History paints a colorful
portrait of the American
Indians who live today in
the Gila River Indian Community.
Their ancestors were among the first
people to set foot in the Americas
30,000 years ago. They have lived in
the Sonoron Desert near the Gila
River in what is now southern Ari-
zona for at least 2, 000 years.
Called the Pima Indians by exploring
Spaniards who first encountered them
in the 1600s, these early Americans
called themselves “O’Odham,” the
River people, and those with whom
they intermarried, “Tohono
O’Odham,” the Desert people.
Archaeological finds suggest that the
Pima Indians descended from the
Hohokam, “those who have gone,” a
prehistoric people who originated in
Mexico. Strong runners, the Pima
Indians were also master weavers and
farmers who could make the desert
bloom. Once trusted scouts for the
U.S. Cavalry, the Pima Indians are
pathfinders for health, helping scien-
tists from the National Institute of
Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney
Diseases (NIDDK), a part of the
National Institutes of Health (NIH),
learn the secrets of diabetes, obesity,
and their complications.
Migrating from Mexico, the people
settled the land up to where the Gila
River and the Salt River meet, in what
is now Arizona. They extablished a
sophisticated system of irrigation that
made the desert fruitful with wheat,
beans, squash and cotton. The women
of the community made exquisite
baskets so intricately woven that they
They were also a generous people.
They sheltered the Pee Posh (or
Maricopa Indians) who fied attack by
hostile tribes, and who also became
part of the Gila River community.
Aiyone who followed the Gila river,
the main southern route to the Pacific,
encountered these peaceful and pro-
ductive traders who gave hospitality to
travellers for hundreds of years. “Bread
is to eat, not to sell. Take what you
want,” they told Kit Carson in 1846.
Today, the Pima Indians of the Gila
River Indian Community are still an
agricultural people, nurturing orchards
of orange trees, pistachios and olives.
They are still giving, too. Eleven
thousand strong, the members of the
Gila River Indian Reservation have
participated in 30 years of research
that will help people avoid diabetes,
have healthier eyes, hearts, and
Pima scouts in 1886.