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Pima people

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Title: Pima people  
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Subject: Tohono O'odham people, Sonora, O'odham language, I'itoi, Maricopa people
Collection: Indigenous Peoples in Mexico, Native American History of Arizona, Native American Tribes in Arizona, Pima, Pima People
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Pima people

O'odham portraits
Total population
19,921 +/-4,574 (2010)[1]
Regions with significant populations
United States ( Arizona)
O'odham, English, Spanish
Roman Catholicism, traditional tribal religion[2]
Related ethnic groups
Ak-Chin O'odham, Hia C-ed O'odham,
Tohono O'odham

The Pima [3] (or Akimel O'odham, also spelled Akimel O'otham, "River People", formerly known as Pima) are a group of Indigenous Americans living in an area consisting of what is now central and southern Arizona. Currently the majority population of the surviving two bands of the Akimel O'odham is based in two reservations: the Keli Akimel O'otham on the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) and the On'k Akimel O'odham on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC). They are also closely related to other river people, the Ak-Chin O'odham, now forming the Ak-Chin Indian Community, and the Sobaipuri, whose descendants still reside on the San Xavier Indian Reservation or Wa:k (together with the Tohono O'odham) and in the Salt River Indian Community. Together with the kindred Tohono O'odham ("Desert People", formerly known as Papagos) of Eastern Papagueria and the Hia C-ed O'odham ("Sand Dune People", formerly known as Sand Papagos) of the Western Papagueria they form the Upper O'otham or Upper Pima (also known as Pima Alto).

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 meetings with Europeans.[2][4]


  • History prior to 1688 1
  • History after 1694 2
  • Akimel O'Odham and the Salt River 3
  • Modern life 4
  • Customs 5
  • Pimas of note 6
  • See also 7
  • Footnotes 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10

History prior to 1688

The Pima Indians first called themselves Othama until the first account of interaction with non-Native Americans was recorded. Spanish missionaries referred to Pima villages of Kina, Equituni and Uturituc. Americans later corrupted the miscommunication into Pimos, which was adapted to Pima river people. The Akimel O'otham people still respectfully call their villages District #1-Oos kehk (Blackwater), District #2-Hashan Kehk (Saguaro Stand), District #3-Gu U Ki (Sacaton), District #4-Santan, District #5-Vahki (Casa Blanca), District #6-Komatke (Sierra Estrella Mountains), and District #7-Maricopa Colony.[5]

The Akimel O'Otham (anthropologically known as the Pima) are a subgroup of the Upper O'otham or Upper Pima (also known as Pima Alto) whose lands were known in Spanish as Pimería Alta. These groups are culturally related. They are thought to be culturally descended from the group archaeologically known as the Hohokam.[6] The term Hohokam is a derivative of the O'otham word "Huhugam" (pronounced hoo-hoo-gahm) which is literally translated as "those who have gone before" but meaning "The Ancestors".

The Pima Alto or Upper Pima groups were subdivided on the basis of cultural, economic and linguistic differences into two main groupings:

One was known commonly as Pimas or River Pimas:

  • Akimel O'otham (Akimel Au-Authm - "River People", oft simply called Pima, lived north of and along the Gila River, the Salt River and the Santa Cruz River in Arizona)
    • On'k Akimel O'odham (On'k Akimel Au-Authm - "Salt River People", lived and farmed along the Salt River),Salt River Indian Reservation.
    • Keli Akimel O'otham (Keli Akimel Au-Authm, oft simply Akimel O'odham - - "Gila River People", lived and farmed along the Gila River), Gila River Indian Community (GRIC)
  • Ak-Chin O'Odham (Ak-Chin Au-Authm),[7] Ak-Chin Indian Community
  • Sobaipuri, (also simply called Sobas, called by the neighboring Akimel O'odham as Rsársavinâ - "spotted"), originally lived in the valleys of the San Pedro River and Upper Santa Cruz River. In the early 18th Century they were gradually driven out of the lower San Pedro River valley, then in the middle of the century their remaining settlements along the upper San Pedro River were broken up by Arivaipa and Pinaleño Apache attacks and they sought refuge among the Tohono O'odham and Akimel O'odham to the west, with whom they became merged.

The other, known commonly as Papagos or Desert Pimas: Tohono O'odham Nation

  • Tohono O'odham ("Desert People", the neighboring Akimel O'odham called them Pahpah Au-Authm or Ba:bawĭkoʼa - "eating tepary beans", which was pronounced Papago by the Spanish, lived in the semi-arid deserts and mountains south of Tucson, Tubac and south of the Gila River)[8]
    • Kuitatk (kúí tátk)
    • Sikorhimat (sikol himadk)
    • Wahw Kihk (wáw kéˑkk)
    • San Pedro (wiwpul)
    • Tciaur (jiawul dáhăk)
    • Anegam (ʔáˑngam - "desert willow")
    • Imkah (ʔiˑmiga)
    • Tecolote (kolóˑdi, also cú´kud kúhūk)
  • Hia C-eḍ O'odham ("Sand Dune People", also known by neighboring O'odham as Hia Tadk Ku:mdam - "Sand Root Crushers",[9] commonly known as Sand Papagos or Sand Pimas, lived west and southwest of the Tohono O'odham in the Gran Desierto de Altar of the Sonoran Desert between the Ajo Range, the Gila River, the Colorado River and the Gulf of California south into northwestern Sonora, Mexico, were known to the Tohono O'odham as U'uva:k or U'uv Oopad, named after the Tinajas Altas Mountains)
    • Areneños Pinacateños or Pinacateños[10] (lived in the Sierra Pinacate, called by the Hia C-eḍ O'Odham Cuk Doʼag in the Cabeza Prieta Mountains in Arizon and Sonora)
    • Areneños (lived in the Gran Desierto around the mountains, which were home to the Areneños Pinacateños)

The Akimel O'otham 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 olaski's (round houses) surrounding. The O'otham are matrilocal, and familial groups tended to consist of extended families. The Akimel O'otham also lived in temporary field houses seasonally, to tend their crops.

The O'odham language variously called Oʼodham ñeʼokĭ, Oʼodham ñiʼokĭ or Oʼotham ñiok 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'otham 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[6] and remains in use today. Over time canal systems were built and rebuilt according to the needs of the communities. The Akimel O'otham 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'otham did have conflicts with other groups they are thought to have been primarily a peaceable people, because they never attacked Euroamerican settlers 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. Akimel O'otham peoples are also very resilient warriors but only fight when necessary. A specific gene in the Warrior blood allows starvation for prolonged periods of time to be tolerated.The settlement of the city of Phoenix could not have been possible, if not for the Akimel O'otham people defending against the Apache.

History after 1694

Pima home in 1900.
Kaviu, a Pima elder, photographed around 1907 by Edward S. Curtis.

Initially, the Akimel O’Otham 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’Otham were affected by introduced European elements such as new cultigens (e.g., wheat), livestock, metal, and especially disease.

Euroamerican contacts with the Akimel O’Otham in the middle Gila Valley increased after 1846 as a result of the Mexican–American War. The Akimel O’Otham traded and gave aid to the expeditions of Cooke on their way to California. The peace treaty at the end of that war gave the territory of what is now Arizona to the United States with the exception of the land south of the Gila River. Soon thereafter the California Gold Rush began, drawing Americans to travel to California through the Mexican territory between Mesilla and the Colorado River crossings near Yuma on what became known as the Southern Emigrant Trail. The villages of the Akimel O’Otham provided a welcome oasis in the middle of the route, in which to recover from the crossing of the deserts so unfamiliar to so many of these travelers and place to resupply and replace livestock for the journey across the remaining deserts to the west.

Two young Pima Indian school girls, ca.1900

The American era (A.D. 1853–1950), began in 1853 with the Gadsden Purchase, when southern Arizona became part of the United States. New markets were developed not only to supply immigrants heading for California, but also for grain to the Butterfield Overland Mail and then the military during the American Civil War. As a result, the Akimel O’Otham experienced a period of prosperity. The Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) was established in 1859. The 1860 census records the Pima Villages as Agua Raiz, Arenal, Casa Blanca, Cachanillo, Cerrito, Cerro Chiquito, El Llano, and Hormiguero.[11]

The years following the American Civil War saw the arrival of large numbers of Euroamerican migrants to upstream locations along the Gila as well as along the lower Salt River. 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. Uncertainty and variable crop yields led to major settlement reorganizations. The establishment of agency headquarters, churches and schools, and trading posts at Vahki (Casa Blanca) and Gu U ki (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’Otham drew rations, the principal livelihood was woodcutting. The first allotments within Gila River were established in 1914. Each individual was assigned a 10-acre (40,000 m2) 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 10-acre (40,000 m2) tract of grazing land.

The most ambitious effort to rectify the economic plight of the Akimel O’Otham 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 (200 km2) of Indian and 50,000 acres (200 km2) of non-Indian land. For a variety of reasons, the San Carlos Project failed to revitalize the O’Otham farming economy. In effect the project halted the Gila river waters, and the Akimel O'otham no longer had a source of water for farming. This began the famine years. Most saw this as an attempt of mass genocide.

Over the years, the U.S. government placed severe acculturative pressures on the Akimel O’Otham that have effected changes in nearly every aspect of their lives. Since World War II, however, the Akimel O’Otham 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.

Akimel O'Odham and the Salt River

Fine Pima baskets, photographed around 1907 by Edward S. Curtis.

The Akimel O'Odham ("River People") have lived on the banks of the Gila River and Salt River since long before European contact.

Their way of life (himdagĭ, sometimes rendered in English as Him-dag) was and is centered on 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 on the natural world, and this is pervasive throughout their culture.

The Gila and Salt Rivers are currently dry, due to the (San carlos Irrigation project) 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'otham. 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'otham 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'otham 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. This is said to have been the leading contributing factor in the high rate of diabetes among the Akimel O'otham tribe.

Modern life

General Douglas MacArthur meeting Navajo, Pima, Pawnee and other Native American troops.
Douglas Miles (Akimel O'odham-San Carlos Apache), artist, youth advocate, and founder of Apache Skateboard.[12]

As of 2014, the majority of the population lives 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 (SRPMIC). Both tribes are confederations of two distinct cultures that include the Maricopa. Within the O'odham people there are four tribes in the Southwest who speak the same language called the Gila River Indian Community (Keli Akimel O'Odham - "Gila River People"), the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (Onk Akimel O'Odham - "Salt River People"), the Ak-Chin Indian Community (Ak-Chin O'odham) and the Tohono O'Odham Nation (Tohono O'Odham - "Desert People"). The remaining band, the Hia C-ed O'odham ("Sand Dune People"), are not federally recognized, but reside throughout southwestern Arizona.

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 Gregory Mendoza), Lieutenant Governor (currently Stephen Roe-Lewis) and 18 member tribal council. The council is elected by district with the number of electees determined by district population. There are over 19,000 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 Gila River Indian Reservation is home of Maricopa (Piipaa, Piipaash or Pee-Posh - "People") and Keli Akimel O'Odham (also Keli Akimel Au-Authm - "Gila River People", a division of the Akimel O'Odham - "River People").

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. The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC) is home of the Onk Akimel O'Odham (also On'k Akimel Au-Authm - "Salt River People", a division of the Akimel O'Odham - "River People"), the Maricopa of Lehi (call themselves Xalychidom Piipaa or Xalychidom Piipaash - "People who live toward the water", descendants of the refugee Halchidhoma), the Tohono O'Odham ("Desert People") and some Keli Akimel O'Odham (also Keli Akimel Au-Authm - "Gila River People", another division of the Akimel O'Odham - "River People").

The Ak-Chin Indian Community is located in the Santa Cruz Valley in Arizona. The community is composed mainly of Ak-Chin O'odham (Ak-Chin Au-Authm, also called Pima, another division of the Akimel O'odham - "River People") and Tohono O'odham, as well as some Yoeme As of 2000, the population living in the community was 742. Ak-Chin is an O'odham word that means the "mouth of the arroyo" or "place where the wash loses itself in the sand or ground."

As was previously mentioned during the discussion of the diversion of the Gila River, the Keli 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.[13] 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[13]) and a sudden shift in diet from traditional agricultural goods towards processed foods in the past century. For comparison, genetically similar O'odham in Mexico have only a slighter higher prevalence of type 2 diabetes than non-O'odham Mexicans[14]


From age ten until the time of marriage, neither boys nor girls were allowed to speak their own names. The Pima Indians believed this would bring bad luck to the children and their future. The names of deceased people were not to be uttered as well. The word or words in the name however are not dropped from the language. Children were given careful oral instruction in moral, religious and other matters. In addition, set speeches, which recited portions of cosmic myth, were a feature of many ceremonies and were especially important in the preparation for war. These speeches were adapted for each occasion but the general context was the same.

Pimas of note

See also


  1. ^ U.S. Census Bureau, 2011 American Community Survey,
  2. ^ a b Pritkzer, 62
  3. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  4. ^ Awawtam. "Pima Stories of the Beginning of the World." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 7th ed. Vol. A. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2007. 22-31. Print.
  5. ^ About Tribe: Districts from accessed December 28, 2013
  6. ^ a b Carl Waldman (September 2006). Encyclopedia of Native American tribes. Infobase Publishing. p. 4.  
  7. ^ Ak-Chin Indian Community - About our Community
  8. ^ Papago local groups and defensive villages, Periode 1859 - 1890. Underhill 1939, S. 211-234.
  9. ^ Gary Paul Nabhan: Gathering the Desert, University of Arizona Press, ISBN 978-0-8165-1014-6
  10. ^ both groups of the Hia C-eḍ O'odham are sometimes called because of dialect variations as Amargosa Areneños or Amargosa Pinacateños
  11. ^ The Maricopa occupied 2 others, Hueso Parado and Sacaton. John P. Wilson, Peoples of the Middle Gila: A Documentary History of the Pimas and Maricopas, 1500's - 1945, Researched and Written for the Gila River Indian Community, Sacaton, Arizona, 1999, p.166, Table 1
  12. ^ "Douglas Miles." Apache Skateboards. (retrieved 20 Dec 2009)
  13. ^ a b The Human Genome Project and Diabetes: Genetics of Type II Diabetes. New Mexico State University. 1997. 1 June 2006.
  14. ^ Schulz, L.O., Bennett, P. H., Ravussin, E., Kidd, J. R., Kidd, K. K., Esparza, J., & Valencia, M. E. (2006). Effects of traditional and western environments on prevalence of type 2 diabetes in Pima Indians in Mexico and the U.S. Diabetes care, 29(8), 1866-1871. doi:10.2337/dc06-0138

Further reading

  • DeJong, David H. Forced to Abandon Our Fields: The 1914 Clay Southworth Gila River Pima Interviews. 2010. ISBN 978-1-60781-095-7.
  • Ortiz, Alfonzo, volume editor. "Handbook of North American Indians. v. 10 Southwest." Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1983.
  • Pritzker, Barry. A Native American Encyclopedia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-19-513877-5.
  • Waldman, Carl. Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. New York: Checkmark, 1999.
  • Zappia, Natale A. Traders and Raiders: The Indigenous World of the Colorado Basin, 1540-1859. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

External links

  • websiteGila River Indian Communityofficial
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