Arizona: Yuma, Cocopah, Maricopa


The Yuma, Cocopah, and Maricopa Indians descended from the Hohokam and have a Yuman dialect. Today, about 600 descendants from these three tribes live on the Cocopah Indian Reservation in the Southwest corner of Arizona. 


The Yuma 
About 3,000 Yuma Indians lived in the Southwest in the late 1600s. They were active tradesmen brokering shells and fishhooks from Pacific Coast tribes in exchange for baskets and pottery from tribes in the East. Although a sedentary people, the Yuma were physically superior to most of their Native counterparts. Despite the sweltering climate, Yuma were competent farmers. Dreams were an important part of Yuma ceremony, and cremation of their dead was an important ritual. 

The Cocopah 
About 3,000 Cocopah lived in the Southwest in the late 1600s. They were not known as aggressors, but they did not hesitate defending against neighboring tribes if attacked. They lived in brush houses in the warm summer months and mud huts through the brisk winter months. Game was not plentiful where they lived, so the Cocopah turned to irrigated farming. They were also competent fishermen and did some gathering of wild seeds, roots and beans. 

The Maricopa 
Closely related to the Yuma people, roughly 2,000 Maricopa lived in the Southwest in 1680. When these two tribes had a falling out, the Maricopa moved from the Colorado River Basin to live near the Pima, just west of present-day Phoenix. Despite speaking different languages, the Maricopa and Pima got along well as both grew crops along the Gila River. 

The Coco-Maricopa 
Around 1760, the Yuma, Cocopah and Maricopa Indians formed one tribe known as the Coco-Maricopa tribe and lived on the Gulf of California, near the mouth of the Colorado River. 

Today: Known as the “River People,” the Cocopah Indian Tribe resides in the far southwestern corner of Arizona near the California and Mexico borders. Consisting of more than 6,500 acres along the Colorado River, the tribe is actively involved in habitat restoration efforts. 

Thanks to their proximity to Maricopa County and their population of around 1,250, the Cocopah operate a museum and cultural center, a casino, a racetrack and two golf courses. Health care is offered by the early childhood agency First Things First and supported by a wellness center, treatment center and Elder nutrition center run by the tribe. 

With an unemployment rate of over 15% and median income of nearly $35,000 a year, about 35% of Cocopah Natives live below the poverty level. Roughly 45% of families with children under 18 years old live below the poverty line.