PBS News Hour interviewed David DeJong, author of Stealing the Gila and Diverting the Gila, about water rights. DeJong is Director of the Pima-Maricopa Irrigation Project. PBS NewsHour correspondent Stephanie Sy spoke with DeJong and community members Ramona Button and Terry Farms about how the federal government took water from the Gila River Indian Community by building the Gila River dam. The Gila River is part of the Colorado River watershed. And now the federal government has finally provided funds to the Gila River Indian Community to bring back water to their lands and restore the agricultural economy. Watch the PBS News Hour Story: “Despite owning rights to Colorado River, tribes largely cut off from accessing water.”
About Stealing the Gila:
By 1850 the Pima Indians of central Arizona had developed a strong and sustainable agricultural economy based on irrigation. As David H. DeJong demonstrates, the Pima were an economic force in the mid-nineteenth century middle Gila River valley, producing food and fiber crops for western military expeditions and immigrants. As immigrants settled upstream from the Pima villages, they deprived the Indians of the water they needed to sustain their economy. DeJong traces federal, territorial, and state policies that ignored Pima water rights even though some policies appeared to encourage Indian agriculture. This is a particularly egregious example of a common story in the West: the flagrant local rejection of Supreme Court rulings that protected Indian water rights.
About Diverting the Gila:
Water was as vital to newcomers to Arizona’s Florence and Casa Grande valleys as it had always been to the Pima Indians, who had been successfully growing crops along the Gila River for generations when the white settlers moved in. Diverting the Gila explores the complex web of tension, distrust, and political maneuvering to divide and divert the scarce waters of the Gila River. Residents of Florence, Casa Grande, and the Pima Reservation fought for vital access to water rights. Into this political foray stepped Arizona’s freshman congressman Carl Hayden, who not only united the farming communities but also used Pima water deprivation to the advantage of Florence-Casa Grande and Upper Gila Valley growers.