29th Annual Indian Nations & Tribes Legislative Day
Gila River Indian News
More than 800 people participated in the Governor’s Office on Tribal Relations’ 29th annual Indian Nations and Tribes Legislative Day on Jan. 10, making it the largest such event yet. Held the first week of each regular state legislative session, it allows the state’s 22 tribal nations to meet and speak with state officials and lawmakers.
A few main issues discussed included affordable housing, economic development, quality healthcare, behavioral health, education and fraudulent sober living homes.
“These are important functions where tribal leadership can bring issues up with our state lawmakers and also interface and interact with Governor Hobbs and her administration,” said Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis. “This has really become a very important day…here at the State Capitol.”
In addition to Gov. Lewis, Akimel O’odham/Pee Posh Youth Council member and UNITY’s Earth Ambassador Evelyn Enos and Miss Gila River 2023-2024 Mavis Thomas attended the gathering. GRIC departments and entities also exhibited outside on the Senate lawn.
The event began with a joint protocol session with tribes and state representatives. American Legion Post 114 “Bushmasters” from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community posted colors and Miss Indian Arizona Laney Lupe cited the pledge of allegiance.
Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation Vice President Paul Russell provided the invocation followed by a traditional song and dance from GRIC’s Chi’Chino Spirit.
“Today holds significance as we gather to acknowledge and honor the impact of Arizona’s tribes on our state’s history, culture and prosperity,” said Ben Toma, Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives.
He added, “As valued partners to the state of Arizona, Indian nations and tribes play a vital role, significantly contributing to the success of our economy, generating thousands of jobs for Arizonans and billions in revenue.”
Toma said the annual event is more than “ceremonial” and is a “testament to the enduring partnership between the state and tribal communities today and beyond.”
Arizona State Senate President Warren Petersen highlighted the importance of the state and tribes working together as well, particularly on water conservation and the “tremendous growth of the tribal gaming industry and its positive impact on our state’s economy.”
Petersen also touched on state spending priorities lawmakers expect to tackle. “This year, the legislature will continue to work to provide much-needed inflation relief, help increase healthcare workers in Arizona to meet the growing demand of medical and healthcare needs for our citizens,” Peterson stated, “and we’re going to ensure that taxpayer dollars dedicated to transportation are allocated efficiently towards the roads and infrastructure that you rely on.”
Gov. Lewis spoke about the need for tribes to be involved with critical issues in the state. “We have a seat at the table when it’s important,” he said.
Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community President Martin Harvier, Hualapai Tribe Chairwoman Sherry Parker, and Ak-Chin Indian Community Chairman Robert Miguel gave a tribal nations’ address during the session.
They also emphasized that one of the biggest concerns for tribes is the devastating fraudulent sober living home scandals happening throughout the state and nation and the rippling impacts it has on tribal communities.
“This particular issue is an example where tribal leadership must also challenge itself to improve and to provide services to lessen the impact of these kinds of circumstances,” said Harvier. “I look forward to working with the legislature to clarify any laws that can be part of a permanent solution.”
UNITY Ambassador Evelyn Enos, who attended for the first time, said, “I’ve never been inside the State Capitol, nor in the House of Representatives let alone on the [House] floor, so I was hoping to just be able to see and hear what the tribal leaders were going to say about new projects, current issues and initiatives being discussed.”
Enos was invited to sit with State Rep. Teresa Martinez and Gov. Lewis. She shared that one highlight was the touching story Chairman Miguel told during his address about how Indigenous youth today still struggle to find and accept their identity.
Following the session, United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) presented a youth workshop.
Enos stated, “As a GRIC youth who is doing my part in helping to uplift other youth in the Community, I can’t find a better way to do that than by going out and meeting people who are as excited and passionate as I am to share resources and partner up to get these materials out into the community, bettering our generation one step at a time.”