On Monday, September 21, Norma J. Torres, a member of the United States House of Representatives for California’s 35th congressional district, made a visit to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. This visit, which included a tour of various facilities in the Community, was very important to the SRPMIC because it provided time for the tribal leaders and executives to meet one-on-one with Congresswoman Torres, who is a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources and its Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs.
A contingent of SRPMIC representatives welcomed and met with Congresswoman Torres, including SRPMIC President Delbert W. Ray Sr.; Vice-President Martin Harvier; Council Representatives Thomas Largo, Jenelle Howard and Archie Kashoya; Assistant Community Managers Lena Jackson-Eckert, Carla Banuelos and Kent Andrews; as well as Legislative Affairs Assistant Gary Bohnee and Intergovernmental Relations Project Manager Angela Willeford.
Congresswoman Torres met with the group in the executive offices, where Congresswoman Torres was provided a general overview of the Community, including its land base, resources, economic-development activities and more. The discussion topics included allotted lands and effects of the implementation of new Bureau of Indian Affairs home-site regulations, tribal lands, the Cobell case, and the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations, to name a few.
Congresswoman Torres expressed her appreciation for the opportunity to meet with SRPMIC leadership, as the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs considers bills and issues, as well as oversees agencies, programs and activities that affect tribes and nations.
Congresswoman Torres represents the Pomona Valley and Inland Empire areas of Southern California. She stated, “I do not have tribes within my district in California now, but when I was a California state senator, I worked with some of the California tribes. [As a subcommittee member,] I want to meet and learn about tribal nations and learn about the differences among them.” During the meeting and tour, Congresswoman Torres asked questions and requested additional clarification on a number of topics.
Before leaving the executive area, President Ray discussed the new Judicial Center project north of the Two Waters complex, providing details and an overview of the construction progress. In addition, the SRPMIC contingent took Congresswoman Torres on a short tour to visit certain tribal government departments that are directly affected by decisions made in Congress and the level of federal funding available to tribes.
She visited the Family Advocacy Center, which became operational in April 2015. The center’s director, Alane Breland, emphasized, “[Our Family Advocacy Center] is the only one of its kind in Indian Country. Many of the other centers are mostly [a resource] for services. Our center is advocacy focused.” The tour of the facility provided an opportunity to see firsthand the unique settings developed for meetings and interviews that are client focused; custom areas designed for children; and areas specifically geared for adult needs, including areas designed for one-on-one encounters and group interaction. Congresswoman Torres asked questions about how the tribe manages child adoptions, to which Breland responded, “Our goal is to consider family placement [or placement within the SRPMIC] before outside foster care is selected.” Torres learned about the unique programs offered by the center, such as the “Circles of Support,” which is a team of at least three professionals who work with and support families in the home or other settings.
The tour also featured a visit to the Salt River Health Clinic, which has been temporarily closed due to water damage and other structural concerns. SRPMIC Health and Human Services Director Violet Mitchell-Enos provided an overview of healthcare services currently being offered by the clinic and described in detail the current status and dilemmas affecting delivery of services to Community members. Kirk Beaty Director of the Public Works Department, discussed the structural damage that has taken place on the ground floor of the clinic and the temporary clinic setup with in the governmental complex that is currently being used to provide basic services. Mitchell-Enos emphasized to Congresswoman Torres, “[The Indian Health Service] has some emergency funding in their budget; your assistance in accessing these funds [to address our dire situation] would be helpful.”
Congresswoman Torres then visited the SRPMIC Department of Corrections, where Director William Daley provided an overview of the services and some examples of unique programs offered to Community members that no other facility offers. Congresswoman Torres stated, “I am impressed with the concept of having a Boys & Girls Club associated with the juvenile section [of incarceration]; I have never heard of this.” A number of other DOC programs were discussed, like the Adopt-A-Highway program for detainees, sweat lodges, various educational and vocational opportunities, along with Storybook Reading from Moms and Dads, a program through which incarcerated parents are recorded on video reading a story that can then be shown to their children. Budget resources for the DOC was also described in the overview.
Congresswoman Torres stated, “I am very familiar with the Department of Corrections systems; I oversaw three different types of facilities in California.” She asked a variety of questions on topics like recidivism (relapse into criminal behavior), funding sources, deterrent programs, access to behavioral health services, and more.
Congresswoman Torres was provided a packet of documentation that outlined detailed information on key facts about the Community, its services and projects. This will add to her cache of information as she works with the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs.