On the morning of February 12, on the third-floor patio of Two Waters Building A, the former Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community presidents still living were invited to attend a roundtable discussion about their terms in office, hosted by current SRPMIC President Delbert Ray, Sr. The event marked a historical first for the Community and tied into the national Presidents Day holiday.
The goals of the event were to honor past leadership; to discuss the past, present and future of the Community; and to develop new ideas to build upon. The SRPMIC Council adopted a proclamation to acknowledge the leadership of the former presidents of the SRPMIC at the January 27 Council meeting. The proclamation reads in part: “The SRPMIC Council recognizes and honors the accomplishments of the past Presidents of the Community and proclaims that on the annual recognition of the United States President on the Third Monday in February, the Community will also honor its past Presidents and the perseverance and vitality of the Onk Akimel O’odham and Xalychidom Piipaash people.”
President Ray welcomed former presidents Filmore Carlos, Herschel Andrews, Ivan Makil, Joni Ramos and Diane Enos. Paul Smith was not able to attend the event because of a prior engagement.
“I just want to welcome everyone here for this honoring. The official Presidents Day isn’t until Monday, but I thought we really don’t recognize what we have here in Salt River, and I wanted to recognize and honor previous leadership of our Community,” said President Ray in his opening statement.
The invocation was given by SRPMIC Vice-President Martin Harvier. Gary Bohnee, special assistant for congressional and legislative affairs, served as the emcee for the discussion.
As everyone finished their breakfast, the former presidents walked onto a stage. The discussion started with President Ray thanking the past presidents for participating in the roundtable and allowing dialogue.
“There is a rich history from our past presidents; for me, this is what it is all about,” said President Ray.
The idea for the roundtable discussion began last month when President Ray began thinking about Presidents Day and wondered if the Community’s past presidents were ever acknowledged for their work. After making inquiries, Ray found that nothing had been done in the past. He felt strongly about acknowledging past presidents and proceeded to gather staff to begin planning the event. Due to time constraints, this first event was kept small.
Letters were hand-delivered to the former presidents requesting their presence. In the letters, three primary questions were posed: what inspired you to run for the office of SRPMIC president, what were the highlights of your term(s), and what issues were left unfinished that you wish you had been able to complete.
Following is an excerpt of what was discussed during the roundtable.
President Joni Ramos, 2002-2006
I grew up in the Community, had my children, attended Arizona State University and received an accounting degree. Then [I] did an internship with the tribal Finance Department here in the Community and was hired as a permanent employee in 1995. [During] that time, I started attending the Council meetings every Wednesday—I remember they were held at the old Council Chambers, which was an old barracks—and I would hear Council decisions, people’s comments and different topics. At that point in time I became more vocal, and I think the former president and Council members would remember hearing me get up and voice my opinion. I have always asked questions. A lot of Community members asked me to run for [president], and at that time, I just wasn’t ready. But by the time I was ready, I had quit finance and went back to school to receive my CPA [designation], and people still kept asking me to run, and I thought [it was] my time and I decided to run for president.
President Diane Enos, 2006-2014
I want to thank President Ray [for] the idea of acknowledging past leadership and the idea that past leadership is [the reason we are] where we are today. We had a strong system of internal government which was based on our ways of life. [For example,] development of agricultural and irrigation systems. Without joint effort we couldn’t do anything, such as fend off our traditional enemies and other intruders. Seeking elected office, you go do it for the people, for your family and the honor of the people. And everything you do must be done together; nothing can be done by one person, we do it as a people. Without that cohesiveness, we don’t know what kind of future we would bring to our people.
President Ivan Makil, 1990-2002
I remember when I was young, students were coming home from boarding school [in Globe one year] and there was a really bad snowstorm, and they were trapped between Globe and Apache Junction. At that time, the president was Filmore Carlos. He had Community members gather and all go up in their cars to rescue the youth because they couldn’t find the support to go pick up the children. But the quickness and organization of a small Community with not a lot of resources [being] able to go house to house and get help was amazing.
President Andrews actually brought me back to the Community to start the Community Relations Office in the 1980s.
Elders got me to run; at the time, I was busy doing public relations and playing music. It was quite the experience, the coming together of the leadership, Council and people to fight for important issues in our history and see leadership come together. Yes, many times we disagreed, but we stood together and fought the battles, and those were the greatest things that I remember. The results were benefits to our people.
President Herschel Andrews, 1979-1982
The elders of the Community asked me to run for office, and one who was my mentor was the late Josiah King. He guided me, and times were very different [then]. I grew from the era of [traveling on] horseback and wagon to now. I appreciate the work that has been done.
President Filmore Carlos, 1964-1969
I didn’t have any inspiration to run for office. I was always on the quieter side of things, but people always said every time they saw me I was ‘on a wild horse.’ Later on, as the times changed, I looked at our Community, in particular Lehi, and there was a swamp [there] and people couldn’t farm properly, and I thought some kind of planning should be done. And I was able to oversee [that] and see work accomplished in the Community in the 1960s. I was fortunate to be elected and re-elected for eight years.
President Paul Smith, 1971-1974
Council member Deanna Scabby read a statement from her father, former president Paul Smith, who served as the first president of the Community. Scabby read how Smith had no desire to run for the office, but after encouragement from numerous Community members, he decided to run.
The highlights of his presidency were finding funding for developing the Community’s homes, roads, streets, schools and office buildings. The Community’s main revenue source came from the Landfill. At the time there was only one government vehicle, and staff had to use their personal money and vehicles to conduct their business around the Community. Scabby read more of Smith’s goals and his vision for the Community. He said currently the administration is living off of a gravy train, and even though all the jobs/funding that need to be accomplished are at their fingertips, staff continue long-range planning, budgeting and prioritization in working toward a strong presence as a Community. He said ‘Presidents, the legacy of what you leave is in your hands.’
One final question was asked to the presidents: According to statistics today, 45 percent of the Community’s population is under the age of 21. How do you envision the future of the Community?
President Diane Enos
That statistic is very critical and we need to act now to provide educational opportunities and training opportunities for our young people, because after high school our younger people have to be able to attain a job [and] be able to compete across the street (meaning in the city). Our Community will never have enough jobs, and we have to prepare to enable our young people to get the jobs they want.
President Ivan Makil
It isn’t a new statistic. One of the things that I left unfinished was to create some sort of leadership program for young people [so they could] participate and have a part in creating a future for the Community. [We must] continue to teach our young people now how it is an important lesson to learn and pass on, that was a lesson our ancestors continued to pass on to us, how we must continue to impress upon our young people that this is important for them to learn.
President Herschel Andrews
Those that are fortunate to have their grandparents who have become a part of their lives, they are able to know the traditions and culture of this Community, which is very important. When I was younger, my grandmother was the matriarch of the family, because everyone else had to go into the fields to work doing the planting and cropping and other things that needed to be done. And it is very important to respect your elders for raising you.
“I just want to say that this doesn’t disappoint me at all, what just occurred here this morning on how Salt River has continued to grow,” said President Ray about the roundtable. “We need to always involve our youth as well, and I just wanted to capture everything and I wanted you to meet the people that are responsible.”
In closing, President Ray handed out Pendleton blankets and plaques to each former president.