 21st century than Danny.  Danny was a friend and mentor… an educator and student… a storyteller and singer….  He inspired hope and urged hard work to make our hopes a reality.



Over the years, Danny taught Tohono O’odham language and culture to an entire generation of Tohono O’odham youth as a teacher at the community’s primary and middle schools.  He served on TOCA’s staff, promoting culturally-based wellness.  Most recently, he shared his wisdom as an instructor at Tohono O’odham Community College.


The ways in which he shared his wisdom – through songs, stories, blessings and challenging oratory – made Danny beloved by the Tohono O’odham community and beyond.  He did not simple speak of the O’odham values of respect, hard work, prayer and culture; he lived them every day.


For 13 years, Danny was a tremendous support for TOCA as a program and the staff as individuals.  He taught us, inspired us, challenged us and blessed us with his wisdom and humor.  He guided us through tough times and shared in our successes.


Before his death, Danny asked that TOCA dedicate our annual Harvest Feast and Traditional Games Festival to his memory; he said he wanted people to be happy when they remembered him.  Indeed, we are happy when we think of all that Danny shared.  But we also miss him deeply.  On several occasions Danny said, “I will always be with TOCA.”  He was right.  We will carry him in our hearts forever.


Frances Manuel

Frances Manuel was an inspiration to everyone at TOCA and to her community. She held a wealth of cultural and food knowledge that she never hesitated to share.



Born in 1912, Frances grew up with her grandparents in the village of S-koksonagk and was a keen observer of all that took place around her –– from  farming and cooking to wild food gathering and basket weaving.  She recognized that these experiences were significant and her life long goal was to be certain that knowledge of traditional ways was preserved for future generations.


A skilled basket weaver and doll maker, an amazing cook, author and a mesmerizing storyteller, Frances’ work with TOCA shaped the development of the Food Systems programs. Her knowledge of farming and wild food harvesting enabled TOCA to develop workshops and events, and she was always available and excited about participating.



Frances always had a smile and a story. She was generous with her wisdom and a true teacher, spending countless hours teaching songs and the Tohono O’odham language and sharing her vast cultural knowledge with young and old from all walks of life.  Her knowledge lives on in TOCA’s ongoing work to promote health through traditional foods and to engage and support O’odham youth.  Frances was always proud of her affiliation with TOCA and her role in promoting O’odham himdag. Her many notable achievements, her courage, patience, generosity and laughter continue to inspire us.


Map/Resources from NMAI:

Actual Full color PDF of Poster: http://nmai.si.edu/sites/1/files/pdf/education/thanksgiving_poster.pdf





Terrol Johnson, Tristan Reader, Co-founders of Tohono O'odham Community Action