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Tribal leaders (l-r): Chairman Louis Manuel, Ak-Chin Indian Community; President Russell Begaye, Navajo Nation; and President Delbert Ray, Sr., Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community unite at the Arizona State Capitol on Tuesday, January 19.
Tribal Leaders Continue to Advocate for Indian Country at Arizona State Capitol
By Sheila Begay
Au-Authm Action News

On Tuesday, January 19, the Arizona Commission of Indian Affairs hosted the 21st Annual Indian Nations and Tribes Legislative Day at the Arizona State Capitol in downtown Phoenix. Various tribal leaders from across Arizona were given the opportunity to remind the state of the importance of Arizona’s relationship with tribal communities.

Representatives attending from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community included President Delbert Ray, Sr., Council Member Tom Largo and Young River People’s Council President Dione Dallas.

In her first year attending this event, Dallas said, “I’m kind of nervous because it’s my first time here and I don’t know what to expect. But, it’s also exciting, because I think this is something that I want to do. I want to hear everyone’s ideas and opinions and take it back to my youth council and tell them what’s going on within the different tribes.”

The event kicked off at 10:30 a.m., when a Joint Protocol Session was held in the Arizona House of Representatives Gallery. Ira A. Hayes American Legion Post 84 posted the colors, and Taylor Susan, Miss Indian Arizona 2015-16, led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The invocation was given by President Ray and opening remarks were presented by Speaker of the House David Gowan and Senate President Andy Biggs.

“I want to welcome your valuable ideas and input. I’m confident by continuing our work together, we’ll find solutions to the issues facing us today,” said Gowan during his opening remarks. “The relationship between the State of Arizona, the tribes and the American Indians who live and work here is very important. It is my hope we can further build upon that relationship as time goes on.”

“As President Ray said in his invocation, which I thought was very [appropriate], he mentioned asking God for each of us to have a right heart, and that is so critical as we come together and we have entered what I would call improved relations and communications with the nations and tribes. I hope that it will continue to be an improving relationship. We value your participation,” said Biggs as he thanked everyone for being in attendance.

Featured speakers included Louis Manuel, Jr., chairman of the Ak-Chin Indian Community; Stephen Lewis, governor of the Gila River Indian Community; and Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation. Each speaker was given approximately 20 minutes to briefly mention some of the major issues within their tribes and Indian Country and to remind state leaders of their duties and relationships with Native communities.

The most common topics mentioned by the speakers were:

  • Water rights
  • Indian Child Welfare Act and child safety
  • Indian education, including scholarships
  • Human services
  • Public safety
  • Veterans’ issues
  • Relationships with neighboring communities and the State of Arizona
  • Tribal gaming
  • Keeping the Promise
  • Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway going through Gila River Indian Community sacred lands
  • Economic development
  • Renewable energy

“Today I am honored to speak before you. I will cherish this day and moment forever. I’m going to leave you with this: Today is a great day to stand together. Today moves forward regardless of our choices, but to choose to stand together makes our goals achievable,” said Manuel as he delivered his speech.

Lewis stated, “We have a choice: we can strengthfully move on by acting honorably and with integrity of fulfilling our commitment, or we can take many steps backwards … We must continue to progress. We must honor our relationships and stand by our promises. Of course, what unites our tribes and communities the most certainly transcends the big issues that arise. We have similarities and far too much in common, thousands of years of shared cultures, to let one issue, one conflict, keep us apart. Our shared commitment to service to defending this great country is just one example.”

Begaye stated, “We are resilient. Make no mistake about the fact that we are a nation. We have always been a nation centuries ago, and we will always be a nation centuries from now. We are a proud nation; we are not a program of the federal government; we are not minorities that have come from nations around the world; and we are not a Third World country. I want you to know that. We are rich in heritage, we are rich in culture, and we are a rich and proud nation. Don’t ever label us as a Third World country, because we are not that.” He received a standing ovation.

After the event, lunch was served on the Senate lawn. The program ended with an afternoon anti-bullying workshop with an introduction to the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study.

Visit http://azcia.gov/INTLD.asp for more information about Indian Nations and Tribes Legislative Day.

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