California: Quechan


About the Quechan:
Previously known as the Yuma, the Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Reservation are originally from the Colorado River Valley. Bordering California and Mexico, the reservation was established in 1884. Quechan or Kwatsáan (pronounced “kwuh-shaun”) means “those who descended.” Their distinct language is believed to be spoken by just a few hundred people. 

History of the Reservation:
Established in 1884, the Fort Yuma Reservation (originally called Camp Calhoun) is 45,000 acres. The reservation itself has a storied history. It was first used as a military post in 1949 but was destroyed by fire. It was renamed to Camp Yuma in 1952 and the barracks were rebuilt by 1855. It was then transferred to the Department of the Interior and the Quechan in 1884 but became a Catholic boarding school until 1900. 

Bordering both sides of the Colorado River near Yuma, Arizona and Baja, California, Mexico, the Fort Yuma Reservation spans 45,000 acres. Their location along the river has meant a long history of trading with other tribes, as well as battles over land. 

According to the 2018-2022 American Census Survey, the population is about 1,536 people, but the Quechan Tribal Enrollment Office reports about 4,000 members. The Quechan live a contemporary lifestyle, but many still practice traditional ways. 

Largely an agricultural community leasing thousands of acres to Native and non-Native farmers, the Quechan also rely on tourism for revenue. With much traffic passing through on their way to Phoenix and San Diego, the hot summers and warm winters make the area a vacation spot from November to March. Accordingly, the Tribe manages a trailer and RV park, one convenience store (with a second store on the way), a museum, and two casinos. Nearby attractions also help boost tourism, such as Winterhaven, the California sand dunes, Yuma’s historic areas, golf courses, shopping at San Luis Rio Colorado port of entry, and water sports (fishing, skiing, and swimming) along the Colorado River. 

In addition, the tribe operates a sand and gravel enterprise, utility company, fish and game department, tribal police department, and tribal court system. Given its location on the U.S.-Mexico border, the tribe operates a year-round parking lot in Andrade, California, outside the Los Algodones port of entry.

The Quechan Casino Resort and the Paradise Casino provide many of the local jobs, and the median income is about $46,800. However, unemployment still ranges about 17%, and about 20% of residents live below the poverty level. Health care is provided by Indian Health Services, and the tribe operates the Fort Yuma Health Care Center focused on the dental and optical needs of tribal members.