The Arizona Commission of Indian Affairs hosted the 20th Annual Indian Nations and Tribes Legislative Day on Tuesday, January 20, at a joint session with the Arizona State Senate. This was a time for tribal leaders to speak directly with members of the Arizona Legislature on issues facing tribal communities. Attendees included representatives from the majority of Arizona’s tribes, including the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC).
Legislative Day provides key tribal leadership a platform to speak directly to elected officials of the State of Arizona. A session of this caliber reflects the importance of the relationship with the state that American Indians have established, continue to maintain, and utilize to ensure tribal sovereignty is foremost in the mind. The concept of a joint session with tribal leaders and state representatives was created in 1953 to help facilitate communication between the state and tribal communities.
The agenda was packed with presentations, comments and introductions of tribal leaders to the legislature and audience. At the joint protocol session, members of the Whiteriver American Legion Post #60 posted the colors and Miss Indian Arizona Shasta Dazen led the pledge of allegiance. SRPMIC Council Member Ricardo Leonard provided an invocation/blessing to the full assembly. He sang a traditional O’odham song for the occasion.
In attendance for SRPMIC at the event were Vice-President Martin Harvier; Council Members Jenelle Howard, Tom Largo Sr., Archie Kashoya, Michael Dallas, Sr. and David Antone; along with many youth from the Community and SRPMIC staff members who helped facilitate portions of the sessions.
Opening remarks were made by Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs, and Speaker of the House David Gowan welcomed the tribal leadership.
Selected tribal leaders were featured speakers at the event. This year, the tribal leadership speakers were Chairwoman Sherry Counts of the Hualapai Nation, Chairman Herman Honanie of the Hopi Tribe, and Chairman Thomas Beauty of the Yavapai-Apache Nation. Each tribal leader was given the spotlight to emphasize important issues and concerns of the tribes.
Remarks of Yavapai-Apache Nation Chairman Thomas Beauty
Beauty emphasized key points by stating, “… This Legislative Day offers us the opportunity to focus on the relationship between Arizona state government and the 22 tribal governments located throughout the state … Whether members of state legislatures or members of various tribal councils, we have been given the responsibility of representing our various communities … We struggle to balance human needs with limited resources … As tribal leaders, we appreciate the progress made over the years…. We think about the relationship with the state [and understand] the differences, the things that set us apart as separate sovereigns … Our reservations [are] a smaller version of our historic homelands; these are the lands where we live and choose to raise our families, earn our livings, educate our children, build our economies, practice our cultures and traditions, and live out our lives according to what we wish … We must build an understanding of respect [between the state and tribal communities].”
He stressed, “Indian people love freedom and self-government. Self-determination is at the heart of Indian Country, just as it is at the heart of our great democracy … Like you [members of the Arizona Legislature], we believe the most important freedom we possess is the freedom to make choices every day on how we will live and what we will become—it is the freedom which offers us our most important opportunities and our most important common ground. This mutual respect must be a guiding principle and a cornerstone of our relationship. Both the state of Arizona and tribal governments must understand that we are interconnected in many ways … that the success of one cannot be completed without the success of another.”
Chairman Beauty commented, “Despite some economic success of some tribes, many tribal economies remain in a state of underdevelopment.” He listed a number of areas on which the Arizona Legislature could focus to help the overall state economy, such as continuing to fund business and development training for all people, supporting [budget needs] for infrastructure improvements on reservations and local communities, and exploring with tribes ways of eliminating or minimizing the impact of dual taxation that takes place on reservations and puts a disproportionate share of reservation taxes into the state treasury, with little or no return benefits to the tribe.”
Beauty implored, “Economic development for tribes is economic development for the state.” He highlighted, along with the other tribal leaders who spoke, the emphasis that the single most impactful factor on any economy is education, especially on the lives of Native Americans. “The growth of any economy is the power of education. Education empowers people to thoughtfully and responsibly make their life choices. Education allows each of us to take up a productive place in the workforce.”
He added, “Unfortunately, Arizona has room for improvement in academic achievement … Preschool attendance is a significant predictor for future academic success … Regrettably, Arizona ranks almost dead last nationally, just behind Nevada, in the percentage of children in preschool … As reported by the Arizona Republic in July 2014, Arizona ranks 46th nationally for child well-being, with 27 percent of Arizona’s children living in poverty. According to Cronkite News [of the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication], the overall poverty rate of Arizona is 18.6 percent, well above the national average. The poverty rate for Arizona Indian people is a dismal and discouraging 38.6 percent; it becomes even more difficult for our children to advance toward educational achievement.”
He continued, “The cure for poverty is economic opportunity. The key to economic opportunity is education. The Karl Eller School of Management at the University of Arizona reported in 2014 that in order to fix these economic problems, Arizona must focus on improving its K-12 educational system and provide better access to higher education to all students. [The audience offered a loud round of applause.] While we cannot control the desire of individuals to obtain education, we can control the extent to which educational opportunities are available to those who seek them. We encourage the legislature to make improving Arizona’s education system priority no. 1.” [Again, a loud and long applause from the audience gallery]
Chairman Beauty also expounded on the importance of the expansion of AHCCCS (Arizona’s healthcare system for low income individuals) to cover the poorest citizens, a service that provides coverage for more than 300,000 Arizonans, thousands of whom are tribal members; the importance of water to our state, and fully understanding the growing disparity between supply and demand; as well as, how access to water sources affects many tribes, … especially the impact of the legal water rights approaches being developed, settlements implemented, and many settlements that have not been addressed to meet the demands of water supplies for all Arizonans, tribal communities and others.
A key request made was the need for the state to fully fund the Arizona Department of Water Resources, so it can carry out its duties to manage Arizona’s water resources, and to see tribes as real stakeholders in processes as it addresses the planning and development of Arizona’s water usage.
In his closing statement, Beauty said, “Everything we do as leaders must be aimed at contributing to the prosperity of our communities; each day must be dedicated to improving ourselves, and the lives of those that we serve … The ultimate result will enrich our lives, our communities, the State of Arizona, and indeed the entire country that we all love. Our ultimate destiny has always been and will always will be a shared destiny [community and people focused], because after all, we are all Arizonans.”
Emphasis on Wellness and Public Safety
The afternoon program included two separate informational sessions that focused on health and wellness topics. One session topic, “Culturally Sensitive Suicide Prevention for Youth,” included a number of professionals who work in fields that address suicide, such as tribal behavioral-health entities, the U.S. Public Health Service, Morning Star Leadership Foundation and more.
The second session, a youth-focused program titled “Native Youth Know (NYK) Forum,” was geared to improve the quality of life of tribes by improving public safety. Many youth participated in this session, including active participation by SRPMIC youth. The session was facilitated by Jacob Moore from the Office of Tribal Relations at Arizona State University. Presenter Waylon Pahona, founder of Healthy Active Natives (NAN) and a tribal member from Arizona, gave a compelling presentation on the unhealthy habits and actions he engaged in prior to making positive and healthy changes in his life. The youth had an opportunity to hear from newly elected Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich on his priorities for the state. The participating youth engaged in an interactive forum that gave them opportunity to provide their ideas and comments on how to address public-safety challenges, such as drug use and trafficking, violence, harassment and other quality-of-life issues.
The event brought out a variety of participants, as the attendance included tribal leaders, school children who are potential tribal leaders, and many visitors who are interested and value relations with Indian Nations and tribes.
Prior to the afternoon sessions and during the lunch break, everyone had the opportunity to visit various informational booths located out on the lawn, which included the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual & Domestic Violence, the Arizona Office of Tourism, the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute and Blue Stone Strategy Group, to name a few.