Q&A With the SRPMIC President
Au-Authm Action News spoke with Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community President Delbert Ray, Sr. at the beginning of the new year. Here’s what he had to say on various issues affecting the Community and plans for 2017.
President Delbert Ray, Sr.: Over the last two years I have observed and concluded our Community has become more corporate. As promised I will bring back our Community to a tribal government vs. a tribal corporation. We need to care of our Community but to do that I need our Community to take care of themselves. Whether spiritual or physically we have to go back to the old ways, where we looked after one another.
Au-Authm Action News: What are some of your goals for 2017 for the Community as SRPMIC President?
President Ray: One is to ensure that we are appropriately seeking to reduce the removal and placement of our children and encouraging reunification of children with their families. That’s been a big goal for many years. When I first came into office, there were close to 500 kids in placements. Today that number is about 300. For me, there is still work that needs to be done on this issue.
We are also working to strengthen our cultural values in addressing the social issues of our Community by instituting a “Circle of Elders.” People want to look to the cultural values that we have in the Community as a source for inspiration to find new ways try to deal with some of the social ills affecting the Community.
The year 2017 marks your third year as president. Which accomplishments are you most proud of?
President Ray: Continuing the legislative effort against the Tohono O’odham Nation’s leadership effort to operate a class III gaming facility in Glendale. We know they have wanted to build and operate a class III gaming facility in Glendale since 2009. However, many tribes and many communities never supported this effort because it is not consistent with the current state/tribal gaming policy. As a result, we have been able to hold them at bay and now Arizona Governor Doug Ducey is working with all tribes on a solution going forward.
I’m also proud of the way we’ve maintained supportive relationships with national, state and other tribal governments. These relationships were already in place when I was elected, but I knew eventually with the new [Donald Trump] administration there will be things that need to be aware of. You have to have things in place as far as the support of the local mayors, the governor and other leaders to try to stay in step with what’s going on at the national level that may or may not adversely affect us.
A lot of people didn’t like the way the 2016 elections turned out. This is what I say to them: Let’s turn the page. Let’s not get stuck on “Donald Trump this, Donald Trump that.” Let’s look at the processes. It is what it is. You either are going to stay home and pout or get into the game and get your work done. That is how I choose to handle things.
What type of relationship do you expect between the Community and the Trump Administration?
President Ray: We need to be watchful and be proactive with legislative efforts that are of greatest benefit for the SRPMIC. It’s not just about Salt River; it’s about all tribal nations. President Obama went to great lengths to create opportunities for tribes and for Native youth. Those things need to be protected, and then we need to build on that. We have a good leader in Brian Cladoosby (president of the National Congress of American Indians). He’s a very intelligent young man. He’s not afraid to sit down with President Trump and make some demands, because he’s representing 538 tribes. I have full respect for our [Native American] leaders [who are representing the interests of Indian tribes on a national level], but what do we do at the local level? For me, the plan is to be watchful and be proactive, at least for the first six months of this new administration.
I’m hopeful that [Trump] surrounds himself with people who understand the governmental processes that will help him move the nation along and not be disruptive. I know one of the biggest problematic issues at the national level is the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), because the Indian Health Care Improvement Act was a part of it. And the tribes are getting benefits from that, so we have to be protective of those provisions if Congress moves to repeal Obamacare.
What do you hope to accomplish in your remaining time as president?
President Ray: I would like to begin initiatives that reflect the “by the people, for the people” form of government. This would be in the areas of removal and placement of children, community policing by our law enforcement, employment for Community members, etc.
I’m satisfied with where I am right now, and I’m excited about being here because I can do a number of things. Right now it’s just about getting the time [to accomplish everything you want to]. There are just not enough hours to do things. You have to look at the whole picture, and that’s what I learned to do.
What can Community members look forward to in 2017?
President Ray: Community members can increase their participation in the process of Community government through attending upcoming town hall meetings and summits on issues that most affect our Community.
Right now it feels like I’m coming out of a big cloud and I can focus on the initiatives that can really help the people bring it back. I think it’s time to [act] on those initiatives, on why the people put me here. I am proposing in the next 60 to 90 days we will hold a town hall meeting and let the people speak on those issues that are most important to them.
I also want to work to redefine the roles and expectations of SRPMIC government staff members. We are spending money because we have the money to spend. I would like to roll that back. There was a day, there was a time when if we had a gathering, it was a potluck, not your P-Card and that is just for starters.