Established in 1970, the museum charges no admission, but gratefully accepts donations. Its primary mission is education and sharing of culture. When I entered the exhibit hall, I first viewed and read a tribute to Ira Hayes, the Pima who was immortalized by his World War II service in Iwo Jima, the famous photograph taken of him along with other GI’s, and the song about him by Johnny Cash. Walking around looking at the exhibits, we found many beautiful and interesting items, some of them apparently quite rare. Among them, Pima harvest masks made of gourds. A basketry display includes a huge dried devil’s claw plant.
A surprising exhibit included here is a collection of photographs and documents from two Japanese “relocation” camps on the Gila River Reservation during World War II. In 1942, these camps were established on the reservation by the U.S. government without tribal permission. After 13,000 Japanese people had already been placed in the two camps, under pressure from the government tribal permission was given. A total of 16,000 people were to live in these interment camps until the end of the war.
Outdoors on 3 acres behind the museum lies the Gila Heritage Park. Storyboards and reconstructed shelters tell and show the history of the various peoples for whom the Gila River basin was home. Huhugam, Akimel O’odham, Pee Posh, Tohono O’odham, and Apache dwellings have been built each in their own style. You can walk around and even inside of the structures, as I frequently did for shelter when the wind began blowing dust in my eyes.
Besides the museum and heritage park, there is also a restaurant serving a full menu with favorite specialties such as frybread and burritos. A nice variety of handmade and other items are for sale in the gift shop adjacent to the museum.
Rodeo, New Mexico
April 13, 2004
From journal Casa Grande in April