The Gila River Indian Community traces its roots to the prehistoric Hohokam Indians, who migrated to the Gila River region near present-day Phoenix around 300 B.C.
The group farmed in the river basin, irrigating crops by diverting water from the river with an elaborate system of canals dug with wood and stone tools. A thriving civilization existed until about 1200 A.D. when the Hohokam vanished.
Beginning sometime in the 1700s, the Pee-Posh (Maricopa) Indians moved eastward from the southern Colorado River area and settled with the Akimel O’odham (Pima) Indians along the Gila River. The tribes became allies and together fought the Apaches and other enemies.
In the 1800s, the Pima supplied immigrant settlers and prospectors with much of their food.
The two tribes were formally linked in 1859 when the U.S. Congress established the Gila River Indian Community. The community encompasses more than 600 square miles and is bounded by the San Tan and Sacaton Mountains to the east, the Estrella Mountains to the west and the South Mountains to the north. The reservation was governed by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs for 70 years. In 1934, with passage of the Wheeler-Howard Act, tribes were once again allowed to rule themselves.
The Gila River Indian Community is headed by a governor and tribal council members elected from seven districts. Administrative offices are located in the capital city of Sacaton.
In 1937, the community suffered a period of drought and deprivation when the U.S. government opened the Coolidge Dam on the upper Gila River, cutting off the flow of water to the reservation.
Indian tribes didn’t legally gain the right to run gaming operations until 1987. In the U.S. Supreme Court case California v. Cabazon, the court ruled that tribes could engage in forms of gambling that were not expressly prohibited by the state in which the tribe is located.
In 1988, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was passed to balance the interests of the tribes and the states in which they are located. The federal act allows tribes to conduct gaming if they enter into compacts with their states. It also details how gaming revenues can be spent and set up the regulatory hierarchy for Indian gaming.
The Gila River Indian Community signed its gaming compact with Arizona in 1993, and on May 25, 1994, opened its first casino, the Lone Butte Casino, with 271 slot machines. From the beginning, Gila River chose to run its own operations, rather than pay a management fee to a third party.
Sources: Gila River Indian Community Web site; NSF Rural Systemic Initiatives Evaluation Study