Tohono O’odham Cultural Leader Explains How the Coyote Saved the Saguaro

Children in the pediatric unit at Tucson Medical Center on Wednesday learned all about the role the tricky coyote played in helping the saguaro spread throughout the desert – which was perhaps only fitting, since the stately cactus adorns TMC’s logo.

Bernard Siquieros, the curator of education for the Tohono O’odham Nation Cultural Center and Museum, kicked off a reading series at TMC for Children leading up to Father’s Day that celebrates men’s engagement in children’s learning.

The Fathers Read storytime series also launches a new literacy program at TMC in which children in the pediatric unit may select a book to take home with them.

Siquieros told a story in the oral tradition to about a dozen youngsters, noting the Nation did not have an official recognized writing system until 1985. “All the things we know about our history and culture were learned orally,” he explained, “and a lot of it was told through stories, so storytelling plays a big part in passing down information from one generation to the next.”

Siqueiros, a grandfather of 11 with one great grandchild, said in his tradition, there are certain stories that can only be told during the winter, lest animals like scorpions and snakes and spiders bite the storyteller to punish him. But fortunately for the children gathered around, he said he could tell the stories of the coyote, an entity that can be wise or clownish or sneaky and sly and prone to pranks.

He recounted the story of the first saguaro that grew in the desert and bore fruit – and how the coyote helped it survive.

Here’s the transcript of one of the three stories he shared (or, to watch the video, head to

Our forefathers and our ancestors collected this fruit and our Creator taught them how to collect this fruit and they would process it and make a drink that they would drink and pray for rain for come. We’re a desert people and rain is very important in the desert.

At the very first ceremony they had, all of these people came. The animals came. The insects came. All these people came, and they started drinking this drink they made from the fruit of the saguaro. But it was a fermented drink and it was the first time any of them drank anything fermented, so they didn’t know how to handle themselves.

Eventually, they started fighting and eventually they started arguing and the elders said, “This fruit is not good for us.” Remember: This is the first saguaro fruit.

And they took the seeds that were left and said, “We need to get rid of these seeds. Let’s send someone to take these seeds and take them to the ocean and throw them in the water and get rid of them.”

They asked the badger to take the seeds that were remaining and take them to the ocean. And this is where the coyote comes in, because the coyote overheard all of this that was going on and he heard the discussion.

When the badger took the seeds that were left and started walking toward the ocean, the coyote stayed a distance away, but he walked along with the badger as the badger walked in the desert toward the ocean.

Somewhere along the line, the coyote met the badger and stopped the badger and said, “Where are you going, my little brother?”

And the badger said: “I’m going to the ocean to get rid of these seeds from those plants that are no good for us.”

So the coyote said: “Let me see those seeds. Let me see what you have.”

And the badger said, “No, I can’t. I can’t show you these seeds because I’m supposed to take them to the ocean and throw them in the water.”

And the coyote tried again: “Hey little brother, let me see those seeds. Let me just take a look at what you have in your hand.”

And he was very persistent. So finally, the badger opened his hand just a little bit. The coyote stood there looking at this and said, “I can’t see. Open your hand a little bit more.”

And the badger opened his hand a little bit more. And he said, “No, I can’t see anything. It’s too dark. Open your hand.”

And just as the badger opened his hand, the coyote slapped badger’s hand and all those seeds flew up in the air and there was a gust of wind that blew all those seeds over the mountainside.

And that’s why the saguaros grow along the mountainside.

 Siquieros’ youngest daughter, 24-year-old Megan, said her dad was an important role model in her formative years, as was her mother, a teacher.

Not only did she and her father constantly talk about learning, and how it should be hands-on and continuous, she recalled, but he showed her how to succeed in both the native and non-traditional worlds.

Mr. Siquieros also shared tips and memories about education and fathers. Check it out here:

For information about our Daddy, Read to Me Photo Contest go here
Want to join The Dune Sea Garrison (Star Wars characters)  and County Supervisor Ray Carroll in a Read In? Dads (other family can come too) and kids are invited to join us on June 16th for a read in. Details here


  1. […] also pick out books that appeal to you. Perhaps start with a book you remember from your childhood. Bernard Siquieros, cultural director of the Tohono O’odham Nation Cultural Center & Museum, shared that his […]

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