As Lemuel Vincent sits in his office, reflecting, he is astounded by the growth and reach of the Ak-Chin Indian Community, of which he is vice chairman.
Last month, the community was among four major partners with the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, gaining incalculable exposure from the game in Glendale and from several ancillary activities. Ak-Chin believes that will be beneficial to its economic development. It bases its belief on partnering with two previous Super Bowls hosted in the Valley.
Host Committee officials, in turn, say the partnership elevated the Super Bowl because Ak-Chin shares its vision of delivering a premiere experience and creating lasting social and economic impact across local communities.
“Sitting in my office at times, thinking of everything in my past to now — starting in farming in a cotton field, to where I am as vice chairman of our community — I would never envision this,” Vincent said.
“The same is true of the community itself, how far we have come. We’re not a large community, but we’ve done large things, great things. It’s just a process instilled by past leaders of our community, that paved the way for what we have today. Now we pave it for the next generation that’s going to run the community. It’s a process.”
The community has a rich agrarian history. Vincent’s family was farmers. He worked in the fields as a boy and later farmed himself.
“Ak-Chin” is an O’odham word that means “mouth of the wash” or “place where the wash loses itself in the sand or ground,” the Vekol Wash being vital to irrigating fields in the community’s early days. Ak-Chin is among the smallest of the 22 tribal nations in Arizona, with a population of 1,123 on 22,000 acres. Of that land, 16,000 acres remain farmland today.
“So, I know what it’s like to work out there,” Vincent said. “I was probably 12 years old in the eighth grade when I learned how to drive a tractor. When I was younger, I’d go out in the fields with my mom to pick weeds off the cotton. It was a way to earn money.”
Vincent, 53, is the youngest of 10 kids. One brother designed the Ak-Chin Community seal. Another designed the logo for Ak-Chin’s annual birthday celebration, Masik Tas. Multiple siblings have served on the Tribal Council and held other leadership positions in the community.
“Being a small community, most of us are related in one way or another. It was special being part of that community growing up,” Vincent said. “We’re still a farming community. We still identify ourselves with agriculture.”
The community’s partnership with Lay’s Potato Chips to grow potatoes reflects how farming pays off. Ak-Chin also grows pecans, hay, barley, alfalfa and corn that are shipped all over the world. That generates resources for the community.
But, as Vincent said, Ak-Chin has grown in other ways economically.
Gaming compacts with the state spurred the arrival of Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino Resort, changing the face of the community and opening more economic doors.
Ak-Chin’s continuing connection with the Super Bowl gives the community exposure on a much larger stage.
“To me, personally, us being native indigenous people, I never thought we’d have the things we have now as far as economic development that make the community grow,” Vincent said.
“It makes me proud to be a member of this community because of the hard work we have put in to make it come this far.”