Elected officials and tribal representatives from different Arizona tribes gathered for a joint protocol session in the Arizona Senate chambers on February 5 for the 18th Annual Indian Nations and Tribes Legislative Day. This event is designed to celebrate the cultural vibrancy of all Native tribes and to address concerns of mutual interest.
The Yavapai-Apache Nation Color Guard posted the colors, and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s own Miss Indian Arizona, Devanie Duwyenie, led the joint session in the Pledge of Allegiance. Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs (R-Dist. 22) and Speaker of the House Andy Tobin (R-Dist. 1) provided the opening remarks.
Senator Jack Jackson Jr. (D-Dist. 2) was then invited to read Senate Resolution 1003, which recognized Lorena Williams, now 103 years old, who was in attendance. Williams and her late husband, Paul Williams, enrolled members of the Navajo Tribe, were plaintiffs in Williams v. Lee, a landmark 1959 U.S. Supreme Court case that helped further tribal sovereignty. The ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court held that Arizona courts are not free to exercise jurisdiction over a civil suit by a non-Indian against an Indian where the cause of action arises on an Indian reservation.
The complaint stemmed from a case involving sheep. Indian trader Hugh Lee, who operated a trading post on the Navajo Reservation at Ganado, had obtained an order from Apache County Superior Court and the county sheriff to take Williams’ sheep and sell them at auction to settle her debt at the trading post.
Williams appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court and finally the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the proper forum for such a case was Navajo tribal court, not state court. The Williams case marks the signature case of modern federal Indian law, laying the foundation for tribal sovereignty and self-determination by limiting a state’s authority to infringe on tribal rights. Jackson asked attendees and those in sitting in the gallery to stand and recognize Williams and her family for their efforts.
San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler was the first speaker to address the attendees. He stressed the importance of working with Native American tribes and talked about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), specifically the expansion of Medicaid.
“I offer our cooperation and collaboration with the state of Arizona. Let us work together on public-policy issues that will create win-win situations for our constituencies,” Rambler said. “Let us respect the origins and status of our respective governments while we address these issues from an informed, historical and equal perspective. Let us work together on the approval and implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Each and every tribe is ready to work with the state and federal government to design a plan that will include Native Americans who need and deserve better healthcare.”
Vice-Chairman Tim Hinton of the White Mountain Apache Tribe spoke of all the ways that Indian gaming revenue has contributed to the financial prosperity of the state of Arizona. “We’re happy to report that gaming is making a major contribution to Arizona,” Hinton said.
Ten years ago, Arizona voters passed Proposition 202, indicating they wanted limited and regulated gaming. Prop. 202 also established the Arizona Benefits Fund, which enabled the tribes to share this revenue with the state. Hinton went on to elaborate about specific dollar amounts that have been contributed to education programs and job creation before inviting everyone to come and visit the gaming facilities in White Mountain.
The last person to speak was Hopi Tribal Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa, who addressed concerns among his people, the first of which was education.
“We need to know the skills that we need to operate and work in the modern age today,” he said. “I am encouraging the state legislative body to take a real look at how we reward school districts and [to focus on] getting our children ready for college, not for simply passing a test.”
Other topics that were touched upon included economic-development opportunities, infrastructure and respect for sacred sites. Lunch on the Senate lawn followed the guest speakers, and a workshop on solar and renewable energy was held in the Arizona Capitol Museum.