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The Rich Heritage of MVCS
The location of the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) traces its roots to the Hohokam, prehistoric Native Americans who lived and farmed along the Gila River Basin, centuries ago. These are the ancestors to today's O'odham-speaking peoples. Today, the community is the homeland for two distinct tribes, the Akimel O'odham and the Pee Posh (Maricopa). The Pee Posh, a Yuman band that migrated from the southern Colorado River area, became an ally of the O'odham. Together they banded against surrounding belligerents.
The Pee Posh established residence in a hamlet called Maricopa Colony, located in the westernmost part of the reservation. The two groups agreed that each would follow their own traditions and have a single council govern its affairs. For these reasons, the term “Gila River Indian Community” was coined.
The 373,3650-acre reservation, which lies south of Phoenix, Tempe, was formally established by Constitution in 1939. Tribal administration offices and departments are located in Sacaton, Arizona. This area was federally recognized in 1859, and it currently has a population of 16,500.
-The State of Indian Country Arizona | Volume 1 Arizona State University et.al., 2013. Adapted for the web.
The Native Maricopa
When the Spanish conquistadors first came into the Salt River Valley 400 years ago, they found a group of Indians living around the Gila Bend district who were peace-loving agriculturists, subsisting principally upon the products of the soil such as corn, squash, pumpkins, and beans, augmented by such wild roots, herbs and berries as they had learned to be healthful in their food cultivation.
Because of their unique clothing and bright body paint, the Spaniards who first saw them referred to them as "mariposas," or butterflies. The term as repeated by these Natives became "Maricopa," and is now the present tribe name.
-The Indian Missionary, Vol. IV, June 1942, No. 6. Adapted for the web.
Maricopa Mission School
In 1932, mission minded Seventh-day Adventists Elder and Mrs. Orno Follett of Scottsdale, AZ, came to the Maricopa mission field. They became acquainted with members of the Maricopa tribe and were invited to hold meetings at their reservation. They had wonderful attendance. Nearly all families on the reservation continued to come week after week, month after month. Quite a few were baptized and joined the Adventist Church.
In 1935, with cooperation of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, the Union and local conference, and of the Natives, construction was started for the first chapel on the reservation. Glad for the development, the Maricopa members began constantly petitioning the church leaders for a mission school where they could provide their children with Christian training.
Many Maricopa families attempted to send their children to the church school and academy in Phoenix, but this proved extremely difficult and expensive, and most were not able to continue doing so. Because of this, Professor A.C. Nelson gave a stirring lecture on the importance of Christian education at the Arizona Camp Meeting that summer. Families then asked how these church school advantages could be had in situations where they were not financially or logistically able to bear the burden of the expenses involved. Nelson replied that something could be done in this area if a teacher position was secured. The Union Conference was at the time short 25 teachers for the schools already established, so many wondered if it would be possible to find a teacher for an Indian Mission School in such a short time.
Immediately a search began, sending air-mail letters to every prospect possible, from California to Washington DC. The replies began to pour in:
"Interested, but already contracted."
"No teachers available here."
Then came a letter from G.B. Boswell of Stillwell, OK. A teacher of 16 years, with experience in public schools, church schools, and a number of years with the Lake Grove Indian Mission School for the Navajo, he would be a perfect fit. Also, Boswell had just sold the family home, disposed of their effects, and were ready to leave for California when the letter was received. Immediately he replied that they would come if called.
"I am anxious to get back in Indian work," his reply read. "If you would like to have us, we would be glad to teach the school for the Indians."
Boswell and his wife surely believed the Lord answered their prayers and led them to the Maricopa Mission School.
Once a teacher was secured, the Arizona Conference Committee gathered, passed their recommendation on to the Union, and the Union Conference Committee authorized the school and gave very substantial support. It was suggested that those among the patrons who are financially able would give support, and the Arizona Conference would co-operate. Elder Andross, president of the Arizona Conference, remarked that this process was rushed through the local conference in record time, quicker in action than any he had witnessed before on such a program. Surely God was leading.
-The Indian Missionary, Vol. V, Sept-Oct 1943, No. 6. Adapted for the web.
The school established by the mission in 1943 was called the Maricopa Mission School. Classes were conducted in the church chapel which was erected in 1936. A partition was created to allow for the school and church to operate in the same building. The school and church quickly outgrew the facilities, at which time three army barracks were purchased from the government in 1945 to serve as the schoolhouse, medical clinic, a large meeting place, community services room and a shop in which students could receive vocational training (carpentry, roofing, electrical).
Years later, the barracks were repurposed on the reservation for other uses and replace with mobile facilities. During that time, the Stahl family constructed a house on the grounds so they could live among the Native population. It was later used by a teacher as a schoolhouse.
In 1954 due to staffing constraints, the school's maximum enrollment reached 49 with a waiting list of 15. In the coming decades, supplies and funding were hard to come by, and the school suffered many closures during those times of staff turnover and funding shortages.
Reviving the Mission at the Millennia
But the school was dramatically blessed in the year 2000, when Steve Morris, a genuinely mission-minded Seventh-day Adventist pastor, revived the since-neglected school grounds through good old-fashioned hard work and perseverance.
He and his wife, Geneva, moved to the area without the intention to stay for long. They originally planned to move to the Philippines to start a private school that catered to the needs of the area. Those plans were soon reworked into establishing a private school in the Gila River Basin, as it didn’t take them long to observe the even greater need for such a thing right there, “literally in their own backyard.”
With many of the Maricopa families unemployed or disabled, education options were few, and the district public schools were often observed to operate lacking sufficient discipline for the students, and kids even complained of violence.
“My kids would come home from school saying people wanted to fight them,” shared one Maricopan father of seven, Travis Mercado (quoted from "Reservation School is Reborn at Local Church" in the Arizona Republic, Aug. 12, 2001, by Elizabeth Neuse).
Morris had substitute taught in that very school that Mercado’s children attended, and confirmed that kids demonstrated a rather serious lack of self-control, and classes were often “chaotic.”
The Morris’ made it their mission to build up the school, as well as the local congregation that acted as its supporting organization.
As the church slowly grew, Morris’ sons, along with an adopted family member of a local out-of-work machinist, transformed a donated trailer into a functioning school building. Wells Fargo Bank donated 11 computers, and Morris gathered a coupe thousand books to stock the library. Morris’ determination to meet the needs of the Maricopa community fueled the fire for the ongoing work.
Since that time miracle after miracle has sustained the school and it remains a strong ministry to the Gila River Indian Community with a current enrollement of 10 and a capacity of 14. It is fully accredited by the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists Commission on Accreditation of the Accrediting Association of Seventh-day Adventist Schools, Colleges and Universities (NADCAAA), and serves K-8 education for Native American students.
The school stands strong with its rich, deep history with most families in the districts of the reservation it serves. Multiple generations have passed through MVCS' comprehensive curriculum and are eager for their own children to experience the blessing of a private, Christian education. With additional resources, MVCS' goal is to expand its current enrollment capacity up to 14 to accept all children desiring this blessing.
To learn more about the history of the school visit our Articles Archive or to learn more on how you can support the ongoing ministry of Maricopa Village Christian School, visit our Support page.