PHOENIX -- Hopi Tribal Chairman Ivan Sidney said while some tribes in urban areas are seeing economic development that the Navajo and Hopi tribes are so remote that they have trouble affording the infrastructure that businesses need.
Chairman Sidney was responding to speeches given at the 11th annual Indian Nations and Tribal Legislative Day Jan. 17 at the House of Representatives at the
state capital. The day gave tribal leaders and legislators the chance to discuss mutual issues. Approximately 300 attended the event.
The day was full of pageantry as the royalty from many tribes attended, including Miss Hualapai Gretchen Whatoname, Miss Gila River Nicole Jackson and Miss
White River Apache Crystal Quintera. Whatoname led the pledge of allegiance, the Native American Women Color Guard posted the colors, Evereta Thinn from Shonto sang the national anthem and Phyllis Antone from the Arizona Indian Council on Aging gave the Native American blessing.
The Hopi chairman said he agreed with the emphasis of the speeches that the tribes and the state need to work together.
Chairman Sidney noted that the state received money for the past 40 years from the Peabody coal mine operation on the Hopi Reservation. He said that since the state hasn't paid the tribes their fair share during this time that it seems fair to ask them for their assistance today.
The Hopi chairman said he came down to Phoenix for tribal legislative day to gauge what help the state is willing to give the Hopi Tribe.
"We still need to educate each other about who we are," he said.
While some Indian leaders spoke about tribal sovereignty in glowing terms, Chairman Sidney said the state government has used tribal sovereignty as an
excuse not to live up to its responsibilities.
Sidney said the tribe needs to improve its education system because that will help secure jobs so Hopi's can be self-sufficient for the rest of their lives.
"Our people are used to social dependence, and that's not what we want," he said.
Sidney said the state should help with funding for education, transportation and elderly, youth and veterans' services. He said is encouraged with the legislation that Arizona State Sen. Albert Hale said he will introduce this year. He added that Arizona State Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick and Albert Tom are supportive of these issues.
He said some have the misnomer that all tribes have casinos and have money. The Hopi Tribe has repeatedly voted against gaming on its reservation.
Chairman Sidney said when the Hopi Tribe approaches the state they need to be unified.
"We need to come together and not confuse the legislature. The legislature looks for an excuse. When they see a disagreement, it's used so they can look the other way," he said. "Our elders warned us to be careful when dealing with the state."
Chairman Sidney said the federal government has never lived up to its responsibilities.
"If they did, maybe today, we'd be totally self-sufficient," he said.
Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. said he feels that the state and tribes need to get along, but the state needs to remember that Native Americans make major contributions to the state including economically.
President Shirley added that the tribes need to get a fair return for what they pay into state taxes.
"We need to have an equitable distribution of resources," he said.
For example, he said, in the past year the Navajo Nation paid $58 million in taxes to the state for its telecommunication services, but received little in return. He said the state allocated $1.7 million per year for the next 10 years for Dine College.
"That's five cents on the dollar," he said. "They give us some money here and there, but not enough for what we pay into taxes."
President Shirley said Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano has done a good job of working with the tribes.
"She has always recognized our sovereignty," he said. President Shirley noted that the Navajo Nation recently created its own department of education. He said the state can help by improving the funding, but also by showing its philosophical agreement with the introduction of Navajo language and culture into the curriculum. He said when culture is part of the curriculum that Navajo students improve their adequate yearly progress. He said this has been the case in
Window Rock School District.
"The state can work with us to bring up the test scores," he said.
President Shirley said many Navajos are getting older so they will need more funding for senior citizen issues.
President Shirley said the Navajo Nation should get six casinos off the ground this year. Although he couldn't say where the first one would be located, he believes a Navajo casino will be going by the end of August.
The Navajo leader said he appreciated the House and Senate taking the time on this day to afford Indian leaders their time.
"Open lines of communication can go a long way," he said.
Dine Inc., an arm of the Navajo government, has an office in Phoenix to keep an eye on what the state legislature is doing.
Arizona State Sen. Albert Hale, who is Navajo, agreed with President Shirley that the tribe doesn't receive its fair share of funding from the state.
Sen. Hale, a Democrat, said the tribe doesn't receive any funding from the state's Transaction Privilege Tax even though it pays into it. The money from this tax goes to the state, counties and municipalities. Sen. Hale plans to introduce a bill in this session calling for the tribe to get a cut.
"Indian nations pay for the infrastructure on its land to get businesses started. The state doesn't pay anything, but then takes the taxes. It isn't fair," he said.
Hale also plans to propose a bill in this legislature that $10 million come out of the state lottery fund so that any high school graduate from Arizona meeting a certain grade point average can have their college tuition paid at any of the state universities.
Sen. Hale also wants Highway 264 from Tuba City to Window Rock improved. He said this should be a four-lane highway, but has gone many decades without improvements. He also wants to see a Native American appointed to the state highway transportation board.
(Stan Bindell, former Observer editor, is journalism and radio teacher at Hopi High School.)