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SRPMIC Hosts Four Tribes’ Meeting at New Justice Center

Tribal leaders from Arizona's four O'odham tribes, including the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, gather for a Four Tribes' meeting on June 24 in the Community's new Justice Center. Multiple topics were discussed and updates from each Community were shared at the meeting, which included a tour of the building. About 25 people attended the Saturday morning meeting.

The new Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Justice Center was showcased for Arizona’s three other O’odham tribes in June.

The Community hosted the Four Tribes’ Meeting on June 24. Leaders from the Ak-Chin Indian Community, Tohono O’odham Nation and Gila River Indian Community joined SRPMIC President Delbert W. Ray, Sr., Council members Thomas Largo and Archie Kashoya, and others at the Justice Center for a Saturday-morning gathering.

The special meeting rotates among the four tribal communities and gives tribal leaders the opportunity to share important issues and updates that affect their community. Tribal legislative changes over the last year were also shared.

SRPMIC Chief Judge Ryan Andrews gave a welcome address and helped lead tours of the new Justice Center, which is set to open to the Community later this year. It held a sneak peek in the spring.

“I’m very proud of what we have here. We are going to do some great things in this building,” said President Ray, who led the roughly three-hour meeting, which included a continental breakfast and lunch.

Besides sharing info on the new building, Andrews provided a brief synopsis of the tribal court advocacy program, an SRPMIC partnership with Scottsdale Community College. The program graduated its first class in May.

Ak-Chin Indian Community Vice-Chairman Gabriel Lopez shared community-related updates and news on July’s Native American Basketball Invitational. Ak-Chin hosts the tournament in Maricopa.

“In the past, we were hearing that because of teams [having to cross] the Valley, they weren’t making some of the times and [were] forfeiting games,” Lopez said. “Hopefully, [holding the games in the Maricopa area] will work out. We made some arrangements for some of the teams to come visit our elders and elder center.”

Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Edward Manuel shared information about crossing the Mexican border. Bonnie Arellano, U.S. Customs and Border Protection supervisory board security program manager and tribal liaison, assisted Manuel and answered questions.

“I think we counted about 6,000 O’odham that end up over there (in Mexico), not just Tohono O’odham, but (from) the Four Tribes,” Manuel said. “One of the problems we had some years ago, … there was word that came out from Mexico that we had to have our passports [to cross the border], and so we had to deal with the Mexican government and they finally agreed that they would accept our enrollment cards. We have been working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection on this side so they can continue to [accept] our enrollment cards.” (For more on border crossing, see the sidebar.)

Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen R. Lewis and Lt. Governor Monica Lynn Antone shared information on an Indian Child Welfare Act case setback and the Loop 202 South Mountain controversy.

“The state Supreme Court, they said that after termination of parental rights occurs, tribes aren’t able to tend to those cases in tribal court,” Lewis said. “The Community, our leadership with our legal team, we are still in the process of deciding if we want to move this forward, do we want to appeal this. If we appeal this to the U.S. Supreme Court, with the recent Trump appointee to the Supreme Court (Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch), that really puts the court more in a conservative approach and philosophy. Historically, what we’ve seen is that that’s gone against tribal sovereignty.”

Representatives from each tribal community also provided a cultural working group update.

As part of President Ray’s agenda items, Nathan Pryor, government relations manager for the Maricopa Association of Governments, presented information regarding a statewide expansion of the Border Crossing Card zone and how it would benefit Arizona tribes. He asked for support and to reach out to Arizona’s elected officials.

The current zone is limited to 75 miles for short-term visitors from Mexico—basically to the Tucson area via ports of entry, Pryor said. If the zone is expanded through legislation, visitors from Mexico could travel farther into Arizona and generate up to $181 million in annual estimated spending.

“There’s a growing middle class in Mexico, cash in hand, spending money. We would like to have a statewide expansion (of the Border Crossing Card zone) and let people come farther north to the Grand Canyon, casinos and ballparks,” Pryor said.


Tips on Crossing the U.S./Mexico Border with Tribal IDs

One of the topics discussed at the Four Tribes’ meeting in June was border crossing to and from Mexico for tribal members.

Crossing the border can be a complicated, lengthy and confusing process for Native Americans, but Bonnie Arellano is trying to make it as smooth as possible.

Arellano grew up on the Navajo Nation. She’s the supervisory board security program manager and tribal liaison for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Based in the Tucson Field Office, she is available via phone or email to answer questions.

As long as they are also U.S. citizens, members of federally recognized tribes in the U.S. can use tribal identification cards at land ports of entry around the country.

Tribal IDs do not have to carry Enhanced Tribal Identification (ETC), though the federal government is steering tribal nations toward that route for improved security, Arellano said. A spike in tribal ID fraud is an issue that border security faces, she said.

Currently, non-ETC cards are not Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, but federally recognized tribes were granted a waiver. As part of federal law, officers monitoring the border will ask your citizenship to clarify where you were born.

Arellano can be reached at (520) 407-2355 or For more information related to crossing the border, visit