The Gila (pronounced “heela”) River Indian Land is in Central Arizona, south of Phoenix, Tempe, and Chandler. It is within Maricopa and Pinal Counties. The land includes 372,000 acres. Currently, the tribe has 11,550 members consisting of both the Pima and the Maricopa Indians.
The Hohokam Indians were the first to live in this area. They built early irrigation systems to farm the land. The Pima Indians can trace their ancestry back to the Hohokam. The Maricopa Indians first lived along the Colorado River but moved due to the avoid battles with the Mohave and Yuma Indians. They eventually ended up along the Gila River with the Pima Indians.
An Act of Congress established the Gila River Indian Lands in February 1859. It became the first Indian Lands created in Arizona. In the 1900’s, the Indian Land suffered a huge set back when the Gila River was dammed. This caused poverty and many farms turned to desert.
Today, there has been a change. New businesses and development are being emphasized. Three industrial parks and commercial complexes are being used to draw others to the area. Although, farming has not been completely eliminated. The community’s farm has 12,000 acres with crops such as cotton, wheat, melons, citrus, and alfalfa. Another 22,000 acres are set aside for independent farming. The tribal administrative offices and departments are situated in the town of Sacaton.
The Gila River Indians are known for their Pima basketry and Maricopa pottery.
The Gila Indian Center has a large selection of Southwest Indian Arts and Crafts. The center offers pottery, basketry, jewelry, and paintings. It is located along Interstate 10, south of Phoenix at the Casa Blanca Interchange. Visitors will also find a museum and coffee shop.
The Gila Heritage Park is a theme park operated by the Gila River Indian Lands. The park features self-guided tours of traditional Indian homes including the Pima, Maricopa, Papago and the Apache.
Firebird Lake Water Sports World is located just off of Interstate 10, south of Phoenix. The lake has a high concentration of salt making it perfect for boat racing. The complex also has a track available for drag racing and formula cars. Compton Terrace is another part of the complex and features a variety of entertainment acts.
The land is home to two Gila River Casinos.
Annual Tribal Fair Mul-Chu-Tha February
St. John’s Indian Mission Festival March