Gila River Natives Renew Farming - Part 1
Gila River Farms, the Community’s agricultural entity. Plans to nearly double the 16,000 acres it tills putting as many acres into production each year as it can.
The tribes of Arizona, including the Pima and Maricopa on the Gila River Reservations, are unusual in the United States as they oversee large reservations with tillable land with the Gila River group controlling more than 372,000 acres some 30 miles south of Phoenix.
In December, the last of the season’s 4,600 acres of cotton was harvested. This year four-row pickers rumbled down the rows yanking bolls of short staple Pima cotton from the stalks. “Next year, I’m going to get some six row pickers. The bigger harvesters will mean more acres of cotton rather than fewer workers,” said Robert Stone, the farm’s general manager and member of the Pima Tribe. “There’s a 146,000 acres of agricultural land out there that could be put to use.”
The cotton is taken to the tribe’s gin run by Reuel Villanueva ginning 20 bales per hour compacted into 500 pound bales. The tribe contracts with Cal-Cot Ltd. to sell its cotton with most of it going overseas to China for textile production.
The Hohokams, ancestors of the Pima and Maricopa tribes, learned to harness the Rivers. They built extensive irrigation canals that stretched for miles. Some were 20 feet deep and 80 feet wide dug out with stone tools. The earth was carried away by hand in baskets. This was the Pre-Columbian era so the Spaniards had not yet arrived to the New World with their horses which were also used as beasts of burden.
The longest recorded canal stretched 20 miles from Pueblo Grande in what is now east Glendale, Arizona. Many Valley of the Sun canals still follow the same paths.
The Hohokam fields stretched in all directions, covering thousands of acres across the barren desert and producing enough foods for tens of thousands. They used their bountiful harvests in trading circles across their world.
“They had an incredible trading network,” according to Enrique Salmon, a Tarahumara Indian, and national expert on biodiversity with the Christensen fund in California. “All the way to California, Baja California, the Sea of Cortes and into Chihuahua, Mexico.
“They traded for macaw feathers, pottery, seashells for jewelry, things they didn’t have in the desert. They developed a large community of several hundred people with ceremonial and political buildings, even ball courts and individual dwellings across the desert.
“If you could have done a flyover, you would have seen specks of light from fire pits all throughlout the gila Valley.
“It’s not a full circle.” Salmon added, referring to the revival in the agricultural mode of existence, “There is no way to go back to what was going on before the arrival of the white man. But it’s a three-quarter circle. At least there’s farming going on.”
Southwestern Natives are reconnecting to the earth in a way they haven’t been able to do for the past 100 years. When the white settlers came to the area, they took control of the water by building dams upstream drying up the rivers creating arid, sandy expanses in their place.
This story has been edited for length and content from an article in the January 19th issue of The Arizona Republic bylined Judy Nichols.
NATIVE UNITY - A place for Native American Peoples to solidify their tribes to make a positive impact on the cultural, social, economic and political fabric of American society and a place for non-Natives to better understand the ways of the American Indian.
For news and information on Native American and First Nations actors, go to Annie's site at www.NativeCelebs.com and follow the threads.
Healing Pathways for Native Americans with Breast Cancer.
Prevention Treatment and Recovery on March 25th and 26th at the Radisson City Center - Tucson, 181 W. Broadway, Tucson, AZ 85701.
For more info. or to attend, contact Russ Johnson, Native Solutions - (520)887-4343 for an application form.