Tohono Oʼodham Nation

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Tohono Oʼodham Nation
Flag of the Tohono Oʼodham Nation
Official seal of Tohono Oʼodham Nation
Location in Arizona
Location in Arizona
TribeTohono O'odham
CountryUnited States
Established1874 (executive order)
Main expansions1882–1916
First constitution1937
Tripartite system1986
CapitalSells, Arizona
Subdivisions11 districts
 • BodyTohono Oʼodham Legislative Council
 • ChairmanEdward D. Manuel
 • Vice-ChairmanVerlon M. Jose
 • Total11,300 km2 (4,400 sq mi)
 • Total10,703
 • Density0.95/km2 (2.5/sq mi)
Time zoneMST/MDT

The Tohono Oʼodham Nation[2] is the collective government body of the Tohono Oʼodham tribe in the United States.[2] The Tohono Oʼodham Nation governs four separate pieces of land with a combined area of 2.8 million acres (11,330 km2), approximately the size of Connecticut and the second largest American Indian land holdings in the United States. These lands are located within the Sonoran Desert of south central Arizona and border the Mexico–United States border for 74 miles (119 km) along its southern border. The Nation is organized into 11 local districts and employs a tripartite system of government. Sells is the Nation's largest community and functions as its capital. The Nation has approximately 34,000 enrolled members, the majority of whom live off of the reservations.


In 1874, President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant signed an executive order creating the San Xavier Indian Reservation, surrounding the 18th century Mission San Xavier del Bac.[3][4][5] In 1882, President Chester A. Arthur signed an executive order creating the Gila Bend Indian Reservation as additional lands for the Tohono Oʼodham people.[3] In 1916, a third reservation was created by executive order with Indian Oasis (now named Sells, Arizona) as its headquarters.[3] In 1937, The Tohono Oʼodham Nation, then called the Papagos Tribe of Arizona, adopted their first constitution.[5]

In 1960, the Army Corps of Engineers completed construction of the Painted Rock Dam on the Gila River. Flood waters impounded by the dam periodically inundated approximately 10,000 acres (40 km2) of the Gila Bend Indian Reservation.[6] The area lost by the tribe contained a 750-acre (3.0 km2) farm and several communities. Residents were relocated to a 40-acre (160,000 m2) parcel of land named San Lucy Village, near Gila Bend, Arizona.[7] In January 1986, the enrolled members of the three reservations adopted a new tribal constitution that changed the tribe name from Papago Tribe of Arizona to the Tohono Oʼodham Nation and adopted a three-branch form of government.[3] Also in 1986, the federal government and the Nation approved a settlement in which the Nation agreed to give up its legal claims in exchange for $30,000,000 and the right to add replacement land to its reservation.[Note 1]

In 2009, the tribe announced that it had purchased approximately 135 acres (0.55 km2) near Glendale, Arizona. The city of Glendale and the Gila River Indian Community opposed attempts to develop the land though court challenges and supporting a measure passed by the Arizona House of Representatives which would allow the city of Glendale to incorporate land owned by the tribe, thereby making the land ineligible for inclusion within the reservation.[8][9] As of March 2014, after a change of heart, the City of Glendale has been negotiating with the Nation over its proposed West Valley casino.[10] The McCain-Franks bill, designed to prohibit the Glendale project and – in the process – would have changed federal law by unilaterally repealing critical parts of the Gila Bend Indian Reservation Lands Replacement Act, which was passed to settle a dispute over federal flooding of tribal reservation lands.[11]

In 2009, the Nation acquired 650 acres (2.6 km2) of land near Why, Arizona with the intention of eventually creating a new district of the Tohono Oʼodham Nation for the Hia C-eḍ Oʼodham.[12] On October 30, 2012, a new tribal law created the Hia-Ced District as the new 12th district of the Tohono Oʼodham Nation.[12] On April 25, 2015 the Hia-Ced District was dissolved by referendum vote, returning the Nation to its original configuration of 11 districts.


Most Tohono Oʼodham people live in the United States. However, a small number are located across the international border in northwestern Mexico.[5][13][14] The Tohono Oʼodham Nation speaks a common language, Oʼodham, which is the 10th most-spoken indigenous language in the United States. The people are nominally Catholic however the Nation's schools teach native language and culture.[15]

The Nation has a population of approximately 34,000 enrolled members.[16] The majority of the Nation's members live off the reservations.[17] The main reservation, Tohono Oʼodham Indian Reservation, has a resident population of approximately 11,000 people.[18] The San Xavier Indian Reservation has a resident population of 1,200 people.[18] The Gila Bend Indian Reservation has a total population of approximately 1,700 people, and Florence Village has a population of approximately 195 people.[18] The remaining approximate 14,600 members live off the reservations.[18]


The lands of the Nation are located within the Sonoran Desert in south central Arizona. The Nation's lands are located in areas of a series of parallel mountains and valleys.[19] The vegetation is consistent with other areas on the Sonoran Desert.[19] Saguaro cactus, Cholla, prickly pear, palo verde, velvet mesquite, whitethorn acacia, desert ironwood and willow are the dominant vegetation in the landscape.[19] The landscape is interspersed with plains and mountains. These include the Quinlan and Baboquivari Mountains, which include Kitt Peak, the Kitt Peak National Observatory and telescopes as well as Baboquivari Peak.[Note 2]

Sells, Arizona is the Nation's largest community and functions as the capital. The Tohono Oʼodham Nation occupies four separate pieces of land for a combined area of 2.8 million acres (11,330 km2) making it the second largest Native American land holding in the United States.[5][21] The lands include, the main reservation, the Gila Bend Reservation, San Xavier Reservation, and Florence Village.[22] Of the four lands bases, the largest is the main reservation at more than 2.7 million acres (10,925 km2). The San Xavier reservation is the second largest land base, and contains 71,095 acres (287.71 km2) just south of Tucson. The Gila Bend Indian Reservation is 473 acres (1.91 km2) and Florence Village 25 acres (0.10 km2). With the 1853 Gadsden Purchase, the territory of the Tohono Oʼodham was split between the United States and Mexico.[17] Consequently, the Nation is directly exposed to the Mexico–United States border for 74 miles (119 km).[23] There is no reservation established for the Tohono Oʼodham people in Mexico, thus the Nation's southern border is the Mexico–United States border.[23]


The Nation is organized into 11 local districts.[22][12] Nine districts are located on the Tohono Oʼodham Indian Reservation with the Gila Bend and San Xavier reservations, which are separated from the main reserve, making up the other two.[22]

The government of the Tohono Oʼodham Nation is made up of three branches: executive, judicial, and legislative.[4] The executive includes the chairmen and vice chairmen of the 11 districts, the judicial is composed of the judges and courts, and the legislative consists of the tribal council representatives from each of the administrative districts. As a whole, the Tohono Oʼodham Nation is governed by a democratically elected chairperson and legislative council. All of the reservations are overseen administratively by a central government located in Sells. As of 2019, the Nation's current Chairman is Ned Norris, Jr. and the Vice Chair is Wayvalene Romero. The Nation's Chief Justice is Violet Lui-Frank, and the Legislative Chairman is Timothy Joaquin Gu Achi.[24]

The Tohono Oʼodham Nation operates its own educational system, which includes Tohono Oʼodham Community College, a fire department and several recreation centers, a health center, a nursing home, and a public utilities company.[25][26]


Economic support for the tribe comes from a variety of sources. Some of the Tohono Oʼodham still farm or engage in subsistence ranching.[5] The tribe sells and leases copper mineral rights to support itself.[4] Gambling from the three casinos that the tribe operates has become the major source of support for the tribe in terms of revenue and jobs creation.[5][4] The tribe operates the Tohono Oʼodham Utility Authority a tribal firm established in 1970 to provide electric and water service to the reservation.[4] Basket weaving remains an economic pursuit; the tribe produces more basketry than any other tribe in the United States.[4]


  1. ^ Public Law 99-503 specifies that the tribe may purchase up to 10,000 acres (40 km2) unincorporated land in Pima, Pinal, or Maricopa counties which the federal government will place into trust, thereby making it legally part of the reservation.[6][7]
  2. ^ The observatory sites are under lease from the Tohono Oʼodham Nation. The lease was approved by the council in the 1950s, for a one-time payment of $25,000 plus $10 per acre per year.[20]


  1. ^ 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. "My Tribal Area". United States Census Bureau.
  2. ^ a b "Home". Official Website of the Tohono Oʼodham Nation. 2014. Retrieved April 24, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d Fontana 1998, p. 36.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Native Peoples A to Z 2009, p. 1988.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Pritzker 2000, p. 100.
  6. ^ a b Alonzo, Monica (April 29, 2010), Wanna Bet? The Tohono Oʼodham Want to Build a Casino in the West Valley – Now It's Up to the Feds to Make It Happen or Break Another Promise to the Tribe, Phoenix New Times
  7. ^ a b ISSUE BRIEF: THE UNITED STATES' OBLIGATION TO REPLACE DAMAGED RESERVATION LAND (PDF) (PDF), archived from the original (PDF) on January 28, 2016
  8. ^ "Oʼodham closer to casino by Glendale", Arizona Daily Star, March 4, 2011
  9. ^ "H.R. 1410 – All Actions". United States Congress. Retrieved September 16, 2013.
  10. ^ Alonzo, Monica (March 20, 2014), Glendale City Council Begins Formal Casino Negotiations With Tohono Oʼodham Nation, Phoenix New Times, retrieved April 26, 2014
  11. ^ Whittlesey, Dennis J. (May 9, 2015). "Should There be a Legislative Solution to Disputed Indian Trust Applications?". The National Law Review. Dickinson Wright PLLC. Retrieved May 18, 2015.
  12. ^ a b c Ramon-Sauberan, Jacelle (June 30, 2013). "Extinct No More: Hia-Ced Oʼodham Officially Join Tohono Oʼodham Nation". Indian Country Today Media Network. Retrieved April 27, 2014.
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Pritzker 2000, p. 101.
  16. ^ Romero, Simon (June 15, 2018). "Video Shows Border Patrol SUV Hitting Native American Man, Then Driving Away". The New York Times.
  17. ^ a b Pritzker 2000, p. 99.
  18. ^ a b c d "Tribal Districts". Tohono Oʼodham nation. n.d. Retrieved April 26, 2014.
  19. ^ a b c Stanley 1978, p. 517.
  20. ^ Astronomy development on another sacred mountain: Kitt Peak, n.d., archived from the original on August 20, 2008, retrieved April 26, 2014
  21. ^ McIntyre 2008, p. 23.
  22. ^ a b c Fontana 1998, p. 37.
  23. ^ a b Mizutani 2013, p. 174.
  24. ^ "Tribal Government". Tohono Oʼodham Nation. 2014. Retrieved July 2, 2016.
  25. ^ Griffin-Pierce 2000, p. 191.
  26. ^ Pritzker 2000, pp. 100–100.


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