Ofelia Zepeda


Ofelia Zepeda, a member of the Tohono O'odham nation, grew up in Stanfield, Arizona, near the Tohono O'odham reservation in southwestern Arizona. She received her Master's degree and Ph.D. from the University of Arizona where she is now a professor of linguistics and former director of the American Indian Studies Program. She is currently co-director of the American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI), an annual summer institute for American Indian Teachers, where she has taught for the entire 15 years of its existence.

Ofelia has authored the first grammar of the Tohono O'odham language. She has actively worked with her tribe to improve literacy in their native language and in English. She is commonly employed as a consultant, not only by the Tohono O'odham, but also by other tribes, in the development of language curricula. She has obtained grants from both inside and outside the Tohono O'odham nation for support of the Tohono O'odham Dictionary Project and for student stipends and speaker support for AILDI. She also serves as a consultant for video productions, museum exhibitions, and creative writing workshops.

Ofelia is currently the series editor of Sun Tracks. She has been a Guest Editor (with Teresa McCarty) for the International Journal of the Sociology of Language for the special issue on Indigenous Language Use and Change in the Americas, to appear in 1998, and alone, for the special issue of Bilingual Research on Native American Languages in 1995, and for Dancing With the Wind, the Arts Reach Literary Magazine, Vol. II, 1990, in Tucson. She is member of the editorial board of The Smithsonian Series of Studies in Native American Literatures.

While Ofelia serves on the usual array of university and departmental committees, she has also served as advisor for the American Indian Graduate Center and as the organizer for a series of readings, Stories from the Land, by Native California writers and poets. She was President of the American Indian Alumni Association, and remains an advisory board member for KUAT radio and television, and announcer for Desert Voices, a program for and about the Native American community (on KUAT), a member of the O'odham Waila Festival Committee, and a volunteer interpreter for the University Medical Center and the United States Federal Court.

On the professional level, Ofelia co-chairs the Planning Symposium for a "Clearinghouse" on Endangered Languages of the Americas (IPOLA) in Santa Fe, NM and is an Executive Board member of IPOLA. She is an Executive Board member of the National Museum of the American Indian, a branch of the Smithsonian Institution. She has been Chairman of the Division of American Indian Literatures and a member of the Committee on Languages & Literatures of the Americas of the Modern Language Association, an Advisory Board member for the D'Arcy McNickle Center for the History of the American Indian, and a representative at large for the Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages of the Americas. Currently she is a member of the Advisory Committee on Research for the National Museum of the American Indian.

A short biography from the Internet Public Library's Native American Author's Project is available.


In 1999, Ofelia was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for her work as a linguist, poet, editor, and community leader devoted to maintaining and preserving Native American languages and to revitalizing tribal communities and cultures.

In 1997, Ofelia received a grant from the Endangered Language Fund for further work on the Tohono O'odham (Papago) Dictionary Project.

In 1996, Ofelia received the Tanner Award from the American Indian Alumni Association at the University of Arizona for her Significant Contribution to the American Indian Community. In 1990 she received the Distinguished Service Award from the Graduate College and was nominated for the Summer Excellence in Teaching Award from the Office of the Summer Session. Ofelia has been recognized by the Native American Language Issues Institute for 10 years of service and teaching in the American Indian Language Program and by the Tohono O'odham Nation for her accomplishments in higher education. City Magazine named her as one of the people who make Tucson Special. In 1985 Ofelia was nominated by Congressman Morris K. Udall for the American Indian Achievement Award.

Writing available online

Waila Music excerpted from Fever Dreams, Leilani Wright and James Cervantes (Editors),
from the University of Arizona Press website.
Rain also available in O'odham.
We Are O'odham also available in O'odham.
Kitchen Sink
From the University of Arizona Poetry Center
Jewed 'I-hoi / Earth Movements: O'odham Poems, (Chapbook/CD), 1997,
Thoughts by My Mother's Grave, from the online edition of The South Corner of Time
A Written Statement on Bilingual Publication from Stabilizing Indigenous Languages

Books by Ofelia Zepeda or containing her work       icon

Jewed 'I-hoi / Earth Movements: O'odham Poems, (Chapbook/CD), 1997,
Kore Press, Tucson, AZ. [Sound clips, including RealAudio RealAudio, now available] (Also available from the publisher.)
Ocean Power : Poems from the Desert (Sun Tracks : Vol 32),
University of Arizona Press. (Hardcover)
Home Places : Contemporary Native American Writing from Sun Tracks
(Sun Tracks : Vol 31), University of Arizona Press. (Hardcover)
A Papago Grammar, University of Arizona Press.
Mat He kid o ju: When It Rains : Papago and Pima Poetry
(Sun Tracks : Vol 7) University of Arizona Press.
South Corner of Time: Hopi, Navajo, Papago, Yaqui tribal literature,
Larry Evers (Editor), Ofelia Zepeda, section editor and contributor,
(Sun Tracks : Vol X) University of Arizona Press.

Anthologies       icon

Getting over the Color Green: Contemporary Environmental Literature of the Southwest,
Scott Slovic (Editor), Univ. AZ Press.
Here First
by Arnold Krupat (Editor), Brian Swann (Editor), Random House (Available Now!)
Getting Over the Color Green: Contemporary Southwestern Environmental Literature,
Scott Slovic (Editor), University of Arizona Press.
Reinventing the Enemy's Language : Contemporary Native Women's Writing of North America
(Edited by Joy Harjo and Gloria Bird), W.W. Norton. (Hardcover)
Poetry of the American West : A Columbia Anthology, Alison Hawthorne Deming (Editor), Columbia Univ Press.
Writing as Revision: A Student's Anthology, Beth Alvarado and Barbara Cully (Editors),
Simon and Schuster.
Fever Dreams: Contemporary Arizona Poetry, Leilani Wright and James Cervantes,
Editors, University of Arizona Press. (Hardcover)
The South Corner of Time: Hopi, Navajo, Papago, Yaqui tribal literature
Larry Evers, Editor, (Sun Tracks : Vol X) University of Arizona Press.
The Colour of Resistance : A Contemporary Collection of Writing by Aboriginal Women
by Connie Fife, Sister Vision Press.
Perspectives on Official English: The Campaign for English as the Official Language of the USA,
Karen Adams and Daniel Brinks (Editors), Mouton de Gruyter, 1990.
Responsibility and Evidence in Oral Discourse, (with Jane Hill),
Jane Hill (Editor), Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Other Media

Jewed 'I-hoi / Earth Movements: O'odham Poems, CD.
Kore Press, Tucson, AZ. [Sound clips available]
Papago Grammar, Sound Recording, (Set of 4 Audio Tapes) [Ordering Information]

Published Work About Ofelia    

Notable Native Americans, Sharon Malinowski & George H.J. Abrams (Editors),
Gale Research.
Tohono Titan by Margaret Regan for the Tucson Weekly

Ofelia Zepeda's Presentations and Journal Publications

In Association with Amazon.com

This is an "official" site in that this page was constructed with the assistance and active collaboration of the poet, Ofelia Zepeda.

© 1998 Ofelia Zepeda .

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