2022 Water Rights Day Celebration
December 16, 2022
Saturday, Dec. 10, the Community recognized the 18th Annual Water Rights Day, celebrating the 2004 Water Settlement Act. This year’s celebration event was virtual, which included a video presentation on Gila River Broadcast Corp.’s channel 29.1 and the GRIC Facebook page, premiering at 10 a.m. that morning.
The 18th anniversary video commemorated the history of the historic 2004 Water Settlement Act. It highlighted the ongoing resilience of the Community as it progresses in the effort to continue the flow of the Gila River through the Community while employing new innovative measures. The presentation featured addresses from Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis, GRIC royalty, U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Community youth, and more.
“Water Rights Day serves as a reminder of our people’s loss, struggles, and hardships…We will continue to advocate for our basic human needs and way of lives,” said 2022-23 Miss Gila River Kelsey Martinez during her opening remarks. “As long as we stay true to who we are we will continue to protect our himdag and our lives, which allows us to live in balance.”
2022-23 Jr. Miss Gila River Eliana Rhodes followed up, stating, “For centuries, the Akimel and our shudag have provided for our people, such as helping with our crops,” said Rhodes. “On Water Rights Day, we give thanks to our Community leadership who fought for our basic human needs.”
Both Martinez and Rhodes attribute the ancestral Huhugam canals as the critical lifeline of who we are as a Community. Therefore, they are both grateful to see the water returned and flowing today.
“My late father Rod Lewis, who was our general counsel, made tremendous sacrifices to right the wrongs that occurred when our water was taken, no stolen, from our Community which has had a tremendous impact on our tradition of farming and agriculture,” said Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis. “In our culture, which is so closely tied to the river, we celebrate today our historic water settlement and we also celebrate the resilience of our Community.”
Gov. Lewis highlighted that the region is facing the worst recorded drought today. As a result, the Community remains vigilant in efforts to protect and conserve Community water.
“In the 18 years since the settlement was reached on Dec. 10, we have worked hard to implement the settlement and we have done so in a highly effective way that we’re seeing the results of the implementation as the Gila River again flows through the Community.”
The Managed Aquifer Recharge Site #5 (MAR 5) is a prominent example of how the Community is working to conserve water while fostering a return of native plants and animals to the Community.
During the presentation, it was also announced that a new solar-covered canal project would break ground in 2023. This project will be the first in the Western Hemisphere to curve water evaporation rates while producing energy for the region. In addition, this project will serve as a model for other Native tribes and municipalities to consider in their efforts to conserve water.
The program also included special remarks from leaders outside of GRIC to mark the occasion.
“You [GRIC] know firsthand the value of water and I look forward to our continued partnership and making sure that we protect this critical resource for you and for generations to come for the Community,” said Camille Calimlim Touton, Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation. “Thank you, Gov. Lewis, for your support and your partnership and to the council for your continued protection of the Community and our shared values around water.”
U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema also shared a message with the Community. “I know that Dec. 10 marks the 18th celebration of your water settlement, and I couldn’t be prouder and more honored to join in this celebration with you. I look forward to all of our continued work together.”
The Water Rights Day video is available on the GRIC Facebook page. It features a detailed litigation history, a short presentation on the history of the Gila River, and songs by the Akimel O’odham/ Pee-Posh Youth Council.