Native American Tribes & Territories in Arizona

Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Learn about the rich history of Native American communities in Arizona. Native American traditions and cultures are still part of life in the state today.

Arizona's Vibrant Native American Communities

Native groups in Arizona have a rich and varied cultural heritage. Members of several different ethnic and linguistic groups arrived in Arizona at various points in the state's history. The Hopi people, who now live in northeastern Arizona, founded one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the United States, but many other tribal groups arrived more recently. Because the migration of Native American tribes to Arizona took place over thousands of years, members of many different tribes now live in the state.

Arizona is currently home to 22 sovereign American Indian communities, and roughly 5-6% of Arizonans have Native American ancestry. In total, reservation land accounts for one-fourth of Arizona's total land area. This makes Native Americans a very significant group of people in the state. Today, all the tribes in Arizona are represented in the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, or ITCA. ITCA represents tribal interests and coordinates economic and social projects in tribal communities.

Where Native Americans in Arizona Live

There are Native American communities all over Arizona. A huge Navajo (Diné) reservation covers much of the northeast corner of the state. Roughly 170,000 members of the Navajo Nation live on this reservation, which is the largest reservation in the United States. Completely enclosed within this reservation is a smaller Hopi reservation.

Hopi woman doing a the hair of a girl
Hopi women

Further south, members of the Apache tribe live on two slightly smaller reservations. Along the southern edge of the state is the Tohono O'odham reservation. Other members of the Tohono O'Odham Nation live on three other parcels of land that aren't connected to the large reservation in the south. Many smaller reservations cluster around the rivers in the middle of the state and on its western border.

One important aspect of native communities in Arizona is that many reservations are home to members of several different tribes and conversely, many tribes are scattered among several different reservations. For example, The Gila River Indian Community is home to over 11,000 members of the Pima and Maricopa tribes. Other members of these tribes also live further north in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, near the state capital of Phoenix. This isn't the way that the Native communities originally lived. It's mostly a result of the way the American government treated tribal communities in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Under the Dawes Act of 1887, reservation land was originally assigned with the intention of breaking up tribes, ending tribal government, and getting Native Americans to settle down and become farmers. In 1934, the Wheeler Howard Act allowed native tribes to govern their own land. But by that time, because they had been pushed into reservation land under the Dawes Act without much regard for tribal communities, many native communities found themselves sharing land with members of completely different tribes. This led to several communities with a common government for members of several different tribes.

Today, that history still affects the places where Native Americans live in Arizona and the way that different groups maintain their own tribal customs.

Cultural and Historical Preservation

Even though Arizona's Native American tribes have suffered from hundreds of years of forced relocation, tribal communities are still making an effort to preserve their history and way of life. For example, members of the Tohono O'odham tribe run a seed bank to preserve seeds of native plants that are adapted to Arizona's climate and environment. Growing these plants for food is more environmentally friendly than growing plants that aren't well adapted to the desert. It also helps Tohono O'odham people maintain their traditional recipes and cook more nutritious meals.

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