need for roads grows, Valley looks to tribes to pave the way
Tribes have resisted, trying to preserve traditions of open land and farming.
But instead of confrontational tactics like a road blockade decades ago, Indians have become hard-nosed negotiators, advocating their positions across bargaining tables and on regional transportation boards.
"They understand urban growth issues and how it is impacting them," said Eric Anderson, transportation director for the Maricopa Association of Governments, which plans transportation projects across the Valley.
"They are trying to balance being good neighbors and allowing development with maintaining their own interests as sovereign nations and making sure the rights of their own people are respected."
Tribes say they have a fundamentally different view of land use and will develop as they see fit.
And as they have exerted their sovereignty, surrounding communities have altered their perspective.
"The recognition by non-Indians that Indians are in the process of nation building helps in looking at tribes through a different lens than they did in the past," said Manley Begay, director of the Native Nations Institute at the University of Arizona.
"That lens is one of respect," he said. "It's not unlike places in the world where you see developing countries changing when their outside colonizers recognize their right to exist."
The pressure from surrounding communities is building in all directions.
The Gila River Reservation, 372,000 acres in the south-central part of the Valley, is getting squeezed from the north and south.
People in Ahwatukee Foothills want a freeway on the reservation's northern border to get around South Mountain, folks in Tucson want Interstate 10 widened through the middle, and those in Maricopa to the south want a faster way across to Phoenix.
The Salt River Reservation, more than 52,000 acres northeast of Phoenix, feels it from the east and west.
People from Mesa want to cut across, and just about everyone wants to widen Pima Road on the west to get to north Scottsdale faster.
In addition to widening Pima Road, current projects on Salt River land include widening McKellips Road to six lanes with a median and building a bridge across the Salt River, and improving Gilbert Road from Thomas Road to Arizona 87, also known as the Beeline Highway.
But the leg of Loop 202 on the northern edge of the Gila River Reservation has been delayed, pushed to the 20-year transportation plan that begins in 2007.The Valley is unique in the way it has grown up to and around large Indian reservations, leaving blocks of open land coveted by developers and road builders.
The roads have long been a flash point, with Indians resisting intrusion and outsiders pushing for more blacktop.
Relations reached the lowest point in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community blockaded Pima Road.
The conflict can be seen in the history of Pima Road, which marks the border between Scottsdale and the reservation for the seven miles from McDowell Road to Doubletree Ranch Road.
Pima Road was built right on the border, the northbound lane on the reservation, the southbound on Scottsdale land.
In 1977, Indian landowners barricaded their half for about a week, saying Scottsdale trespassed when it paved their land. They also sued the city, and in 1982 a federal court ordered Scottsdale to pay the Indians $60,500 to settle the suit.
Ten years later, after again blockading the road, this time for several months, the tribe won an increase in the Pima Road leases from about $8,000 per year to more than $400,000. The situation was resolved only after the state agreed to make the payments.
Despite the confrontations over Pima Road, it is now seen by some as a model accommodation of tribal and non-Indian communities.
It is the site of the Pavilions shopping center, the first private development of its kind on the reservation, which brings in income for the tribe and provides jobs for tribal members.
In 1990, after Scottsdale decided it didn't want the Pima Freeway portion of Loop 101 built through developed areas, ADOT paid the tribe $250 million to allow it on the reservation.
The blockades of Pima Road became a factor again in 1993 when the tribe bid on Saddleback Mountain, which it considers a sacred site.
The land, which had been owned by a private developer, was auctioned by the Resolution Trust Corp. after the failure of the savings-and-loan industry.
Although the tribe's bid was higher than Scottsdale's, the city threatened to condemn the land, which was within its borders, fearing the tribe would build a casino on Shea Boulevard or blockade the road.
A settlement gave the road to Scottsdale and the mountain to the tribe.
Scottsdale Mayor Mary Manross said relations have come a long way since the 1980s blockade.
"There was some kind of miscommunication there," she said. "They have a transportation plan and we respect that. We all have to realize we're neighbors and we're all dependent and interdependent."
Manross said the city coordinates with the tribe, following plans the tribe sets for itself, and isn't seeking more development.
"There will be a pretty terrific impact just from the development they're doing and we're doing," she said. "If they were to change from agrarian development radically, it would put even more stress on the infrastructure."
Salt River President Joni Ramos said that the tribe has wonderful relations with both Scottsdale and Mesa but that she sometimes has to explain the tribe's view of its land to new representatives.
"It's a learning process for a lot of elected officials coming into office," Ramos said. "We always look at seven generations to come. We want to maintain our land and traditional ways."
Begay said that means maintaining open land.
"Pima and Maricopa Indians historically have been a farming society, and there is a lot of pressure to keep those farms going and maintain them culturally," he said.
Indians weren't always included in road-building decisions.
Interstate 10 and Arizona 347 slash across Gila River land and divide the Ak-Chin Reservation, and Arizona 87 snakes across Salt River land and the Fort McDowell Reservation.
"Back in the '40s and '50s, when roads were being thought of and built, Indian people had very little control over their own land," Begay said. "That's not the case today."
Today, Gila River, Salt River and Fort McDowell leaders all sit on the Maricopa Association of Governments.
"They want to control their own destiny," said Anderson, of MAG. "They are very deliberate in their decision making.
"Some say, 'Why do we need more traffic. Just because people choose to live in Maricopa doesn't mean we have to endure additional traffic.' "
Sometimes for tribes, agreeing to one road project is the lesser of two evils.
The Gila River tribe is less resistant to widening I-10, an existing freeway, in order to lessen pressure on other roads, such as Arizona 347.
"A lot of people, like those in Maricopa, see the land and wonder why we don't blast a road straight through," Anderson said. "But others understand the historical context, and that that is not a viable solution.
"It's like putting a freeway through an existing neighborhood in Mesa. They see it the same way, as destroying neighborhoods."
Begay said Indians have always made accommodations to newcomers.
"Indian tribes have bent over backwards all the way around when it comes to accommodating neighbors," he said. "If you take a broad look at the amount of land Indian people used to have and the amount of land we have today, it's dramatically different. The accommodation has been tremendous."
But Begay said the accommodation can only go so far.
"Something has to give," he said. "And tribes do not want their culture and the land to give at the expense of the want of their neighbors, especially for the future of the children who are present and those as yet unborn."