Water Rights celebration recognizes ‘Water Warriors’
December 10, 2018
Roberto A. Jackson
Gila River Indian News
December 10 will always be a day to remember in the Gila River Indian Community. On that day, in 2004, President George W. Bush signed the Arizona Water Settlement Act after a decades-long battle to secure GRIC’s water rights.
Every year on that date, the Community reflects on that historic achievement and looks ahead at the future of maintaining the hard-fought claim to the most vital of resources: Water.
The Water Rights Day celebration was held Dec. 10 at Rawhide Event Center and the hundreds in attendance heard remarks from current and past leaders, and were treated to a video presentation, lunch and musical entertainment.
Corrine Escalante, District 1 elder, carried a gourd filled with water collected the day before at the confluence of the Gila and Salt river and delivered to the celebration by a group of youth runners.
A traditional song and dance presentation followed the delivery of the water.
The 2018 Water Rights Day convened under the theme, “Water Warriors: The Beginning, Now & the Future.” Each speaker emphasized the efforts of past leaders, the importance of upholding the settlement, and the need for future water protectors.
“You, future leaders, always protect our water and our land,” Cecil Antone, former lieutenant governor, told the crowd.
Donald Antone, former governor, echoed Cecil Antone’s sentiments and told the younger Community members in the audience that, “the future lies with your hands.”
Richard Narcia, former governor, recognized past legal and water experts and past leadership including the late Dana Norris, former governor.
“[Norris] led us in the right direction and I think without him and his perseverance we would not be here today,” Narcia said.
Gov. Lewis spoke after a video was played, and mentioned his father, the late Rodney Lewis, and the legacy the “water warriors,” left behind in the fight for GRIC’s water rights. “My father always use to say ‘the fight is never over,’” Gov. Lewis said.
Lewis mentioned Arizona’s severe drought conditions and the decisions that are looming should Lake Mead’s water level continue to drop.
“We are going to continue fighting for our water, we are not going to give up. We are going to remain who we are as the Gila River Indian Community. We are going to be tenacious, we are going to protect our history as farmers and agriculturists, now and into the future,” said Gov. Lewis.
Gov. Lewis also presented gifts to past leaders and special guests. A large display at the opposite end of the venue contained artwork and exhibits made by GRIC school children about the importance of water to the Community.
Runners: Anthony Escalante Jr., Kaylyn Escalante, Antonio Escalante, Lee Nasewytewa, Henry Nasewytewa, Damian Walker, Daniel Lewis, Isaac Harrison, Sineca Jackson, Sayuri Jackson, Nickolas Harrison, Lawrence Milda, Burrito Lewis, Janayah Mendivil, Myrian Burnett, Jazmyn Burnett, Sylvia Norris Burnett, Rita Mendivil, Juan Mendivil II, Juan Mendivil III
Drivers: Steven Nasewytewa, Danny Harrison, Carolyn Escalante, James Burrell, Jaime & Arlanna Jackson