By Cacinda Maloney
If there is one thing you need to know about Arizona, it is that it is beautiful. Not Italy beautiful, but desert beautiful… beauty in its own way. The purple hue of the mountains against the colors of the desert make for a landscape all its own, one that reminds you of the past, the beauty of the people of the desert who lived here long before America as we know it today.
I had a chance to meet with Rosie Rivera, the cultural director of the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass, a resort in the Phoenix metroplex and she enlightened me the history of the Gila River Indian Community and how they have come together to try to help their people by hiring a management company (Sheraton) to run their resort for the Indian community.
I assume you didn’t realize that there were amazing resorts in the Phoenix metropolitan area that are owned by the Gila River Indian Community?
In fact, a teller at a near-by retail store, not more than 5 miles from an Indian reservation didn’t even know that at one time this land was filled with the Pima and Maricopa Indians. Ms Rivera told me about checking out at the counter of this retail store wearing a t-shirt that said “hello” in the Pima (O’odham language).
The teller asked her what her t-shirt said and she told him.
Then he replied, “That’s cool that you can speak a foreign language.”
In which she replied,
“It is not a foreign language, it is a native language, the native language of the people of this area.”
He told her he had never heard of them before.
She was quite shocked, but I know there are many who do not know the history of this area.
The Gila River Indian Community formed businesses that give back to their community, which supplies education, economic development and community necessities to its members. They hired Sheraton to run the resort, but they were there every step of the way to guarantee that their history would be told, from the name of the resort, Sheraton Wild Horse Pass, to the philosophy and décor, right down to the tile selection on the walls and the carpets on the floors.
The architecture, design, art and legends of the Akimel O’otham (Pima people) and Pee Posh (Maricopa people) are celebrated in every detail imaginable, indoors and out. It is designed to be an authentic representation of the Gila River Indian heritage and culture. They even offer a program to train their own community members here at the Wild Horse Pass to work. Today the Gila River Indian Community owns three casinos, golf courses, this resort, a western themed amusement park known as Rawhide, various other parks, landfills and a construction supply company.
I wanted to mention some features that make this hotel unique:
- The traditional native roundhouse (Olas’ki) design in the domed lobbies of the main resort, the golf clubhouse and the spa. The ceiling dome of the main lobby is surrounded by a mural of ten panels, each showing a different aspect of the culture: creation, elders, youth, games, Pima singers, hunting, Maricopa singers, basket weaving, pottery making, and gathering.
- The Pima basket patterns, especially that of the whirlwind, provide a multitude of design elements throughout the hotel.
- The fact that all the entrances to the resort, spa, and golf club face East. This is the tradition of the Pima and Maricopa people.
- Guest rooms showcase earth-based colors and natural elements such as cornices made from saguaro ribs. Design motifs appearing on the comforter, headboards, tiles, etc. in the Pima rooms reflect their basket arm forms. The Pima and Maricopa tribes are famous for their baskets and pottery, respectively.
- Rooms in the resort are split into two wings, celebrating each tribe’s art forms.
So next time, you think you are going to go to some beautiful resort in the desert to lay out by the pool and relax, look around, you may have no idea how this resort gives back to its community, but you are all a part of the plan! Which for me, makes going on vacation a whole lot easier!
What: Sheraton Wild Horse Pass (SWHP)
Where: Chandler, AZ, USA (Phoenix metropolitan area)
Tripadvisor Rating: #7 out of #28 hotels in Phoenix, AZ, USA
Awards: AAA Four Diamond; Forbes Recommended Hotel Category for 2014 and the only hotel named for this in Arizona in 2014
Kai Restaurant at SWHP: Recipient of the Coveted AAA Five Diamond award and Forbes Five-Star award
Aji Spa at SWHP: Forbes Four-Star award
Rooms: 500 culturally-themed rooms
Price Range: $281 -$1068, but this is dependent on season.
Disclosure: I was an invited guest at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass, although all the opinions expressed here are all my own.