First Lady Jill Biden Visits the Gila River Indian Community, Greeted by Traditional Basket Dancers
Gila River Indian News
The First Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden visited the Gila River Indian Community on March 7th as part of a visit to the State of Arizona to discuss the Biden Administration’s priorities and initiatives. The visit occurred at the Huhugam Heritage Center where the First Lady was greeted by the Keil Akimel Hua Modk Cudkdam (Gila River Basket Dancers), who conducted a performance in the main plaza of the HHC.
Following the greeting, the First Lady held a private meeting with Governor Lewis, Lt. Governor Monica Antone, and members of the Community Council. During the meeting the elected leaders highlighted the need for strong partnership between the Community and the White House, which was especially apparent during the pandemic.
The Community leaders described the leadership role the Community is taking in addressing drought conditions along the Colorado River and invited the First Lady back to see the newly constructed schools, utilizing the innovative program piloted by the Community.
Before attending the public portion of the event, the First Lady walked through the museum portion of the Huhugam Heritage Center and Governor Lewis pointed out the cultural items and artifacts that show the Community’s ties to the Gila River in contemporary times and since time immemorial.
The public program began with a prayer by Mr. Barnaby Lewis, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, followed by a request from Governor Lewis for a moment of silence for the people and the leaders of Ukraine. Governor Lewis stated “as a sovereign nation, the Gila River Indian Community knows that when one sovereign nation is under attack, we are all under attack and we stand with our President and his actions to bring a swift end to the war on the people of Ukraine.”
In introducing and welcoming the First Lady to the Gila River Indian Community, Gov. Lewis stated that “Dr. Biden’s advocacy and initiatives have offered hope to our students, our families, our veterans and our communities.”
“We have to stay together as a people,” the First Lady said. “We can’t be divided in this country—we have to move forward, because look at all the things that we need to accomplish.”
She added that the president has been instrumental in bringing the country together during a turbulent time and with the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. First Lady Biden said the president has focused on education and accessibility to the internet in rural communities as well as the preservation of indigenous languages through various initiatives.
Echoing her remarks, Gov. Lewis said, “I think we all know the last election was an unprecedented time in the middle of a pandemic, a divided country, because our democratic processes were put to the test, Native voting was put to the test, and our president Joe Biden rose to the occasion because this country needed a leader who has put the people first, since day one.”
“As an educator,” the first lady said, “I know all children should have the same access to the internet [for] education. I taught the last spring over the internet and online, and it was hard for our kids… [T]hey have so much to make up, and it’s hard on the families.”
She also said that we have to make sure Native Americans have access to clean drinking water and good-paying jobs. “[These] are the things that we need we all can agree on and that we all have to work together to achieve,” said the first lady.
During the sharing of remarks in the main galley of the HHC exhibit hall, City of Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego expressed her gratitude for first lady Biden’s visit to her city and the Community.
“We’re so thankful to the city leadership of our first family and the commitment to Arizona,” Gallego said. “[W]e are so happy to have her first in Phoenix and now on the Gila River Indian Community, so thank you for your investment, bettering the lives of all of our community together,” said Gallego.
Gallego added that the Community and the Biden administration have been instrumental in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, offering mobile vaccinations units and, with the presidents’ support of the American Rescue Plan, bringing needed funding to communities everywhere.
The first lady encouraged everyone to consider the mid-term elections and how that will shape the country with Senate seats up for grabs. “You know that we are working hard for you and we all really appreciate that you are standing behind us,” the first lady said, “and so thank you for inviting me here today and for allowing me to talk to you [and] for just being a part of this positive optimistic movement as we move forward.”