Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. called for continued cooperation between the tribes and the state of Arizona.
The Navajo president praised former State Sen. Jack Jackson Sr. and the late legislator Burton Barr for establishing the tribal legislative day more than 10 years ago.
President Shirley was several hours late because of snow and mud on Navajoland, but he made it in time for his planned lunchtime speech. He thanked state and county officials for helping with the emergency weather conditions on the Navajo Reservation.
He said he looks forward to working with the state on challenges that won’t go away anytime soon. His list of problems called for better funding for more senior centers, addressing drug abuse, dual taxation and DUI problems.
“We’re doing everything we can about DUIs, but we need your help,” he told the legislators.
President Shirley said he opposes Proposition 203, which made English-only the law that the English language must be used during official state business.
He told the state legislators that the Navajo Nation also wants to help them.
“You need to share with us what you want too. But we also need help,” he said.
President Shirley said Navajo Nation elders say that there are no issues of color, that there are only the five finger earth dweller Homo sapiens.
“Everybody is in this together,” he said.
Shirley said that greed, thirst, hunger, jealousy and all manner of terrible diseases know no racial boundaries.
“If we can work together, then we’re all better off,” he said.
Tohono O’Odham views
Tohono O’Odham Chairwoman Vivian Juan-Saunders praised the Proposition 202 gambling compact as she said it enabled tribes to build infrastructure on their reservations.
Chairwoman Saunders said the Tohono O’Odham have problems with roads and bridges on their reservation.
She said the drought has brought many problems but federal funds have remained static and have sometimes been reduced.
“But, due to gaming, for the first time we have the resources to address health and welfare,” she said.
Chairwoman Saunders said the funds have been used for everything from economic development to emergency services. She said bordertowns benefit through jobs and taxes when the tribes are able to purchase more goods.
“There is still much to do and not all the tribes in the state have gaming,” she said.
Saunders praised Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano for improving funding for education and health care, but she added that funding for education in the state and especially on the reservations has always been lacking.
“We want our young people to meet the standards, but our schools need attention,” she said.
On another issue, Saunders said tribes need access to plans for development when it is occurring next to their reservations as it can cause them a lot of problems when thousands of homes or large shopping centers are put in next to them.
Arizona State Sen. Bill Brotherton earlier had voiced his opposition to the English-only law. He called it ironic, after watching the movie Windtalkers, that Navajos had been told they couldn’t speak their own language a couple months before they came up with the code that was used to help U.S. forces in World War II.
“You don’t have Indian nations in your district, but please adopt us,” the chairwoman told Brotherton as she drew the largest laugh of the day.
“English is the primary language. We have no desire to change that, but English-only is reminiscent of boarding schools. Our language is what distinguishes us,” she said.
San Carlos issues
San Carlos Chairwoman Kathy Kitcheyan, a former teacher, gave a historical overview about her tribe with the statement that the tribe and the state did not always get along.
“I hope that’s in the past,” she said.
Chairwoman Kitcheyan said gaming resources have given the tribe the resources to hire lobbyists and enabled them to become more familiar with the legislative process. The San Carlos were successful with making their own license plates. They sell them for $25 each with $17 from each sale coming back to the tribe to help with transportation costs.
But they haven’t been successful on every issue. San Carlos Lake is going dry. When healthy, about 250,000 people each year visit San Carlos Lake for recreation.
She said if the lake dries up that it could hurt endangered species.
Chairwoman Kitcheyan said she has serious concerns about the AIMS test. She said Indians receive the least amount of funds when it comes to education.
“No wonder we have the highest dropout rate and the lowest graduation rate,” she said. “With underfunding, how can they pass?”
Chairwoman Kitcheyan said tribal parents want their children to have a firm background in culture but they also want their children to have strong overall academics.
“They deserve the finest education that the state of Arizona can provide,” she said. “We are at the bottom of education. We are trying, but we need your attention. We have the common goal of wanting to improve the lives of all citizens.”
Chairwoman Kitcheyan encourages the state to support appointing a Native American to the state board of education.
Kitcheyan also offered her opinion on the English only law.
“In plain English, we don’t like it and we don’t want it. As the first Americans, we never asked our visitors to speak a specific language,” she said.
(Stan Bindell, former Observer editor, is journalism and radio teacher at Hopi High School.)