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Farewell to an NS/S Leader and Friend

| Alexandra Zamecnik

We would like to honor Angelo Joaquin Jr., a friend of Native Seeds/SEARCH (NS/S), who passed away earlier this year. Angelo, of the Coyote Clan of the Tohono O’odham Nation, became a board member in 1990, and part of the staff as the Native American Outreach Coordinator and Diabetes Project Director in 1992 and led the organization as Executive Director from 1995 to 2000. After his tenure with NS/S, he remained a strong supporter and donor. 

Angelo had a holistic approach to managing the NS/S seed collection, valuing the seeds equally for both their scientific and cultural attributes. He viewed the seeds as gifts from the creator and understood the importance of conserving them for future generations. He visited almost every sovereign nation in Arizona and New Mexico to speak about NS/S and our programs, and he was especially proud of his role and participation as the liaison to the founding of the Traditional Native American Farm Association (TNAFA).  

Betsy Armstrong, NS/S fulfillment coordinator, remembers Angelo as someone who was generous to share and teach about his culture, with a quick wit and infectious sense of humor, and was an avid storyteller. Kevin Dahl, former NS/S Executive Director and Board member, who worked under Angelo said “Once, a visitor asked Angelo how his people could survive in the desert, which to a tourist’s eye seemed somehow inhospitable,” … “We didn’t survive,” replied Angelo, “We thrived!” Founder Mahina Drees described Angelo as “a man of enormous calm and stability, he turned stressful times into positive changes. He was a compelling speaker for NS/S and shared a genuine passion for the mission with a wide diversity of audiences including young people, tribal elders, farmers, members, and funders.” 

In addition to his dedication and work in environmental conservation, he was passionate about Waila the social dance music of the Tohono O’odham. This unique music that evolved from the acoustic fiddle incorporated different influences of the Sonoran Desert, including Mexican norteño. He was the Co-Founder and Director of the Arizona Historical Society's Waila Festival, which ran for over 20 years. Angelo’s father founded The Joaquin Brothers, one of the most famous O’odham waila bands, who played at Carnegie Hall, among other venues.

His support and promotion of Waila music reflected his love and life-long dedication to increasing the awareness and preservation of the culture of the Tohono O’odham Nation, including the use, practices and history of seed saving, farming, and food. Native Seeds/SEARCH will be forever grateful for the opportunity to work with him and his contributions to our organization. Read more about his tenure, in his own words, here>>