U.N. Representative Visits GRIC, Tours Heritage Center
October 20, 2023
Gila River Indian News
On Oct. 6, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples José Francisco Calí Tzay visited the Gila River Indian Community, where he toured the Huhugam Heritage Center.
“I appreciate the invitation of the Gila River tribe to be here with them, to learn about their history, to learn about their past struggle, and especially I came here to be educated on the reality that they are living,” Calí Tzay said. “It’s amazing what they shared with us today because there are some things that nobody knows internationally.”
Calí Tzay is Maya Kaqchikel from Guatemala and was appointed Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2020, addressing human rights violations against the Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala and worldwide. He has been representing Indigenous peoples at the U.N. for nearly 40 years.
Special Rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to respond to individual complaints, conduct studies, provide advice on technical cooperation, and undertake country visits to assess specific human rights situations.
Calí Tzay was joined by Huhugam Heritage Center staff and Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis for a special tour of the facility, where he was given an inside look at the Community’s rich history on display in the gallery and repository.
“They need to share their history, everything that they have achieved, that is going to serve as an example for other Indigenous people around the world,” Calí Tzay said.
Gov. Lewis said the Community was really fortunate to have Calí Tzay come to the Community, “I had the opportunity to speak with him and we had a tremendous opportunity to showcase our story, our history here at the Huhugam Heritage Center.”
Gov. Lewis added, “This very important task in documenting the struggles and the ongoing survival of Indigenous peoples, looking at best practices are good examples, but also looking at where Indigenous peoples are struggling with their needs, with their nation states, with the countries; that they are continuing to survive within their Indigenous land bases, [honoring] treaty rights, water rights.”
GRIC shared their historic fight for water rights and the new innovations to protect and maintain their water and land, especially during Arizona’s current mega drought.
“For him to come to the Community and to see firsthand, to hear our story and our significant struggles and successes as well, I think it was important. He wants to continue to keep the lines of communication open as well, as he continues to document in his important position,” Gov. Lewis said.
Calí Tzay shared that he has been traveling to Bolivia, Ecuador, and Iceland, documenting some of the extreme situations and resilience of Indigenous peoples and communities.
Calí Tzay is currently hosted at the University of Arizona’s Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program at the James E. Rogers College of Law.