Kenneth Poocha at helm of AZ Commission of Indian Affairs a
PHOENIX -- Kenneth Poocha, recently named director of the Arizona Commission of Indian Affairs (ACIA) by Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, said the tribes need to prioritize and let him know what the most important issues are to them.
Poocha said his longterm goal is better communication with Arizona's tribes and prioritizing the issues most important to them.
"I don't want to be overwhelmed with too many issues. We need two to three issues as our priorities each year," he said. "We want to listen to the tribes so we know their priorities. Our role is to address the most important issues."
Poocha said he wants the state to come up with an Indian consultation policy similar to the federal government's policy. He noted that when Bill Clinton was president the federal government adopted a policy calling for input from the tribes whenever newpolicies, rules or regulations were set.
"We need constant education and communication on a number of issues including justice and health care," he said.
After pointing out the commission is somewhat limited by budget constraints, Poocha said he hopes to use his contacts on the state and national level to bring in more funds as well as more grants. He said ACIA's budget is stable but at the mercy of the state legislature.
Poocha is a member of the Hopi and Santa Ana Pueblo tribes. He said he knows a lot of the issues facing Hopi and Navajo involve economic development and education. He plans to meet with Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley and Hopi Chairman Ivan Sidney in the near future.
Gov. Napolitano said she has no doubt that Poocha will continue her administration's dedication to Indian issues.
"Our state's Native American tribes are a key part of our state's rich history and future, and issues that impact this segment of our population are very important to me," the governor said.
Poocha replaces Milton Bluehouse who was on the job for less than a year.
Poocha said his short-term goal is preparing for the Arizona Indian Town Hall, which will be held June 5-7 in Scottsdale and will focus on cultural preservation.
The infringements onto the San Francisco Peaks and Mt. Graham will be the key issues at the Arizona Indian Town Hall.
Poocha said ACIA Chairman Paul Nosie and Special Projects Director Vera Phillips have worked hard in preparing for this Arizona Indian Town Hall.
Poocha said the San Francisco Peaks and Mt. Graham issues are hard for some non-Indians to understand.
"It's our job and the job of tribal leaders to educate non-Indians on these issues," he said.
Poocha said Gov. Napolitano has done a good job of communicating with the tribes and addressing tribal issues through tribal summits. The most recent one on mental health care was held last week at the Heard Museum in Phoenix.
Poocha takes the post as director of ACIA after serving six years as director of Community Development and Native American programs for the Arizona Association of Community Health Centers.
He previously worked for the American Indian Development Associates in Albuquerque, N.M., where he was a program specialist on juvenile issues. He said
this will help him approach Native American youth issues such as meth use on reservations.
Poocha, who was born and raised in Flagstaff, graduated from Coconino High School and the University of Arizona where he earned a bachelor's in sociology. He also holds a master's in American Indian Studies.
Poocha is a recipient of the Bahti Award, which is bestowed on outstanding Native American scholars.
During his college years, he served as an intern at the Smithsonian.
Poocha is a member of the Arizona Governor's Council on sports, physical fitness and health. He also serves on other health committees at the local and national
level. He has been running marathons for the past four years. Poocha said he figures that his marathon running is part of serving as a role model.
"I want to be a role model for youth both physically and mentally," he said.
Poocha said Native Americans face an epidemic of diabetes and he has already been diagnosed as having type 2 diabetes. That is when he committed to a lifestyle of exercise and a good diet. He runs marathons as part of Team D, a team that educates the public about diabetes.
"I don't know if diabetes is caused by genetics or lifestyle, but it can be managed in a lot of cases by diet and exercise," he said.
Poocha is an adjunct professor at Estrella Mountain Community College. He resides in Goodyear, west of Phoenix.
Poocha credits his parents, Charles and Florence Poocha of Flagstaff, as raising him in a way to take care of himself physically and mentally.
Poocha and his wife Nicole have one son, Jacob.
(Stan Bindell, former Observer editor, is journalism and radio teacher at Hopi High School.)
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