The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Fourth of July event was not only a time for people to celebrate and acknowledge the veterans in their Community, but also a time to remember the ancestors who fought to retain the area we now call home.
“We fought the Spanish, we fought to stay in place here against different tribes, and we fought against the white people to stay here within this area,” said Ricardo Leonard, a member of the American Legion Salt River Bushmasters Post 114 and the SRPMIC Tribal Council, as he welcomed the Community to the Fourth of July Celebration.
“There is a story that goes we could have almost ended up in Oklahoma, but because of a rainy evening when the trains couldn’t run, we gave up on going.
These are our ancestral lands; we used to come from Gila River across the river to gather and hunt and those types of things. I want you to go out today and thank those veterans that you see out there, shake their hands, and also remember with a good heart a lot of your family members were warriors, a lot of them did what needed to be done.”
During Leonard’s welcome address, he encouraged Community members to become informed about government and vote in the coming presidential election. “When watching the news, look at the things that are happening out there; when [President] Obama and the Supreme Court are making decisions and you’re complaining about these things but not voting, then you really don’t have a voice.
“You need to go out there and you need to vote. As an Indian nation, here in Salt River we have a population of almost 10,000. Those votes can go a long way. We have the strength, and we can be stronger, and together we can make a change,” said Leonard.
The American Legion post recognized three Community veterans, Edward “Pacer” Reina, Tsosie Wood and Alvin Lewis, with plaques expressing gratitude and deep appreciation for their faithful and valuable service to the Community and its veterans.
“We post colors for the deceased; we make sure each veteran has a proper ceremony when they pass on,” said Leonard. He also explained that veterans not only support each other, but they also need support from non-veterans and Community members as well. Leonard then presented Yvonne Schaaf with a Pendleton blanket as a token of appreciation for her help with the Community’s veterans-related events. “She has been very instrumental in our Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day and Fourth of July programs. I hope we can work together for years to come and do these types of things,” he said.
Following the opening program, families enjoyed playing games such as a watermelon-eating contest, a water-balloon toss and bubblegum-blowing contest. Families were treated to a free hot dog meal from Ernie’s Catering, they could support the Salt River High School girls basketball team by purchasing an Indian taco, and they could purchase a treat from the Italian ice cart.
Everyone enjoyed live music from The Rez Band until the main event, a spectacular fireworks show, which ended the night.