proper respect to sovereign nation
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 17, 2006 12:00 AM
Phoenix and Tucson may be merging into a megalopolis, but there's a
580-square-mile chunk of desert straddling Interstate 10 that stands apart on
It's the Gila River Indian Reservation, home to a community that predates all
the city halls, roads and commercial developments encircling it.
As a people, the Akimel O'odham trace their lineage to the Hohokam, who
centuries ago farmed along the banks of what then was a flowing Gila River. The
Pee Posh joined them in the area south of South Mountain and east of the
Estrellas in the early 1800s. Thick mesquite bosques lined the river then. Wild
game and agriculture provided sustenance for the "River People."
They were a peaceful people but protective of their own. They successfully
resisted attempts by the U.S. government to move them to Oklahoma. They survived
widespread famine after Coolidge Dam cut off the Gila River.
They, like so many Native Americans around the country, will tell you proudly,
"We're still here."
And now their tribal land is center stage, with bombardments on all sides by
communities that want something: A new freeway or the widening of an interstate
or highway. A commercial development agreement for prime land along the
reservation borders. Water that in a few years will be flowing to the tribe
under the federal Water Settlements Act of 2004.
Sovereign it is, but isolated the Gila River Reservation is not.
The Valley's booming population and expansion is an issue for the tribe, even if
just as an annoyance that cannot be avoided. As officials from the state and
surrounding cities reach out with requests, they need to do so with the respect
accorded an equal player at the table.
Decisions made by any jurisdiction will affect the neighboring ones. What to
build, how to route traffic, even where to send runoff water all involve
planning that has consequences beyond city lines.
It's important that the Gila River Indian Community is treated as an equal in
matters that touch Maricopa and Pinal counties. Not just in official dealings,
but also in the attitudes and comments made by residents of nearby cities and in
the level of understanding and respect that people deserve.
The Gila Community, with its growing resort business, casinos, industrial parks,
Rawhide and Firebird Raceway, has barely touched its potential for development.
The water settlement will allow Gila River Farms to put a planned 146,000 acres
into agriculture. Good thing, because the Valley's traditional farming towns are
now buried under stucco and red tile.
Just as two centuries ago, the River People didn't need outsiders. Whether or
not the tribe cooperates with regional plans, it will do so as a sovereign
It behooves those in neighboring communities to respect that.