A Brief History:|
The San Xavier District (SXD) is one of eleven political subdivisions of
the Tohono O’odham Nation. It lies approximately 10 miles south of downtown
Tucson, AZ and contains nearly 72,000 acres of Sonoran desert, including a
stretch of the ephemeral Santa Cruz River. Its population is approximately
1800. This area is a traditional homeland of the Tohono O’odham (Desert
People); their ancestors, the Hohokam, lived here over 10,000 years ago. The
community is also known as Wa:k, and its people, as the Wa:k O’odham.
The SXD government has evolved from an informal decision-making body to
a complex organization. It was formally established in 1937, shortly after
the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). At that time,
the Tohono O’odham Nation was known as the Papago Tribe. The IRA led to the
creation of the Tribe’s constitution and official recognition of its 11
districts. At the time, SXD government consisted only of a Council made up
of 11 male elder volunteers. They made decisions for the community and
organized community events such as feasts and cattle round-ups. There were
no revenues to fund provision of services. The Bureau of Indian Affairs
(BIA) provided services such as police and schooling to the community. The
BIA was, and still is, based in Sells, approximately 60 miles west of San
Xavier. In the first half of the 20th century, this distance was enough to
hinder the Wa:k O’odham in attempts to access BIA services.
came in 1968, with the passing of the Indian Self-Determination Act (P.L.
93-638). Under this law tribes could (and still can) petition to take over a
service or program provided by a federal agency. If the request is approved,
the money for the contracted program goes directly to the tribe, bypassing
the federal agency. This allows the tribe to provide the program or service
directly to its people, rather than relying on the federal agency.
The 638 process increased revenue available to the Tohono O’odham and
allowed Districts some additional autonomy. In the late 1970s, the tribe
began its Papago Bingo enterprise, which further increased revenue. At this
time, District Chairman became a paid position, and SXD began to allow women
to participate on the District Council. The Council and Chairman acted
primarily as liaisons between the community, the BIA, and the central tribal
government in Sells.
In the early 1980s, the tribe expanded its
gaming operations, building the first Desert Diamond Casino on the San
Xavier District. (A second casino, the Desert Diamond II, followed in 2001.)
The expansion of gaming revenues has allowed SXD to steadily increase
services and facilities provided for its community members. In the early
1980s, the District government assisted the San Xavier Cooperative
Association in obtaining a lease for farmland, and is now coordinating and
facilitating rehabilitation and expansion of the Cooperative Farm. A
community center was built in 1986 and operates as a venue for community
meetings and celebrations. An Elder Center was built in 1996 and serves as
the location for congregate feedings of seniors, social activities for them,
and other events.
Over the past twenty years, the District government
has grown to 80 employees in fourteen departments providing services such as
education, health and wellness, elder care, protection of natural and
cultural resources, and many others. The District is a prime example of
tribal self-determination in action. 69% of staff members are registered
members of SXD, an additional 9% are Tohono O’odham from other Districts, 9
% are from other tribes, and only 13% are non-Indian.
the two Desert Diamond casinos fund the Nation’s programs and central
government, as well as providing financial resources to all eleven
Districts. This leaves little reserve for facility and capital expenditures
and other major projects. SXD is now developing grants and economic
development programs that will bring additional resources into the
community, bridging this funding gap.
The Present- Mission & Priorities
The mission of SXD is to promote self-determination and provide a legacy
for future generations by guiding, leading, and supporting the community in
the protection and preservation of the land, water, air, culture,
traditions, knowledge, language, and vitality of community. Although this
mission has not changed over time, the ways in which SXD approaches its
mission have expanded over the years.
SXD meets many societal needs,
including housing, education, environmental and cultural resource
protection, law enforcement, health and wellness, and elder care. Clients
for all of these services are the enrolled tribal members of the San Xavier
community. Ages range from infant to senior, and most clients served are low
to very-low income. With fourteen departments, there are many priorities.
These can be divided into the clusters of land and natural resources,
community and economic development, human resources, and governance. Under
land and natural resources, priorities can be broken down into the specific
areas of water resources, mineral resources, agriculture, rangelands, and
environmental quality. Priority areas for water resources include developing
a water management plan and researching large-scale groundwater recharge
within the District. Mineral resource priorities focus on assuring ASARCO
compliance with federal reclamation and lease requirements as it begins the
shutdown process for its San Xavier Copper Mine. Under agriculture, the
District holds the priority of assisting the San Xavier Cooperative
Association with their rehabilitation and expansion of the Coop Farm.
Rangeland priorities focus on developing a Range Management Plan.
For community and economic development, priority areas include housing,
transportation, public facilities, and community and industrial development.
The Housing program has a waiting list of over 100 households need of major
repairs before they will comply with building codes, and reducing this
waiting list is a high priority. The key transportation priority is road
repair. There is a pressing need for paved roads within SXD; the vast
majority of homes are accessible only via dirt roads that are in poor repair
and are nearly impassable during summer rains.
infrastructure development are important priorities because the District
recognizes that, over the long run, simply delivering services is not an
effective way to increase the quality of life within the community. Rather,
community members must have opportunities for business development and
employment if they are to make permanent strides toward self-sufficiency.
Therefore, building infrastructure and creating an environment in which new
businesses can flourish is a high priority.
For Human Resources,
priority areas include education, health, cultural resources, social
services, and employment and training. Under education, main concerns
include supporting youth who are currently in school, helping youth who have
dropped out return to school, increasing the community’s perception of the
value of education, and preserving traditional knowledge through free
language and culture classes. Long-term priorities include expanding the
Education Center, to allow for more educational programs for community.
Under health, precedence is given to prevention programs for youth and
to elder care programs. The latter focus on helping San Xavier elders remain
in their own homes while maintaining social interaction, health, safety, and
a good quality of life. Prevention programs focus on helping youth stay in
school and stay away from drugs and alcohol. A key goal in this area is the
construction of a recreation center where community members will engage in
activities such as fitness and nutrition classes, after-school recreation
and team sports. Other human resource priorities include expanding violence
and abuse prevention programs, increasing opportunities for youth to gain
work experience, and helping more Tohono O’odham become certified teachers.
Finally, in the area of governance, the District’s top priority is
to ensure it is an efficient, professional government organization. This
priority includes the San Xavier District Council, the elected body that
makes and/or oversees policy decisions for the District. Governance
priorities also include a new District administration building that will
allow all programs to be centralized. This new building will make District
operations more efficient and will improve the working conditions of
District employees, reducing turnover and further increasing effectiveness.
It is discussed in more detail below.
Finally, governance priorities
include advocating for residents in the face of accelerated growth in the
nearby communities of Tucson, South Tucson, and Sahuarita. This growth has
increased trespassing, encroachment, and development in and near the
District. The District government puts great importance on assuring it has a
place at the table when nearby municipalities discuss growth, resource use,
pollution, and other trans-border issues.
The Present- Current Needs
Most of the District’s current needs stem from the fact that demand for
services is growing at a rate that outstrips growth of the organization.
Arizona is one of the fastest growing states in the U.S. As the populations
of SXD and surrounding municipalities increase, there are more SXD neighbors
trespassing on the District and harming cultural and natural resources; more
seniors in need of meals; more homeowners calling for assistance to bring
their homes up to code; and more youth requiring academic and emotional
Needs are felt most acutely at the staffing and facility
levels. District operations are currently housed in trailers dating from the
late 1970s and early 1980s. These trailers are in very poor condition. The
electrical systems within them cannot handle modern office equipment such as
computers, fax machines, and copiers. Power outages occur frequently. The
overloading of most trailers’ electrical systems raises the very real
possibility of fire, leading to loss of irreplaceable government records and
possible loss of life. The trailers leak during storms, and files and office
equipment have been damaged by rain. The trailers do not comply with the
In addition, these trailers are at full capacity; there is no
open office space within them. There is no extra land to house new trailers.
This lack of space prevents the hiring of additional staff members needed to
meet increasing demand for services in the community. There is an urgent
need for a new District administration building that will centralize all
departments, increase available office space, and improve working
SXD’s mission to guide, lead, and support the
community, providing a legacy for future generations, has not changed since
operations began, and will not change in the future. However, the
environment in which this mission is carried out is constantly changing, and
will provide impetus for changes in District operations over the next 5-10
years. The District population, as well as the population of surrounding
jurisdictions, will continue to grow, further increasing demand for social
services and protection of resources. The provision of services and
stewardship of resources will also become more complex, as the District
continues to increase its presence and successfully meets its goal of having
a place at the table when decisions affecting its people are made.
SXD’s commitment to meeting basic societal needs of education, health and
wellness, housing, senior care and protection of cultural and natural
resources will not change. That commitment is expanding to include the need
for economic development and generating sustainable revenue streams within
the community, improving employment and quality of life for residents. This
expansion will continue over the next 5-10 years, as the District oversees
and coordinates the incubation of new businesses and employment
opportunities within its boundaries, and further develops its grants
program. The District envisions increasing revenues enough to allow costly
infrastructure projects such as road improvements. Within the next 5-10
years, we will expand our services and efforts to result in a significant,
sustainable increase in autonomy and quality of life for members of the Wa:k