Cover Story

James Covarrubias discusses the importance of art as therapy during the Disabilites conference.

Sixth Annual Salt River Disabilities Conference

By Richie Corrales
Au-Authm Action News

Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Youth Services and the Coalition Outreach Information Network (COIN) hosted the Sixth Annual SRPMIC Disabilities Conference at Talking Stick Resort on August 23. A continental breakfast was served as participants began to show up at the registration tables early that morning.

SRPMIC Council Member Willardine Sampson gave the opening prayer, and Community member Angelica Gonzales sang the national anthem in O’odham.
The first presenter for the morning was Asim Varma, Esq., a staff attorney at the Arizona Center for Disability Law. Varma, who often works with clients who have traumatic brain injury and mental illnesses, talked about the many issues people with disabilities face daily. He also explained alternatives to guardianship, appeal rights under the mental health system, and people’s rights under Americans with Disabilities Act.

The keynote speaker was painter James L. Covarrubias, who encouraged individuals with disabilities to explore their creativity through painting, writing and other forms of art. He explained that many programs for veterans and people with disabilities incorporate art. While he spoke, his own artwork was displayed on the screen.

Covarrubias has worked with the Community many times, including with the Boys & Girls Club, teaching the youth how to express their feelings through art.
“You are part of a message about change in this world, and I thank you,” said Covarrubias as he concluded his talk.

Marianne Marts, an author, motivational speaker and certified trainer for adults who have suffered trauma or who have disabilities, talked about caring for family members who have disabilities. She has devoted her life to her older brother, Joey, who has Down syndrome, and explained that he was the motivation for her current work with others. She shared her family’s journey through the transition of Joey’s care from her parents to Marts and her siblings, hoping to make it easier for other families going through the same thing.

She recommended having siblings and family members join in taking care of their loved one, so the primary caregiver does not become overwhelmed. Among the caregiving tips she offered was maintaining a sense of consistency in the environment, which is important for some people with emotional disabilities in order to feel safe and secure.

“Make a list of what your loved one needs and likes—certain soaps, shampoos and things that they [prefer],” said Marts. “If they do not see the things that they are familiar with, it can lead to a meltdown.”

Marts has a Web site with her family’s story and additional tips; visit

SRPMIC President Diane Enos and Council Members Tom Largo, Delbert Ray, Sr. and Willardine Sampson sat on a panel for a Q&A session. Enos thanked everyone who came out to the conference.

“I’ve been fortunate to watch this program grow over the years,” said Largo about the Disabilities Conference. “And I commend all that stepped forward to make [their voices] heard to the Community [regarding care for people with] special needs and disabilities.”

The panel discussed the idea of training staff in certain Community departments, such as the Salt River fire and police departments, about assisting people with special needs. People also asked if there are policies in place for those with disabilities. Another question was on the Baby Veronica case, based on the Indian Child Welfare Act, which affects all of Indian Country (read more about this on page 6).

The conference continued till the end of the day, with 15 presenters discussing various aspects of helping those with special needs.

“I thought it was a great conference. I helped out volunteering where I could here and there with the COIN program,” said Community member Shawn Taylor. “I enjoyed all the presenters and information concerning disabilities. This was my first year to attend.”

Taylor said he enjoyed the Q&A sessions with the Tribal Council and was glad that they acknowledged certain issues that are really happening in the Community.

“I was looking forward to the TERC (Tribal Emergency Response Commission) and to see the emergency preparedness of the Community,” said Taylor.
The staff of TERC presented a map of the Community showing the locations where seniors and members with disabilities live.

“I look forward to next year, [and] hopefully I can present next year,” said Taylor. He explained that he practices a form of Chinese exercise called qigong (pronounced chee-kung) with the LARC program and Life Enhancement Program. “They are methods to get over stress; I call it grief recovery,” said Taylor.

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