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
This economic vitality did not last, however. 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. With plentiful maps, tables, and illustrations, DeJong demonstrates that maintaining the spreading farms and growing towns of the increasingly white population led Congress and other government agencies to willfully deny Pimas their water rights.
Had their rights been protected, DeJong argues, Pimas would have had an economy rivaling the local and national economies of the time. Instead of succeeding, the Pima were reduced to cycles of poverty, their lives destroyed by greed and disrespect for the law, as well as legal decisions made for personal gain.
About David H. DeJong
David H. DeJong holds MA and PhD degrees in American Indian Policy Studies from the University of Arizona. Having written dozens of articles and two books dealing with federal Indian policy, DeJong is currently the Project Manager of the Pima-Maricopa Irrigation Project, a construction project funded by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and designed to deliver water--from the Central Arizona Project, the Gila River, and other settlements--to the Gila River Indian Reservation.