2022-2023 Gila River Royalty Court Bids Farewell

March 3, 2023


Emma Hughes, 

Community Newsperson



Miss Gila River Kelsey Ann Martinez and First Attendant Gabrielle Garcia along with Jr. Miss Gila River Eliana Rhodes and First Attendant Caiden Lewis held a farewell celebration at the Anthony B. Shelde Community Building in Chandler on Feb. 18.


The Gila River Royalty commemorated their reign with a special dinner for friends and family ending with a dance open to the Community featuring live Waila music from “Gertie & the T.O. Boyz.”


Governor Stephen Roe Lewis congratulated the Gila River Royalty court on a wonderful reign over the past year. 


“They’ve done so much for the Community as ambassadors,” said Gov. Lewis. “We’ve had some incredible guests that have come to the Community, from Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland to the Māori delegation, and they welcomed them. They really made such a positive impression for our Community, their peers, and fellow youth.”


Martinez stated she couldn’t emphasize enough how grateful she is for the opportunity to serve as Miss Gila River and “have my family and the Gila River Royalty Court’s family come and celebrate with us as we celebrate and complete our journey as ambassadors for the Gila River Indian Community.” 


When she began her reign, she said, she was eager and anxious to get started and go to events where she was able to meet and create friendships with fellow current and outgoing title holders from other tribes.


Martinez was especially proud of the events they hosted, such as the Winter Gathering, which promoted her platform of implementing traditional teachings into the modern lifestyle. 


She said attending events has been fun, especially during the holidays, and she’s enjoyed working one-on-one with Community members, especially youth and elders. For Christmas, she made blankets for elders at  the Gila River Health Care’s Caring House Skilled Nursing Facility in Sacaton.


Rhodes said, “So many amazing new friendships have grown from holding this title. Just being able to see new things, seeing new people, and even meeting some of my idols along the way, such as Billy Mills and Madonna Thunder Hawk.”


She was thankful for the many opportunities to meet new people and travel to places she never thought she would see.


For anyone aspiring to run for the title, Rhodes says there is no right or wrong way to be Jr. Miss Gila River, and she encourages every young girl to consider the opportunities that the royalty titles hold.


“We all represent in our own way and we represent our families, our communities, and most importantly, ourselves,” Rhodes said. “We all have a platform that we all want to speak about and put out there for the Community to hear, so I encourage every young girl to go and take this opportunity, because your voice matters.”


Lewis said she was glad to see family, friends, and visiting tribal royalty at the farewell dinner. 


“Getting to hold the title that I’m holding today, it’s been a life changer. I’ve never thought I would’ve seen myself here ever,” said Lewis.


She shared that one of the highlights of her reign has been getting to socialize and getting to know the royalty court better. 


“It’s been eye-opening to find these new people who have really helped me sprout throughout my reign, and I found out that I know a few of them through some old family ties,” Lewis said, “It’s been a really good first experience and I’m really glad that I ran and was able to meet the people I met and make the memories that I did.”


The outgoing royalty also thanked and recognized their support systems.


“I’d like to say thank you to the Community for welcoming not only me but my whole court with open arms and for just showing us how much we’re loved and how much they respect us as ambassadors for the Community,” Rhodes said. She added their support means so much and will never be forgotten.


Gov. Lewis said, “The Community is proud of you, so thank you and enjoy. This is one chapter that’s closing in your young lives, and you have your whole lives ahead of you. Thank you and congratulations again.”


Martinez advised contestants running for the title to always support one another and “just know that you can’t do this job on your own.”  She said to be royalty, it takes the support of the court, committee and contestants’ families.


She added, “Thank you for accepting me as Miss Gila River, and thank you for supporting me. Every Miss Gila River is different. Every platform is different, and every year she brings something new to the Community. I am very, very grateful to say that I’ve heard from some of you that I’ve done a good job, and that means a lot.”


Lewis stated, “To the Community, I would just like to say thank you, because without the Community, we as royalty and me as an individual, I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support, without their love. I think the Community inspired me to want to better myself.”