Located along Phoenix’s southern city limit, the Gila River Indian Community has a tribal membership of more than 11,000 people. Created in 1859 and federally established in 1939, the community is composed of members of the Akimel O’odham (Pima) and Maricopa (in Xalychidom Piipaash, “People Who Live Toward the Water”), two different groups who joined together for farming and mutual defense in the 1840s.
Historically, the Akimel O’odham People called themselves the Huhugam, and that name is reflected in the Tribe’s Huhugam Heritage Center. The Piipaash once lived along the Colorado River in small groups. Conflicts with other tribes forced the Piipaash to travel east along the Gila River, and they eventually joined together with the Akimel O’odham to become successful farmers.
The Gila River flows through the almost 600-square-mile Gila River Indian Community and it irrigates fields of wheat, corn, beans, pumpkins, watermelon, squash and other crops. Thousands of prospectors passed through this land on their way to California during the Gold Rush, and the Akimel O’odham and Piipaash were lauded for their generosity despite the intrusion.
The Akimel O’odham are known for exquisite basketry, and the Piipaash for red-clay pottery. Traditionally the people of Gila River Indian Community were skilled farmers and engineered miles of deep canals to irrigate farmland. Increased upstream water use by settlers in the 1800s created drought conditions for the Gila River Indian Community, and the community has long worked to regain its water rights to continue farming. The Pima-Maricopa Irrigation Project currently irrigates 95,000 acres of land for a variety of crops, including durum wheat that is sold to Italian pasta companies.
Learn about the Gila River Indian Community at the Huhugam Heritage Center, where the Ancestral Lands exhibit explains the basketry, red clay pottery, jewelry and farming tools created by the ancestors of today’s Akimel O’odham and Piipaash People of Gila River Indian Community. The Veterans Exhibit in the archives reading room is fully curated by Gila River Indian Community veterans. The Great House Artist Gallery features a new community artist every three months, and special exhibits open throughout the year.