Arizona Tribes Meet at State Capitol for Annual Session with Lawmakers
Gila River Indian News
Multiple tribes gathered at the Arizona Capitol for the annual Indian Nations & Tribes Legislative Day on Jan. 12. This year, the event was held in person at the state House of Representatives building.
Kristine FireThunder, Director for the Governor’s Office of Tribal Relations, provided a welcome address to open up the joint protocol session. “Today, we are honored to hear keynote addresses by three distinguished elected leaders,” said FireThunder, referring to Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, and Amelia Flores, Chairwoman of the Colorado River Indian Tribes.
FireThunder described the joint protocol session as a forum created to bring tribal representatives to the Capitol to address critical issues faced by tribal communities within the state of Arizona. This year’s event included a networking session and a youth program held at the Arizona Science Center.
“I am grateful that you have come and it shows an expression in solidarity and hope as we look forward and march forward,” said Rep. Rusty Bowers (R), Speaker of the House of Representatives. Bowers said it has been productive to work with the tribes of Arizona and to learn more about the cultural history tribes represent as Arizona’s first people.
Bowers was followed by Senate President Karen Fann, also a Republican. “Arizona is a much richer state because of our 22 … tribes,” said Fann. “I have had the pleasure of learning from members of all these tribes as a legislator and a Senate president over the last 12 years.”
A number of topics were covered during the joint protocol session, ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic to the ongoing drought and planning for the state’s water future. Governor Doug Ducey’s “State of the State” speech was referenced regarding his proposal to make a $1 billion investment to help secure the state’s water supply.
“On behalf of the people of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, thank you Governor Ducey for this invitation,” said Amelia Flores, CRIT’s chair. The tribe sits along the Colorado River, giving it a major stake in the state’s drought contingency plan and the need to replenish Lake Mead, which supplies water to major city centers in Arizona, Nevada and California.
Jonathan Nez, President of the Navajo Nation, talked about the need for economic development, the creation of jobs and the impact of the pandemic on the Navajo Nation.
“Little did we know that a modern day ‘monster’ known as COVID-19 was beginning to enter our communities and our homes and that it would lead to many hardships and challenges,” said Nez.
He said throughout the pandemic, Navajo members have continued to step up and demonstrate the strength and resiliency of their forebears.
“Men and women continue to put their lives at risk in order to save lives,” said Nez about the importance of healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis delivered a pre-recorded video message to the event’s attendees.
“As you know, 2021 was a difficult (year) in many ways due the challenges presented for tribes by the ongoing COVID pandemic,” said Gov. Lewis. “Native peoples have been especially hard hit by this pandemic, and 2021 was a tough year for our Community.”
Gov. Lewis said in the midst of the challenges presented by the pandemic, there were positive developments to share with the audience.
“Vaccines became much more widely available and have begun to have a real impact on health outcomes, though not on transmission,” explained Gov. Lewis. “We were able to work cooperatively with the State to coordinate several large vaccination events on our Community, as were a number of other tribes, with the Arizona National Guard stepping up to help us administer thousands of doses of this life-saving vaccination.”
Gov. Lewis’ remarks also touched on the newly amended tribal compacts, a five-year effort that modernized and expanded the gaming compacts to meet the needs of Arizona tribal communities and the state. Lewis also highlighted tribal-state cooperation in the creation of the “500-Plus Plan,” a multistate and agency initiative to help shore up Lake Mead.
Lastly, Gov. Lewis lauded the Community’s coordination with the state to widen Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson.
“We have a great opportunity to work together again to do something we have all discussed for so long,” said Gov. Lewis, “which is to widen 1-10 along the boundaries of the Community’s Reservation, enhancing transportation flows throughout this great state, and into the neighboring states.”