Arizona: Gila River


History: The Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) located in south-central Arizona is home to two tribes: the Pima (Akimel O’odham) and Maricopa (Pee-Posh). The Pima are believed to be descended from the Hohokam (Hu Hu Kam), a prehistoric people who lived in Arizona prior to 8000 B.C. By the time of the first Europeans in America, the large Hohokam civilization was reduced to small villages.  

The Maricopa migrated from the west and established a relationship with the Pima, ultimately sharing the Gila River. In the 19th century, Anglo settlers diverted the river for their own crops, causing the Pima and the Maricopa to move to reservations together. Culturally, the Pima tribe was recognized for their art of basket weaving and the Maricopa were known for their red clay pottery work. 

Today: In addition to industry and recreational opportunities, the Gila River economy is still mainly agricultural. While two casinos and two golf resorts contribute to their economic development, over 15,000 acres of farms support crops like cotton, wheat, alfalfa, barley, melons, pistachios, olives and citrus. They also operate fertilizer and grain storage facilities, a cotton gin and Memorial Airfield, and manage a few stores, a gas station, Huhugam Heritage Center and an arts and crafts center. 

Health care is provided by Indian Health Services (IHS) with four service units throughout the reservation. Half of the men and women of the GRIC are diabetic, and 90% of them have diabetes by the time they are retirement age. Many of them suffer from obesity as well.  

Encompassing 374,000 acres of preserved land, this community is divided into seven districts. The tribe has close to 21,300 enrolled members, and the reservation is home to roughly 14,000. Reporting an income per capita of about one-third of the U.S. economy, 41% of residents live below the poverty line (more than double the average U.S. rate).