From the start, tribesmen were taught how to farm, said Tamilyn Ameelyenah, an encore supporter who works on the reservation for a private Tempe-based home-care company.
“We live off the water. We ate fish. We grew our melons, our squash. We are the protectors of water,” Ameelyenah said.
Patch, the tribe’s president, agreed that culturally, water has always been a part of tribal life. But, “I also think we need to understand where we are now, with the development of three states in close proximity. We have to think about the long-term sustainable economic benefits for ourselves,” he said.
With Arizona expected to grow by 2 million people over the next few decades, “there’s no water for them unless they can make a deal with us for what we’re able to give them. provide,” Patch said. “In the preamble of the (tribal) constitution, it says that we must develop all the resources of the reservation for the benefit of our people.”
Until dams were built along the Colorado, the tribesmen lived on grain and produce grown along the river, supplemented by fish caught there and other foods harvested nearby. A Smithsonian Institution account from the early 1980s describes the undammed river: “Once an untamed torrent, the silt-laden Colorado was likely to overflow its banks in the spring of the year, swollen by melting snow from the Rockies.