GRIC goes virtual for 16th Annual Water Rights Day

Kyle Knox

Gila River Indian News



On Thursday, Dec. 10, the Gila River Indian Community held the 16th Annual Water Rights Day Celebration, which was televised on Gila River Broadcasting Corporation channels 19.1. and 29.1 and available for stream on the GRIC Facebook page. Current and past tribal leaders, Gila River royalty, Rep. Tom O’Halleran, and newly-elected Sen. Mark Kelly provided insightful remarks on the landmark decision and its history for the Community and state. 


The 45-minute program included speakers, traditional presentations, and a video of the Water Rights relay. 

The celebration commemorated the historic Arizona Water Settlement Act of 2004 signed by President George W. Bush while recognizing accomplishments like the MAR-5 and MAR-1 sites, and GRIC’s critical role as a stakeholder in Arizona’s decisions on water.


Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis opened the program. “I’m glad each and every one of you made some time to tune in to help us celebrate, although virtually because of the ongoing pandemic. But for now, on this day, it’s important that we still celebrate what means so much and defines us as Akimel O’otham and Pee Posh people, and that’s our Shudag,” said Gov. Lewis.


Miss Gila River Alyse Marrietta and Jr. Miss Gila River Sineca Jackson provided a history of the celebration. The presentation, set to historical images, emphasized the profound effects of the diversion and damning of the Gila River, which “forever changed the life for the Akimel O’otham and Pee Posh,” said Jackson. 


Marrietta reflected on the Community’s perseverance before the Water Settlement Act. “It’s been stated that ‘when the water rose, we rose as people’ together we will continue to prosper and remain strong,” said Marrietta.


The annual water relay was also modified due to the pandemic, and a video of this year’s Water Right’s Relay also showcased two families who ran water from the MAR-1 site in District 1, Blackwater, to the MAR-5 site in District 3, Sacaton. 


Lt. Gov. Robert Stone offered remarks on the agricultural revitalization that is steadily increasing today.  

“We were resilient when fighting for our water so we could continue to farm, and here we are now with our water, canals being built, farmers getting back into farming, and it shows as we can physically see our fields in production,” said Lt. Gov. Stone.  


Ted Cooke, General Manager for Central Arizona Project, acknowledged GRIC’s role in statewide water developments. Specifically, speaking of the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), “which helps improve the reliability of Colorado River water supplies for future generations.”


A video segment of former Gov. Donald Antone Sr. highlighted the strenuous legal effort during the settlement negotiations. Antone recognized the past leaders and the legal team’s sacrifice and resiliency which led to the Water Settlement Act of 2004. 


Rep. O’Halleran and Sen. Kelly acknowledged GRIC’s contributions to Arizona’s future with the implementation of the DCP. "Even in the early days of my time in the state legislature, I learned that there were few water discussions in the state that didn’t involve the Gila River Indian Community. We must not overlook the decades long fight to restore water rights that were unlawfully stripped from the Community,” said O’Halleran.  


In his statement, Kelly said, “When the Community’s water rights were taken away, the Community wasn’t a party to those decisions. Today the Community is not only a party but, in many cases, the key decision-maker when it comes to water negotiations in Arizona and throughout the United States.”


The Akimel O’odham/ Pee-Posh Youth Council also contributed a video, which featured District 1 Representative Thalia Ayala who urged viewers to “not take our water rights for granted.” 


Quail Singers and Dancers, led by Kristopher Davis, concluded the program before Gov. Lewis’ closing remarks. “Please use this day as an opportunity to reflect on everything that makes us strong as a Community, that has kept us resilient through hardship and hard times. And let’s always stay Gila River strong.”