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“Made for Your Benefit”: Prohibition, Protection, and Refusal on Tohono O’odham, 1912-1933

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In this paper I examine the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ campaign to suppress liquor-use in Tohono O’odham, a federally recognized tribe whose homelands include southern Arizona, in the early 20th century. Finding purchase in scholarship on Indian-citizenship and governmental power, I adumbrate the BIA’s liquor suppression program as it invoked the language of protection while actively seeking to police, punish, and incarcerate Native people. I argue that “protection” and criminalization were not only interrelated and coordinated, but also part and parcel of the BIA’s project to incorporate Native people as would-be citizens and political agents.


Based on archival research and organized chronologically, this paper touches upon Arizona state prohibition (1915) and national prohibition (1920). It reveals the racialized and paternalistic logics of the BIA that led to the late creation of the Papago reservation (1916), and it examines the ways that the BIA’s prohibition program clashed with the Tohono O’odham Nawait I’i ceremony. Alcohol was after all not a colonial import for Tohono O’odham people but an indigenous and ceremonial substance.

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