Arizona State Sen. Jack Jackson Jr. and Hopi Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa are pushing Arizona to adopt a cabinet position for a Native American.
Jackson spoke to students from Hopi Jr./Sr. High School about the cabinet position before the 18th annual Indian Nations and Tribes Legislative Day on Feb 5. Chairman Shingoitewa also spoke on behalf of the proposal during the session in the State Senate.
The proposed Native American cabinet member would represent Arizona's tribes while making policy with other cabinet members on key issues that the state confronts.
Eight Hopi High School and five Hopi Junior High School students attended the activities to learn about tribal and state politics.
Before the proceedings, Jackson spoke to the Hopi students in his office. He noted that New Mexico already has a Native American representative on their cabinet.
"Every issue impacts tribes," the senator said. "This isn't for us, but for you the young people."
Jackson also said that during the proceedings in the Senate chamber he would honor 103-year-old Lorena Williams. Williams and her late husband Paul Sr. were plaintiffs in a 1959 case dealing with whether Native Americans on the reservation could be sued in state court. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that Native Americans on the reservation could only be sued in tribal court. It was a big victory for tribal sovereignty.
"We're honored to have her here," Jackson said.
After the Senate recognized Williams, her son Paul Williams Jr. said his mother, who was also a teacher, is a legend who has done a lot for Native Americans.
"Please respect our sovereignty," he told the Legislature.
Jackson also wants to see tribes get more money from the Transaction Privilege Tax. This tax raises money for the state, but almost none of it goes back to the tribes.
"The Navajo Nation sends $40 million to the state and gets nothing back," he said.
Jackson, 54, serves on the Senate Education Committee. He noted that there are five Native Americans serving in the state legislature.
"I'm glad to see you're here to get an understanding of the state legislature," he said to the students. "You are also citizens of the state and we do pay state taxes. Get the best education possible, but know your family and your land."
Hopi Chairman LeRoy Shinogoitewa called on the state legislature to treat everybody the same regardless of color or residence. The chairman, who received the most applause of all the speakers, addressed education, the need for business partnerships and called for Native Americans to have a cabinet level representative within the state government.
Shingoitewa said native people need to be educated with skills that will land them jobs in the modern world. He said Arizona officials speak about the need for improving education yet fail to provide money for it.
"I'm appalled that Arizona is 49th or 50th in funding," he said. "I'm not talking just about Native American children, but all children."
Shingoitewa said too often it is the schools in high economic areas that get the most money and thus make Adequate Yearly Progress.
"We reward people with money rather than those who need money," he said.
Shingoitewa said students should be judged on whether they obtain life skills rather than whether they pass a test. He said legislators should consider whether legislation helps all children or whether it benefits one group.
The Hopi chairman said nobody talks about what Indians have brought to the state - whether it's Indian gaming or the use of their land.
"We've got prime country for economic development. We need APS (Arizona Public Service) and SRP (Salr River Project) to help us with infrastructure," he said. "If you want the state to grow, you need to work with us on partnerships."
Shingoitewa said tribes are not against development as long as sacred sites are protected. Regarding Arizona Snowbowl, he said he's not against skiing, but that the use of artificial snow is disrespectful and unhealthy.
"Hopi country will not be quiet much longer, but we emphasize the need to work closely together," he said.
Shingoitewa said having a Native American at the cabinet level within the state government would allow the tribe to comment on state decisions on a daily basis.
Senate President Andy Biggs and House Speaker Andy Tobin welcomed the tribal dignitaries to the gathering. Tobin said Arizona tribes contribute heritage, history and money to the state.
San Carlos Chairman Terry Rambler spoke about the need for the state and tribal leaders to work together. He said Arizona has 350,000 tribal members and that tribes own a quarter of the land in the state. Indian gaming, and associated businesses, is the third largest employer in the state.
Chairman Rambler urged the state to address two issues: health care and climate change. He said Obamacare is here to stay and should help provide more money for Indian Health Services. A lack of money in the past has resulted in a lack of access to quality health care for Native Americans.
Rambler told the legislature that they need to agree to an expansion of Medicare called for by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.
"The expansion would allow better access to health care," he said. "The Affordable Care Act would make more people eligible for health care."
White Mountain Vice Chairman Timothy Hinton discussed the effect tribal casinos have on the state. He said 15 tribes have 22 casinos and have raised three-quarters of a billion dollars. The proceeds have helped pay for education and hospitals. The casinos employ more than 15,000 people. Most of the employees are non Native Americans.
"Tribes have invested in Arizona by paying for needed services," he said. "The industry is large and influential."
The Yavapai Apache Nation Color Guard posted the colors at the event. Miss Indian Arizona Devanie Duwyenie led the pledge of allegiance.