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Papago Ward Fall Festival on Oct. 21 celebrates the 140th anniversary of church’s oldest Indian congregation

photo of Papago Ward Oct. 21 event
By Jill Adair | Digital Free Press

Celebrating its upcoming 140th anniversary, the Papago Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hosts a fall festival 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21. The building and grounds are located on 10 acres on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community near Scottsdale, at 2056 N. Extension Road.

SRPMIC borders the cities of Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe and Fountain Hills.

Admission is free as well as all food and activities. Lunch will be served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., which includes carnitas, fry bread, hot dogs, cotton candy and snow cones. There will be Native American crafts, miniature train rides, a corn hole challenge, animal petting, farm and gardens scavenger hunt and other games throughout the event.

The celebration will also introduce community members to the congregation’s historic farm and gardens.

The ward — a local congregation led by a bishop, which is the equivalent of a pastor in many other Christian denominations — was created in 1884, several years after Brigham Young had sent church members to the Salt River Valley where they founded the communities of Lehi and Mesa.

History relates that communication was a great obstacle between the pioneers and the Indians until they were helped in great measure by a part-Papago, part-Spanish man named Incarnacion Valenzuela. He was fluent in Spanish as well as the Pima and Papago languages and served as interpreter to the residents of the area.

When the Native American ward was created, it was named Papago Ward, although there were few Papagos in the area. History of this ward records that the name was chosen to honor this man, whom they referred to as “the Papago.”

The historic ward building was renovated and rededicated in 1997 by then Church President Gordon B. Hinckley. He noted the fact of the ward’s longevity in the dedicatory prayer, citing it as the “oldest, continuous Indian ward in the entire world” and that it is “unusual in this respect and in very deed remarkable.” He expressed gratitude for the “faith of all who have gone before.”

He also mentioned that his great uncle, Arza E. Hinckley, was on a mission in the area at the time and was called to be the ward’s first bishop.

President Darryl O. Reynolds, a counselor in the stake presidency of the Mesa Maricopa North Stake, which includes the modern-day Papago Ward, said the purpose of the event is to commemorate the history of the Papago Farm and Gardens — its past and future value to the community at large — and to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the Papago Ward and its significance locally and churchwide.

“We extend an invitation to any residents and members of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, the residents of the area near the Papago Farm and Gardens, members of the Mesa Maricopa North Stake, and all others interested in the cultural and historical significance of the farm.”

He added, “We extended a formal invitation to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC) President Martin Harvier and the SRPMIC Council, along with other community officials. We hope this event will continue to build on the relationship we have had with community members over the years.”

Brent Kellis, also a member of the larger Mesa Maricopa North Stake congregation, helps manage the farm and gardens. He calls them a “blessing” and a “unique resource” for the local community — where “all are welcome.”

The event is free and open to the public. The Papago Farm and Gardens are located on 10 acres on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community near Scottsdale, at 2056 N. Extension Road. (Photos: Mesa Maricopa North Stake/DigitalFreePress)

Papago Farm and Gardens include orchard, pasture, park, picnic area and ball court and fields

“The Papago Farm and Gardens, located at the Papago Ward building site, includes a number of facilities that provide opportunities for activities, service, and peaceful contemplation that exceed those found at a regular church facility,” he said.

The Papago Farm and Gardens include the following:

Orchard: Comprising the eastern three acres of the property, the orchard at the Papago Farm is home to more than 175 mature citrus trees, including navel and sweet oranges, tangelos, lemons, and grapefruit. Also included within the orchard are numerous peach trees, a few fig tree, pecan trees and a handful of pomegranate bushes. The trees are well-maintained by biweekly flood irrigation, regular fertilization, painting of the trunks for protection from sunburn, and seasonal pruning for maintenance, production, and health of the trees. The food is harvested and donated to the local community and food banks.

Pasture: The southeastern quarter of the property includes an open pasture enclosed by a chain-link fence that provides protection from predators common to the area around the farm. Currently, a herd of five ewes, one ram, and a growing number of lambs graze throughout the 2-acre main pasture. Two additional fenced areas are available for grazing, providing a total pasture area of 2½ acres. A chicken coop was added recently in a shady area.

Animals graze throughout the 2-acre main pasture. (Photos: Mesa Maricopa North Stake/DigitalFreePress)

Gardens: Three separate irrigated plots comprise a total garden area of nearly 6,000 square feet. With a growing season of more than 360 days per year, the gardens can include nearly every type of vegetable imaginable. Depending on the season, the Papago gardens feature tomatoes, peppers, squash of all types, onions, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, radishes, melons, corn, potatoes, and spinach. There is also plenty of space available for those who may not have enough room at their own home and wish to maintain their own garden plot at the farm. Recently, a greenhouse was added.

Park: This is located in a peaceful, shaded area just inside the main gate. It features two log benches and includes a barbeque and fire pit located within an area covered with wood chips for pleasant, dust-free walking and relaxation.

Picnic Area: This area is located just outside the main gate and 14 sturdy picnic tables are located under a full canopy within view of the pasture and its various animals. Overhead fluorescent fixtures provide lighting for nighttime events. Electrical outlets are available. A drinking fountain and water faucet are located at the ramada and restrooms are available in the nearby chapel. There is ample nearby parking, and an adjacent grass lawn provides a pleasant area for various field activities during picnics, parties, and other group events.

Ball Court and Field: A lighted, full-sized basketball and volleyball court is located just north of the parking lot. With regulation–size basketball standards on both the north and south end of the court and capability for setting up a mid-court volleyball net, the paved and striped court is ready for a pickup game among friends and family. Just east of the court is a 3/4-acre grass-covered field that is perfect for outdoor activities of all types.

“Just as the plants and animals at the farm are always growing and changing, the farm itself will continue to grow and change to meet the needs and wishes of stake and community members,” said Mr. Kellis. Some of the features that are in the works include beehives, other animals and an expanded pasture and orchard.

“We want to make this a beautiful area where people will want to come and enjoy how peaceful this is and to make it a place where people are comfortable to enjoy the place or harvest produce for their own use. It’s not just for members of our church; it’s for anyone who can benefit from this place.”

Aerial view of the Papago Ward building and grounds on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community near Scottsdale. (Photos: Mesa Maricopa North Stake/DigitalFreePress)
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