This week saw the first official meeting of the newly formed House Native American Affairs Committee. The new committee not only acquired a new name (it was originally known as the Indian Affairs Committee) but a change in membership, with Rep. Mark Anderson (R-Mesa) replacing Rep. Karen Johnson (R-Mesa). No word as to the reason for the change, but Rep. Anderson has a stellar reputation as a straight shooter in the Legislature.
First on the agenda Thursday morning: a presentation by Ron Lee, ACIA’s executive director, on the recent trend toward tribal-state partnerships. Federal devolution policy, which puts control back in the hand of local governments, has contributed to the new trend of tribal-state agreements. Although the changes are still taking place, Lee noted that the use of intergovernmental agreements (IGA) is bringing forth a fundamental change in the way tribes and states interrelate.
Also presenting was Alberta Tippeconic, deputy director of the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona. Tippeconic spoke on the history surrounding tribal sovereignty in Arizona, and the problems facing tribal communities, including the lower per-capita spending for Indians when compared to their non-Indian neighbors.
Mellor Willie, Executive Assistant to Navajo Nation President Kelsey Begaye, spoke on the issues facing America’s largest reservation. Willie noted that Navajo, along with other tribal leaders, advocated for the Native American Committee’s creation when it was imperiled last month.
Next were this week’s bill hearings. HB 2296, the tribal sales tax sharing bill, and HB 2306, a Navajo TANF building bill, were held until next week to devote more time for committee members to study the complex legislative bills. ACIA’s two bills, HB 2307, which will let the agency collect door fees to defray Indian Town Hall expenses, and HB 2308, to continue ACIA for another ten years, handily passed. Janet Regner, lobbyist for the Hopi Tribe, made an appearance to deliver a statement by the tribe praising ACIA for its assistance to Hopi and other tribes over the past two years.
Next: HB 2298. This bill will authorize the School Facilities Board to distribute funds for reservation schools’ unique needs. Ganado School District Superintendent Peter Belletto gave an example of the challenges faced by his students: “Just this morning, I received word that my school lost all power and had to be shut down. It’s a common occurrence in Ganado; we have huge electrical spikes. I had no lights or heat [in the school], nor could I provide my students with a hot meal. I had to give them sack lunches and send them home.” Belletto also noted that Ganado, being a progressive school, relies on technology for many of its educational needs: “When our infrastructure fails, we are deeply affected.”
This bill, too, won a “do pass,” the phrase used to note a bill that passed in committee.
HB 2525, which would establish an Indian Education Advisory Board, did not fare so well. Committee member Deb Gullett asked the burning question: Why were the only Indian members for this new board slated to come from Navajo? The other committee members also expressed their concern, and sent the bill back to be retooled. The amended bill may make a new appearance next week.
The last two bills on the agenda, HB 2301 and 2302, also passed quickly, although Anderson noted that perhaps these bills should be lumped together for ease of passage. The bills seek $331,000 for refurbishing and construction costs for Navajo food bank facilities in Fort Defiance, Leupp, Teec Nos Pos and Tuba City.
Legislator of the Week-Mark Anderson, House District 29
Rep. Mark Anderson is turning out to be a valuable member of the Native American Affairs committee. He appears anxious to learn about tribal affairs; he questioned Lee, Willie and David Bowman, who came down from Fort Defiance to speak on behalf of the Navajo food warehouse bills, to garner more information, and to get himself up to speed on Native American matters. Welcome, Rep. Anderson!
Return of the Wide Ruins Gang
They’re back—at least for a couple of days. Albert Yazzie and Laraine Lee (no relation to ACIA’s Ron Lee) of Wide Ruins Community School were back in the Valley, to participate in the Office of Indian Education’s 100-year review of history and issues. Mr. Yazzie also met with Rep. Albert Tom (R-Chambers) to try and start a bill to get library construction funds for his charter and grant school; however, House members are limited to five bills each after the first week of the session, and Tom has already used up his allotment. ACIA provided information on Arizona State Library, Public Archives and Records (ASLAPR) library grants available to tribal libraries. If you, too, seek funds for your library needs, contact Linda McCleary, Native American Collaborative Program coordinator, at (602) 542-5841 or toll-free at 1-800-255-5841. ASLAPR welcomes tribal library grant inquiries, and staff people are available for help and consultation on projects.
Lee asked Capitol Watch to acknowledge the other Wide Ruins Governing Board members, who have also worked hard to build their school.
Watch the ACIA Web site, www.indianaffairs.state.az.us, for up-to-date news on the 48 tribal bills in the Arizona Legislature.