Arizona: Colorado River


The original inhabitants of the Colorado River Indian Reservation (CRIT) were the Mohave and the Chemehuevi. Since recorded history, they farmed along the lower Colorado River with traditional crops like corn, melons, pumpkins, native beans and roots. They lived in scattered groups in homes made of brush placed between upright mesquite logs. Some houses were also made of mud and wood. They navigated the river by means of rafts constructed from bundles of reeds tied together. 

The Spanish were the first to come to the Colorado River area, primarily for animal trapping and fur trade. They were welcomed at first, but friction grew between the Anglos and Native inhabitants, and by the early 1800s, outright hostilities developed. Most of the hostilities ended around 1859 when the Mohave lost a battle with U.S. forces. 

Just after World War II, a substantial number of Navajo and Hopi were relocated to the Colorado Indian Reservation in western Arizona and California, coinciding with when the federal government developed a theory of surplus for the Native population. Although the four tribes share the reservation and function as one political unit, each group observes its own unique traditions, religions and customs. 

The CRIT economy is primarily based on agriculture. 300,000 acres of fertile river lands allow the production of agriculture and produce such as cotton, alfalfa, sorghum, wheat, feed grains, lettuce and melons. Recreation and light industry come in second and third as income producers. The reservation also receives some income from mineral leases (mostly sand and gravel), water revenues, mining fees and fish and game permits. There is one small manufacturing enterprise and a successful casino and resort on the reservation. 

Diabetes is a major health problem on the reservation, and there is a 17-bed hospital run by Indian Health Services to serve a population of 8,700. Of the four Colorado River Tribes, more than 8,700 people live on the reservation and about 4,300 members are enrolled. The annual income is $46,000, and 18% of residents live in poverty.