Tohono O'odham expert to speak at prestigious lecture series

October 3, 2012

Ofelia Zepeda, renowned Native American poet and linguist, will speak at 7 p.m., Oct. 11, at the Heard Museum in downtown Phoenix as part of the prestigious Simon Ortiz and Labriola Center Lecture Series on Indigenous Land, Culture, and Community sponsored by Arizona State University in partnership with the Heard Museum.

Zepeda is a Regents’ Professor of Linguistics at the University of Arizona and recipient of a “genius grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for her work in American Indian language education, maintenance and recovery. She is a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, and is credited with compiling the first book of grammar for the Tohono O’odham language. Ofelia Zepeda, Regents’ Professor of Linguistics at the University of Arizona Download Full Image

Zepeda also has three collections of poetry, “Ocean Power: Poems from the Desert,” “Jewed I-hoi/Earth Movements” and “Where Clouds are Formed.” She is currently the director of the American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI), the longest-running Indigenous language training institute in the country.

Zepeda first approached the linguistics department at University of Arizona as an undergraduate student on a quest to learn to read and write in Tohono O’odham. Since it was her first spoken language, she was surprised when she was unable to read a book of stories written in O’odham. At the time, there were no written resources on the structure of that language.

She found herself intrigued by idea of studying the parts of language and felt that she “fit in so naturally with the Native women who were pursuing their doctorates in linguistics” that she changed her major and never looked back. Zepeda’s lecture, “Legacies of the Tribal Languages of Arizona: Gifts or Responsibilities,” examines the current state of the tribal languages of Arizona.

In particular, Zepeda describes O’odham as “a relatively healthy language when compared to others in North America. We still have mono-lingual speakers, but probably a higher number of adults whose first language is O’odham and English is the second. Our situation is similar to many others’ though, in that almost no children are learning it as a first language and only a few are learning it as a second language. The O’odham Nation, one of the largest populations in the U.S., is one of the few that does not currently have a comprehensive language program. There have been some discussions but nothing has come to pass.”

When questioned about the biggest obstacles to the survival of Indigenous languages, Zepeda responded, “Power . . . in the form of political and economic influence. Languages can be in a position of little political or economic power, or of insignificant influence in circles that matter. This lack of influence and power is a result of long histories of colonization and oppression by the segments that are in power and have influence.”

Even as Native languages have faced these challenges, legislation such as the Native American Languages Act of 1990 (ensuring the survival and continuing vitality of Native American languages) and the Esther Martinez Language Act (providing over $50 million in grants to support language immersion programs and the preservation of Native American languages since 2000) have, according to Zepeda, “given native languages a foothold in the political arena at the national level.”

Additionally, massive endangered language preservation projects, such as Google’s Endangered Languages Project and Rosetta Stone’s Endangered Language Program offer a plethora of resources for those pursuing the study of Native American languages.

“However,” Zepeda warned, “one of the drawbacks of such a huge resource is ensuring the quality and validity of the documents and collections included on the site, as the information may be outdated or have minimal information on the contemporary activity of the language.”

As for the future of Tohono O’odham and other Native American languages, Zepeda promotes a positive view: “An ideal vision is that the speakers of the languages maintain a level of respect for their languages and the languages of others. Often, certain languages are seen as inferior, based on their structure being seen as ‘unsophisticated,’ ’non-complex,’ or lacking when compared, typically, to European languages. Historically and presently, Native American languages have been categorized as such, resulting in tribal members, young and old, coming to believe this of their language.”

She continues, “Such attitudes provide tremendous challenges for efforts to promote a Native American language. Being able to fully appreciate the richness and uniqueness of languages is a good place to start when considering language efforts for the future.”

Acoma Pueblo poet and ASU Regents’ Professor Simon Ortiz, for whom this speaker series is named, described Ofelia Zepeda as being “the single most important advocate of Indigenous American languages and their revitalization. She greatly encourages young Indigenous peoples, ensuring that the languages will always be a vital part of the land, culture, and community in the Indigenous American world.”

Ortiz added, “I especially love her use of the Tohono O’odham language in her poetry.”

In addition to Zepeda’s lecture at the Heard, a campus meet-and-greet with Zepeda will take place in the Labriola Center (second floor of Hayden Library) on Thursday, October 11, 2012, at 10 a.m. Both the lecture and the campus event are free of charge and open to the public.

The Simon Ortiz and Labriola Center Lecture on Indigenous Land, Culture, and Community is sponsored by ASU’s American Indian Policy Institute; American Indian Studies Program; Department of English; Faculty of History in the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies; Women and Gender Studies in the School of Social Transformation (all units in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences); Indian Legal Program in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law; and Labriola National American Indian Data Center; with tremendous support from the Heard Museum.

Written by Megan Davis

Media contact:
Kristen LaRue,
Department of English, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

communications specialist, Department of English


Phoenix-area home prices, supply are slowly inching up

October 3, 2012

Both Phoenix-area home prices and the number of homes available for sale are slowly inching up. A new report from the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University reveals the numbers for Maricopa and Pinal Counties, as of August:

• The median single-family home price went up from $149,000 in July to $150,000 in August – about 1 percent. Mike Orr Download Full Image

• The median price is up by more than one-third (about 34 percent) from last August.

• Supply of available homes for sale finally went slightly up in most areas of the Valley, but overall, low supply continues to limit market activity.

“Overall prices reached a low point in September 2011 and have risen sharply since then,” says the report’s author, Mike Orr, director of the Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice at the W. P. Carey School of Business. “We’re experiencing a normal summer slowdown, and I expect prices to continue their advance as we move into cooler months.”

The median single-family home price in the Phoenix area went up about 0.7 percent, from $149,000 in July to $150,000 in August. The current median is 33.7 percent higher than last August, when it was $112,205. Realtors will also note the average price per square foot is up 24.6 percent from last August.

Sales activity has been relatively slow, due to the traditional summer lull in the market and the limited number of homes for sale in the area. Still, there was a small bump up in available supply.

“Supply increased 3 percent from July to August, but the inventory of homes for sale remains well below the average for the last 10 years,” says Orr. “The number of active single-family homes without an existing contract was just over 10,000 for the greater Phoenix area as of Sept. 1, and 77 percent of those homes were priced above $150,000. That inventory should last only about 27 days. At least it’s up from the low of just 15 days of inventory in May.”

Average buyers have to compete for relatively few homes priced under $250,000. They face multiple bids, including those from investors who can offer all cash and no appraisal required. The situation is moderately improving, though. Orr says, as prices go up, more people are becoming willing to sell their homes. He believes supply recently moved higher in about 80 percent of the Valley, especially the outlying areas.

“August home sales were up 3.6 percent from July,” says Orr. “However, activity was still down 9.2 percent from August of last year. The reduction is primarily due to a huge decline in distressed sales: short sales and sales of homes that recently went through a foreclosure. Also, the number of bank-owned homes sold in August was down a huge 78 percent from last August.”

Foreclosure starts – homeowners receiving notice their lenders may foreclose in 90 days – went down 2.5 percent from July to August. Foreclosure starts are down almost 38 percent from last August. Still, Orr says this number is about 2.3 times normal for a typical month in the Valley. The number of completed foreclosures in August was down 22 percent from last August.

Investors continue to play a key role in the Phoenix area housing market. Almost 36 percent of the homes sold in Maricopa County in August went to investors. That’s up from 28 percent last August. More than half of the homes sold this August for $150,000 or less went to all-cash buyers.

“Some large investment companies have been buying homes in bulk from other investment companies,” explains Orr. “They are clearly frustrated by the difficulty of acquiring large numbers of homes through normal channels. Most of the properties are being used as rentals for tenants who have lost their former homes to foreclosure or through a short sale. In greater Phoenix, we have never seen so many single-family homes used as rental accommodation, and it will be interesting to see how elastic the demand is over the coming year.”

Many average buyers are turning to new-home sales, given the difficulty of getting a bargain resale. New-home sales went up 55 percent from August to August, and some developers are starting to cap sales to conserve lots. The number of active subdivisions is down 18 percent since the beginning of the year, and about 63 percent of those currently active are expected to sell out within 12 months.

Orr’s full report, including statistics, charts and a breakdown by different areas of the Valley, can be viewed at More analysis is also available from knowWPCarey, the business school’s online resource and newsletter, at