While attending the recent (March 7-10, 2017) Family Motor Coach Association’s 95th International Convention at Rawhide Western Town & Event Center in Chandler, Arizona, we visited the Huhugam Heritage Center operated by the Gila River Indian Community located several miles south of Rawhide Western Town on Maricopa Road.
This modern cultural center highlights the ancestral, historic, and current cultures of the Gila River Indian Community, made up of two tribes—the Akimel O’otham and the Pee Posh. Their mission is to ensure the Akimel O’otham and Pee Posh cultures flourish for future generations.
The Huhugam Heritage Center was built in 2003, fulfilling the Community vision to create a place for Community, culture, land, tradition, and spirit: a place to honor and preserve their Him dak (our way of life).
Driving and entering from the west we observed building forms rising out of the land—rising and falling like the nearby hills and mountains. An unique and calming architecture, the Center stair-steps up out of the desert, the building silhouettes designed to blend in with the nearby mountain ranges and hills.
The large circular earthen berm entry represents a large pottery sherd or olla sticking out of the earth, honoring the pottery tradition of the Huhugam and Pee Posh. The inner berm wall of stepped river rock is representative of the terraced farming tradition still used today at Gila River Farms.
The fountain’s babbling flow represents the artesian springs that once existed in the Gila Valley and the great respect their people have for water.
The ball court and amphitheater is a Community space patterned after the pit ball courts used by the Huhugam. Today it is used for celebrations, traditional dances, games, and performances.
The Great House museum gallery evokes in form and scale Sivan Vah Kih (Casa Grande Ruins). From the overlook we observed the surrounding mountains. The timber beams representing the beams used in the construction of Sivan Vah Kih were cut from the Coronado National Forest in the Santa Catalina mountain range near Tucson. After cutting, the timber beams had to be carried more than seventy miles to the construction site.
The metal trellised vahtos, or shade arbors, are patterned after the traditional shade structures still being used by the Akimel O’otham and Pee Posh. The weave pattern is reminiscent of the utilititarian textiles manufactured by the Huhugam, which are also still being practiced today.
The walkways also serve as space for art and food markets, and outdoor dining during special events. The large rounded glass viewing courtyard offers a peek into the curation and education offices and a curation workspace.
In a state-of-the-art collections repository the Center cares for Huhugam, Akimel O’otham, and Pee Posh treasures from their ancestral lands boundaries of the Huhugam (also known by the archaeological name Hohokam), master artists, farmers, and crafts people of their desert home.
Collections include large archaeological project holdings—the Snaketown, Gila River Cultural Resources Management Program, and Bureau of Reclamation Central Arizona Project Collections—an outstanding collection of nearly 500 O’odham baskets, an exquisite Pee Posh pottery collection, the trombone and memorabilia of renowned Akimel O’otham jazz trombonist Russell Moore, and the Blackwater Store & Trading Post and Arts and Crafts museum collections.
In the Ancestral Lands exhibit we viewed the master work of Huhugam ancestors pottery, jewelry, carved stone bowls, and tools. A basket exhibit featuring baskets from the Breazeale Basket collection and Pee Posh pottery from the collections are also on view. A veterans exhibit in the Archives reading room was curated by Community Veterans.
Huhugam Heritage Center is open from ten in the morning until four in the afternoon, Wednesday through Friday. Admission is free to Native Americans and children aged twelve and under. The rates of admission for adults are $6 and $4 for seniors or students.
Anyone in the Chandler area with an interest in ancient cultures should make it a point to stop by the facility.
—Sap eth tha: thak em ñei (We are happy to see you)