History & Culture
Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation is located within Maricopa County about twenty-three miles northeast of Phoenix. The desert landscape is contrasted by the Verde River, which flows north to south through the reservation. Thirty miles east of Fort McDowell, the Four Peaks rise from the desert floor to an elevation of more than 7,000 feet.
The community was created by Executive Order on September 15, 1903. The 40-square mile reservation is now home to 600 community members, while another 300 live off reservation. The reservation is a small parcel of land that formerly was the ancestral territory of the once nomadic Yavapai people, who hunted and gathered food in a vast area of Arizona's desert lowlands and mountainous Mogollon Rim country.
In recent years, Fort McDowell won two victories that
made history and reaffirmed its tribal sovereignty. In the early 1970's,
construction of the Orme Dam was proposed at the confluence of the Verde
and Salt rivers, a short distance from the reservation's southern border.
The project would have flooded the reservation and forced the community
from what remained of its ancestral homeland. With limited financial
resources, individuals from the community spearheaded an opposition
movement that rallied the support of fellow tribal members. Other Indian
tribes and non-Indian groups also opposed the dam.
By referendum in 1976, the community members voted 144 to 57against selling their land to the federal government for the dam site. Then on November 12, 1981, after consulting with the Fort McDowell Tribal Council and the Governor's Advisory Committee, Interior Secretary James Watt announced that Orme Dam would not be built. Each year, a tribal fair and rodeo is held to commemorate the event.
During the early 1990s, the several tribal casinos, including
Fort McDowell, were in operation in Arizona. In accordance with the
provisions of the federal 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the tribes
were waiting to sign gaming compacts with the state government. At the
time, however, the governor opposed Indian gaming and called upon the
U.S. Attorney's office for support. Unannounced raids by FBI agents
on five Indian casinos were ordered. At the first light of day on May
12, 1992, the agents invaded the Fort McDowell casino seizing the community's
349 gaming machines and loading them into moving trucks. Community members
witnessing the raid took immediate action. They called other community
members, tribal leaders and the news media. Soon, using every available
car, truck, and heavy machinery, a blockade of the casino's access road
was organized. The violence, a three-week standoff between tribe and
government ensued. The Arizona governor ultimately was persuaded to
sign a gaming compact with the tribe, thus paving the way for Indian
gaming in Arizona. May 12 is now a tribal holiday.
The reservation is governed by a Tribal Council elected by tribal members pursuant to the Tribe's Constitution. The Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation takes pride in its economic development and the expansion of direct services to meet the changing needs of all tribal members while at he same time preserving traditional values.