Gila River Indian Community’s 2024 Inauguration Ceremony
Gila River Indian News
Hundreds gathered at the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass on Jan. 20, for the historical inauguration of Gila River Indian Community’s Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis and Lt. Gov. Regina Antone as well as swearing-in ceremonies for Chief Judge Anthony Hill and associate judges Charles Aragon, Sheri Cassa, Gwendolyn Morago, Darren Pedro-Martinez and Brianna Rhodes.
This is Gov. Lewis’ fourth term in office, previously serving as Lieutenant Governor. He has led the Community for 12 years, making him the longest-serving governor of GRIC. Lt. Gov. Antone enters her first term in office, previously serving one term on Community Council.
“Today is a day to honor our history, our culture, and our traditions because we are firmly rooted in our past and in the legacy of those who have gone before us to lay the foundation for all we have today,” Gov. Lewis stated. “It’s also a day to look forward to the future with confidence and hope.”
He said the administration will forge a 100-day plan highlighting key areas of importance to the Community over the next few years.
“Our goal with this 100-day plan is to ensure that the Community leadership works as a team to move forward and maintain all of the momentum that we’ve built up over these past very productive years,” said Gov. Lewis.
Protecting water rights, usage and supply are among the Community’s highest priorities, he stated, especially given the historic drought in the Colorado River Basin.
“We’ve already agreed that the time is right for us to update our strategic plan for water with the development and adoption of our second five-year water plan,” said Gov. Lewis. He added that his goal is to have the new plan developed and ready for adoption by the end of April.
In 2015, the Community Council successfully adopted its first five-year water plan to fully implement the 2004 GRIC Water Rights Settlement. It identified challenges that affected the water supply, such as the increasing cost of water from Central Arizona Project and mismanagement by the federal government.
Lt. Gov. Antone noted she looks forward to coming together and working as a team with other entities.
“We have the same passion; the same goals,” she said. “We’re eager to look forward to working together with the Sister tribes, with the outstanding state and federal officials.”
Lt. Gov. Antone added, “I’m humbled and honored to stand before you. I want to congratulate all the judges, [and] governor in your election [and] I look forward to working with you.”
The theme for the inauguration was “O’otham & Pee-Posh Unity,” and it brought out GRIC members and former leaders along with state, tribal and federal dignitaries.
To begin the event, veterans from posts throughout the Community posted colors followed by students from the St. Peter Indian Mission School singing the national anthem. Traditional O’otham singers and basket dancers as well as Pee-Posh bird singers and dancers also performed at the event.
“It is a known fact that the Community is a leading force in Arizona and across the nation, whether it’s in education or economic development, health or water,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “The leaders you’ve elected in the past, the leaders you swear in today, represent the leadership and vision and stability to both continue the work for today and to continue your vision into the future.”
Touton, Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, Arizona Sen. T.J. Shope, Rep. Ruben Gallego and Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego gave remarks during the event.
Hobbs said it was an honor to celebrate with the Community and a pleasure knowing and working with Gov. Lewis over the years.
“Governor Lewis, time and time again, you have shown up for your community and for Arizona, always with a good attitude, a collaborative spirit and a cool pair of sneakers,” said Hobbs.
Gallego, an Iraq war veteran, commended the GRIC on becoming the second tribal veteran organization in the country to be recognized by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“This Community is not just focused on the past, it’s focused on the future, and with Gov. Lewis and Lt. Gov. Antone’s leadership, I look forward to continuing this partnership in the coming weeks, months and years,” Gallego said.
All commended Gov. Lewis on his commitment to the Community while creating and maintaining these crucial and productive partnerships.
Keynote speakers included Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community President Martin Harvier, Ak-Chin Indian Community Chairman Robert Miguel and Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Verlon Jose.
“We aways have to remember as leaders that we should always try to do things that will leave things better for the next leaders that are coming after us,” said Harvier, who lauded the Community for its progress and development.
Miguel said it is remarkable when O’otham can get together and “identify and highlight what we can do together as a community.”
Gov. Lewis thanked Community members, fellow tribal leaders and state and federal officials for attending and for their support.
“We will continue keeping those bonds strengthened that were formed from time immemorial by our ancestors that led us here today to be able to embrace the future—a future that is bright; a future that has so much potential,” said Gov. Lewis.