“It is the specific details of culturally guided actions that [Bess] brings to this history that are a special strength of this book. While she is not O’odham, she mines the historical record for evidence of ways in which the ideals of the O’odham himdag, or lifeway, served to guide responses to challenges faced.”
—Bill Doelle, Archaeology Southwest
“A deeply researched and elegant account of place, communal innovation, and environmental attentiveness.”
“Detailed and meticulously documented, Jennifer Bess’s Where the Red-Winged Blackbirds Sing tells the story of one of the most remarkable sagas in the history of Native North America.”
—Southwestern Historical Quarterly
“Bess tells an important story. . . she puts the Akimel O’otham and their culture, institutions, sacred places, and worldviews front and center.”
—Native American and Indigenous Studies Journal
"An excellent book that adds important perspective to the fields of both Indigenous and agricultural history. . . . [Bess] carefully works to bring Akimel O’odham voices to the forefront; she is committed to ensuring that the reader will hear their voices and understand their worldview."
—Canadian Journal of History
Where the Red-Winged Blackbirds Sing examines the ways in which the Akimel O’odham (“River People”) and their ancestors, the Huhugam, adapted to economic, political, and environmental constraints imposed by federal Indian policy, the Indian Bureau, and an encroaching settler population in Arizona’s Gila River Valley. Fundamental to O’odham resilience was their connection to their sense of peoplehood and their himdag (“lifeway”), which culminated in the restoration of their water rights and a revitalization of their Indigenous culture.
Author Jennifer Bess examines the Akimel O’odham’s worldview, which links their origins with a responsibility to farm the Gila River Valley and to honor their history of adaptation and obligations as “world-builders”—co-creators of an evermore life-sustaining environment and participants in flexible networks of economic exchange. Bess considers this worldview in context of the Huhugam–Akimel O’odham agricultural economy over more than a thousand years. Drawing directly on Akimel O’odham traditional ecological knowledge, innovations, and interpretive strategies in archives and interviews, Bess shows how the Akimel O’odham engaged in agricultural economy for the sake of their lifeways, collective identity, enduring future, and actualization of the values modeled in their sacred stories.
Where the Red-Winged Blackbirds Sing highlights the values of adaptation, innovation, and co-creation fundamental to Akimel O’odham lifeways and chronicles the contributions the Akimel O’odham have made to American history and to the history of agriculture. The book will be of interest to scholars of Indigenous, American Southwestern, and agricultural history.