PHOENIX — Arizona Sen. President Steven Yarbrough and House Speaker J.D. Mesnard gave opening remarks welcoming tribal leaders to the 22nd annual Indian Nations and Tribes Legislative Day by recognizing the contributions the tribes have made to Arizona.
White Mountain Apache Chairman Ronnie Lupe stated that his tribe has 1.6 million acres of pristine land, including the sacred Mt. Baldy, the skiing at Sunrise Resort, tons of wildlife and 600 miles of streams. He began serving as chairman in 1966 when the superintendent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs told him not to travel without him and show him all business transactions.
“We have come a long way since then,” he said.
Lupe said today, the White Mountain Apache are working toward filling a reservoir with the help of Salt River Project and the Bureau of Reclamation. They are poised to solidify the planning and design of the dam in the next two years.
On other projects, his hope is to find common ground with other tribal leaders. He said that with a new American president taking office there will be a new Secretary of the Interior and he hopes to work with him or her with mutual respect.
“Indian country wants a working relationship,” he said.
Lupe spoke about the contributions Indian gaming has brought to the state, bringing in $1.2 billion since 1993. He also spoke about White Mountain’s timber resources and natural spring water. He said the White Mountain Apache have kept their songs, culture and dances intact. One of his concerns is the high unemployment rate on rural reservations. Lupe recounted how he has worked with Arizona governors since 1966.
“It has been a long journey to come this far and recognize some achievements for all Indian tribes and the state of Arizona,” he said. “One way or another we have contributed to progress in the U.S. We have a lot of future leaders. Let us all enjoy this beautiful land, the state of Arizona and one another.”
Ft. McDowell Yavapai President Bernadine Burnette, who serves on the National Congress of American Indians and the National Indian Gaming Association, said her reservation is only 25,000 acres, but the Verde River sustains them with alfalfa, barley and other crops. She went through the history of the Ft. McDowell Yavapai and how they had to fight to survive.
“After all this, we are still here and we are not going anywhere,” she said.
Burnette said tribal gaming has raised the quality of life for many tribes. She said Indian gaming has given more than $3 million in scholarships to the state’s universities. She credited Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey with modernizing the state’s gaming compacts with the tribes.
“This is a national model,” she said. “We are looking for mutual concern and respect.”
Kaibab Paiute Chairman Roland Maldonado said it is important to remember that the tribes and the state need to work together.
“It’s important to get an education, but come back and help your people,” he urged the youth. “We cannot move forward if we forget who we are.”
Chairman Maldonado said they need to look to their grandchildren to figure out the future. He said his small tribe lacks proper health care because of their remoteness, so they are getting all the members to learn CPR.
“If you live life without drugs or alcohol you can live life with pleasure,” he told the youth.
Maldonado said not everyone will become a chairman, but many doors are open to them.
“Help us all get higher standards, so don’t be shy,” he said.
Hopi High media student Greta Quotskuyva said the speakers were motivational as they were mostly speaking of their tribes, community problems and creating young leaders to help their communities improve.
Hopi High journalism student Serena Leslie said attending Tribal Legislative Day was an honor because she never thought she would be able to meet some Native leaders.
“Each Native American I’ve come upon was so smart with their words and everybody communicated from all kinds of different tribes. I became inspired by the amount of work and programs each person came up with for their communities,” she said.
Leslie was happy the speakers spoke about how they are proud of the young people and how the young people have the future in their hands.
“The speakers were inspiring to everyone because they are the grandparents who have carried their teaching to each young person,” she said.
Hopi High journalism student Amber Polacca said the speakers were amazing, especially Ronnie Lupe.
“All the words he spoke were so true. I am amazed by how old he is and he is still trying to represent his tribe. I like how he talked about their sacred mountain because Hopis know how to relate. I like how he stood up for not only his tribe, but all the tribes in Arizona because we all have the same struggles,” she said.
Elisa Casarez, editor of the Hopi High Bruin Times, said the speakers highlighted what the youth need to do and said she the speeches were unique and engaging.
“One of the best people I met was Bernadine Burnette because she had charisma, a sense of humor and a loud voice that made her speech have pizazz.
Secakuku said the speakers had nice messages.
“They talked about how hard their people fought the government and how they finally got their rights to speak for themselves. They talked about how they want to focus on the youth because they’re the future,” he said.
Secakuku said the high point was being on the Senate floor.
“That was cool,” he said.