Where the Red-Winged Blackbirds Sing

The Akimel O’odham and Cycles of Agricultural Transformation in the Phoenix Basin

by Jennifer Bess

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


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.

Jennifer Bess is assistant professor of peace studies at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland. Her work has appeared in the Wicazo Sa Review, American Indian Quarterly, Studies in American Indian Literatures, Journal of the Southwest, Western Historical Quarterly, Agricultural History, and Ethnohistory. Her 2015 essay “The Price of Pima Cotton,” published in Western Historical Quarterly, received the James Madison Prize from the Society for History in the Federal Government.

Imprint: University Press of Colorado

Book Details

  • Hardcover Price: $90.00
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-64642-082-7
  • Ebook Price: $72.00
  • 30-day ebook rental price: $36.00
  • EISBN: 978-1-64642-105-3
  • Publication Month: April
  • Publication Year: 2021
  • Pages: 436
  • Illustrations: 55
  • Discount Type: Short
  • Author: by Jennifer Bess
  • ECommerce Code: 978-1-64642-082-7
  • Get Permissions: Get Permission