The Pima (or Akimel O'odham) are a group of American Indians living in an area consisting of what is now central and southern Arizona (USA) and Sonora (Mexico). The long name, "Akimel O'odham", means "river people". They are closely related to the Tohono O'odham (meaning "desert people") and the Hia C-ed O'odham. They are also closely related to another river people, the Sobaipuri, whose descendants still reside at San Xavier del Bac or Wa:k and in the Gila River communities. The short name, "Pima" is believed to have come from the phrase pi 'añi mac or pi mac, meaning "I don't know," used repeatedly in their initial meeting with Europeans.The Pima Indians first called themselves Otama until the first account of interaction with non-Native Americans was recorded. Americans later corrupted the miscommunication into Pimos, which was adapted to Pima river people. During the early part of the nineteenth century, there were eight Pima villages on the Gila River whose names were bestowed by the Spanish missionaries such as Kina, Equituni, Uturituc, and Sacaton.
The Akimel O'Odham (anthropologically known as the Pima) are a subgroup of the O'odham. O'odham includes the Tohono O'Odham, the Onk Akimal O'Odham, and the Hia C-ed O'odham. These groups are culturally related. They are thought to be culturally descended from the group archaeologically known as the Hohokam. The term Hohokam is a derivative of the O'odham word "Huhugam" (pronounced hoo-hoo-gahm) which is literally translated as "those who have gone before" but meaning "the ancestors."
The Akimel O'odham lived along the Gila River, Salt River, Yaqui River, and Sonora River in ranchería style villages. The villages were set up as a loose group of houses with familial groups sharing a central ramada and kitchen area with brush round houses surrounding. The O'odham are matrilocal, and familial groups tended to consist of extended families. The Akimel O'odham also lived in temporary field houses seasonally, to tend their crops.
The O'odham language is spoken by all O'odham groups. There are certain dialectal differences, but despite these all O'odham groups can understand one another. There are also some lexicographical differences, especially in reference to newer technologies and innovations.
The economy of the Akimel O'odham was primarily dependent on subsistence, and consisted of farming, hunting and gathering, although there was extensive trading as well. Farming was dependent on an extensive irrigation system that was constructed in prehistoric times and remains in use today. Over time canal systems were built and rebuilt according to the needs of the communities. The Akimel O'odham were experts in the area of textiles and produced intricate baskets as well as woven cloth. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, their primary military rival were the Apache and Yavapai, who raided their villages at times due to competition for resources, although they also established friendly relations with the Apache. Although the Akimel O'odham did have conflicts with other groups they are thought to have been primarily a peaceable people, because they never attacked Euroamerican settelers and they were most well known for their aid to immigrants. They did, however, participate in a war cult and had a well-developed battle strategy.Initially, the Akimel O’Odham experienced little intensive colonial contact, and early exchanges instead were limited to parties traveling through the territory or community members visiting settlements to the south. The Hispanic era (A.D.1694–1853) of the Historic period began with the first visit by Father Kino in 1694. Contact also was infrequent with the Mexicans during their rule of southern Arizona between 1821 and 1848. Nevertheless, the Akimel O’Odham were affected by introduced European elements such as new cultigens (e.g., wheat), livestock, metal, and especially disease.
The American era (A.D. 1853–1950), began in 1853 with the Gadsden Purchase, when southern Arizona became part of the United States. Euroamerican contacts with the Akimel O’Odham in the middle Gila Valley increased after 1846 as a result of the Mexican-American War. New markets were developed to supply grain to the military as well as to immigrants heading for California, and the Akimel O’Odham experienced a period of prosperity. Thereafter, interaction between Native American groups and Euroamerican settlers became increasingly tense, and the U.S. Government adopted a policy of pacification and reservation confinement of Native Americans. The GRIC was established in 1859.
The following years saw the arrival of large numbers of Euroamerican migrants to upstream locations along the Gila as well as along the lower Salt River. Uncertainty and variable crop yields led to major settlement reorganizations. The establishment of agency headquarters, churches and schools, and trading posts at Casa Blanca and Sacaton during the 1870s and 1880s led to the growth of these towns as administrative and commercial centers at the expense of others. By 1898 agriculture had nearly ceased within the GRIC, and although some Akimel O’Odham drew rations, the principal livelihood was woodcutting. The first allotments within Gila River were established in 1914. Each individual was assigned a 10-acre parcel of irrigable land located within districts irrigated by the Santan, Agency, Blackwater and Casa Blanca projects on the eastern half of the reservation. In 1917, the allotment size was doubled to include a primary lot of irrigable land and a secondary, usually non-contiguous ten-acre tract of grazing land.
The most ambitious effort to rectify the economic plight of the Akimel O’Odham was the San Carlos Project Act of 1924, which authorized the construction of a water storage dam on the Gila River and provided for the irrigation of 50,000 acres of Indian and 50,000 acres of non-Indian land. For a variety of reasons, the San Carlos Project failed to revitalize the O’Odham farming economy.
Over the years, the U.S. Government placed severe acculturative pressures on the Akimel O’Odham that have affected changes in nearly every aspect of their lives. Since World War II, however, the Akimel O’Odham have experienced a resurgence of interest in tribal sovereignty and economic development, as the community has become a self-governing entity, developed several profitable enterprises in fields such as agriculture and telecommunications, built several casinos, and begun the process of revitalizing their farming economy by constructing a water delivery system across the reservation.
The Akimel O'Odham (River People) have lived on the banks of the Gila River since long before European contact.
Their way of life (himdagĭ, sometimes rendered in English as Him-dak) was and is centered around the river, which is considered holy. The term Him-dag should be clarified, as it does not have a direct translation into the English language, and is not limited to reverence of the river. It encompasses a great deal because O'odham him-dag intertwines religion, morals, values, philosophy, and general world view which are all interconnected. Their world view/religious beliefs are centered around the natural world, and this is pervasive throughout their culture.
The Gila and Salt Rivers are currently dry, due upstream dams that block the flow and the diversion of water by non-native farmers. This has been a cause of great upset among all of the O'odham. The upstream diversion in combination with periods of drought, led to lengthy periods of famine that were a devastating change from the documented prosperity the people had experienced until non-native settlers engaged in more aggressive farming in areas that were traditionally used by the Akimel O'odham and Apache in Eastern Arizona. This abuse of water rights was the impetus for a nearly century long legal battle between the Gila River Indian Community and the United States Government, which was settled in favor of the Akimel O'Odham and signed into law by George W. Bush in December 2005. As a side note, at times during the monsoon season the Salt river runs, albeit at low levels. In the weeks after December 29, 2004, when an unexpected winter rainstorm flooded areas much further upstream (in Northern Arizona), water was released through dams on the river at rates higher than at any time since the filling of Tempe Town Lake in 1998, and was a cause for minor celebration in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC) was established on June 14, 1879 and is made of two very distinct Native American tribes: The Pima and the Maricopa. The diversion of the water and the introduction of non-native diet had devastating effects on the health of the people as well.
Currently, the majority of the population is based in the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC), although in historic times a large number of Akimel O'Odham migrated north to occupy the banks of the Salt River and formed the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Both tribes are confederations of two distinct cultures that include the Maricopa. Within the SRPMIC there are three tribes in the Southwest who speak the same dialect called the Gila River Tribe (Akimel O'Odham), the Salt River Tribe (Onk Akimel O'Odham) and the Tohono O'Odham Tribe.
Today the GRIC is a sovereign tribe residing on over 550,000 acres (2,200 km²) of land in central Arizona. The community is divided into seven districts (similar to states) with individual subgovernments "council". It is self-governed by an elected Governor (currently William Rhodes), Lieutenant Governor (currently Joseph Manuel) and 18 member tribal council. The council is elected by district with the number of electees determined by district population. There are over 16,000 enrolled members overall.
Today the Gila River Indian Community is involved in various economic development enterprises that include three casinos, golf courses, a luxury resort, a western themed amusement park, various industrial parks, landfills and construction supply. The GRIC is also involved in agriculture and runs its own farms and other agricultural projects.
The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community is smaller in size and is governed by an elected President and tribal council as well. They are also involved in tribal gaming, industrial projects, landfills and construction supply.
As was previously mentioned during the discussion of the diversion of the Gila River, the Akimel O'odham and the Onk Akimel O'odham have various environmentally based health issues that can be traced directly back to that point in time when the traditional economy was devastated. They have the highest prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the world, much more than is observed in other U.S. populations. While they do not have a greater risk than other tribes, the Pima people have been the subject of intensive study of diabetes, in part because they form a homogeneous group. The general increased diabetes prevalence among Native Americans has been hypothesized as the result of the interaction of genetic predisposition (the thrifty phenotype or thrifty genotype as suggested by anthropologist Robert Ferrell in 1984) and a sudden shift in diet from traditional agricultural goods towards processed foods in the past century. For comparison, genetically similar Pimas in Mexico have virtually no type 2 diabetes.