Ofelia Zepeda

Ofelia Zepeda

She // Her // Hers

[ID: A Native American woman with gray hair, brown skin, and dark eyes poses wearing a light purple-colored blouse with a necklace of seashells. Desert mountains are in the distance behind her, along with a saguaro cactus, brush, and trees.]

Portrait photo by Tony Celentano.

Tuscon, AZ
2023 USA Fellow

This award was generously supported by the Mellon Foundation.

Ofelia Zepeda is a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation and is Regents Professor of Linguistics at the University of Arizona. Zepeda is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship for her work in American Indian language education and recovery. She is Director of the American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI) serving Native American language educators, researchers, and activists. She is the author of the first pedagogical grammar on the O’odham language, A Tohono O’odham Grammar. She is a member of the International Task force for the UNESCO International Decade of Indigenous languages (2022–2032) representing Indigenous peoples of the US.

She writes in O’odham and English and has four books of poetry: Ocean Power: Poems from the Desert; Jewed I-hoi/Earth Movements; Where Clouds are Formed; and Aligning Our World, with French translation and Linotype artwork by Pierre Cayol. She is editor of Mat Hekid o Ju:/When It Rains: Pima and Papago Poetry. Her poems have appeared in numerous anthologies including Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide, edited by Eric Magrane and Christopher Cokinos, and Dear Vaccine: Global Voices Speak to the Pandemic, edited by Naomi Shihab Nye, David Hassler, and Tyler Meier. She is the poet collaborator on the project, “Where Clouds are Formed: A Photographic Essay,” on the US border as it intersects Tohono O’odham lands. In 2021 Zepeda’s work appeared in, When The Light of The World was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through, edited by Joy Harjo, US Poet Laureate.


Ñeñe’i Ha-ṣa:gid

Ha-ka: ‘ac g ñeñei’i mo ’am kaidaghim
’Am kaidaghim taṣ huḍnig wui.
’Am kaidaghim si’alig ta:gio.
’Am kaidaghim ju:pin tagio.
’Am kaidaghim wakolim tagio.
‘Am ’ac ha’icug ’id ṣa:gid.
mo ’am kaidaghim
S-ap ta:hadag ’o g t-i:bdag.
S-ape ’o g t-cegǐtodag.
S-ape ’o g t-jeweḍga.
S-ke:kaj ’o, ñia ’an g ‘i- ñeid.
S-ju:jpig ’o, ñia ’an g ‘i- ñeid.

Ka: ’ac g ka:cim ṣu:dagi t-miabǐ ’at.
Ka: ’ac g ge’e jegos t-miabǐ ’at.
Ka: ’ac g s-ke:g hewel t-miabǐ ’at.
Ka: ‘ac g s-ke:g nene’i t-miabǐ ’at.
Ka: ‘ac g s-ke:g ñeñe’i t-ai ’at.

In the Midst of Songs

We hear the songs resounding.
They are resounding toward the sunset.
They are resounding toward the sunrise.
They are resounding toward the north.
They are resounding toward the south.
We are in the midst of songs.
Our heart is full of joy.
Our mind is good.
Our land is good.
The land is all beautiful, take a look.
There is light rain all around, take a look.

We hear the ocean in the distance.
It has come near us.
We hear the beautiful wind in the distance.
It has come near us.
We hear the dust storm in the distance.
It has come near us.
We hear a beautiful song in the distance.
It has come near us.
We hear a beautiful song in the distance.
It has come upon us.