Sunday, May 1, 2011

Yavapai Indian Reservation

Yavapai Tribal Council (photo by Lysandra Whitlow, April 2011)
Yavapai Elementary School (photo by Lysandra Whitlow, April 2011)

Protest of Orme Dam construction (Source:
[address pending]
The Yavapai Indian Reservation is located in Maricopa County Arizona. The reservation was created on September 15, 1903 and is home to about 300 residents. The Yavapai reservation is 40 square miles and is home to the Ft. McDowell Casino, a fire station, community center, and tribal council office. The Ft. McDowell Yavapai Indians are a strong community of people who’s motto is “never give up, always give back.” In the past years the Yavapai have been faced with, and overcame victoriously two major threats that made history and reaffirmed its tribal sovereignty, the proposal of the Orme Dam and the near shut down of Ft. McDowell casino.
In the Kent Decree of 1910 it limited the amount of water the Yavapai people would receive from the Salt River, even though it ignored federal rules that appropriated water to the Yavapai. Judge Kent who decided to limit the water did so because he felt it necessary to eventually move the Yavapai Indians from Ft. McDowell to the Salt River Reservations.  If Judge Kent successfully moved the Yavapai off their land to the Salt River Reservations, the water appropriated to the Yavapai would decrease considerably and would be inadequate to the land there which was uncultivated. There was also said to be a great possibility the water would be taxed. The Yavapai did not know their rights and therefore were subject to illegal threats to remove them from their land. In an account several Indians wrote congress saying, “their schools have been closed, they have been refused seed for planting, the dams and ditches condemned, and every inducement offered for them to leave their homes and take work on the railroads and other places where they must live in great labor camps…”(Coffeen, 352) In response the this the U.S. Secretary Ballinger wrote, “the department reiterates its belief that those who do not accept allotments [10 acres per person] of the irrigable lands at Salt River are standing in their own light, and it is hoped that they will soon see where their best interest lie.” (Coffeen, 352)  Eventually the government abandoned its policies and the reservation was able to stay intact. 
This was certainly not the last time the government threatened the land of the Yavapai. In the 1970’s the Arizona Government sought to build the Orme Dam. If the dam was built it would destroy acres of natural habitat that was home to the bald eagle, significant archeological sites, community’s homes, a new gymnasium, sacred burial grounds, and not to mention it would displace about 452 Yavapai Indians, mostly elders who would not survive without their community. Tribal members refused to sell Yavapai land in a vote 144 to 57against. The dam was not built even though the government was willing to offer them 33.5 million and 2,500 acres of land. In 1981 after years of struggle and a three day march to the Arizona capital the government gave up efforts to build the damn. Each year in memory of the dam not being built a tribal fair and rodeo is held. 
The threat of the Orme Damn was all before the Ft. McDowell Casino was built. The Ft. McDowell Casino is now how the Yavapai Indian reservation make most of its income. In the 1990’s there were many Casinos operating on Indian reservations that included Fort McDowell. To be in accordance with the federal 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act each of the Indian tribes were waiting to sign contracts with the state so they could legally operate their casinos. The governor at the time didn’t want Indian operated gaming and unannounced raids on five casinos across the state took place. On May 13, 1992 FBI agents invaded the Ft. McDowell casino and try to seize 349 gaming machines. The community all saw it play out and at once they banned together to blockade the casino’s entrances with cars, trucks, and machinery. After a three week standoff the Arizona Governor signed the gaming compact and the tribe was able to operate the casino once again. Thanks to that day May 12 is a tribal holiday.               
Today the Yavapai Indian reservation is completely intact and the Casino is thriving. They still celebrate the Orme Dam victory days and the Casino standoff. The Yavapai People are resilient and celebrate their past as well as always preserving tradition and changing to meet the needs of today’s Yavapai people.
- Lysandra Whitlow, Brian Simpson, and Briana Tyson
Work Cited
"History & Culture." Http:// Web. 24 Apr. 2011.
ORME DAM THREATENS YAVAPAI. (1981, July). Cultural Survival Quarterly (1981-1989), 5(3), 24.  Retrieved April 26, 2011, from Ethnic NewsWatch: A History (ENWH). (Document ID: 505963991).
Coffeen, William R. "THE EFFECTS OF THE CENTRAL ARIZONA PROJECT ON THE FORT McDOWELL INDIAN COMMUNITY." Ethnohistory 19.4 (1972): 345. Historical Abstracts with Full Text. EBSCO. Web. 26 Apr. 2011.
Majenty, Rory. "27th Annual Orme Dam Victory Days—Celebrating “The Dam That Never Was”." Web. 23 Apr. 2011. <>.

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