- By SHONDIIN SILVERSMITH, Arizona Mirror
During the first week of the legislative session, Arizona tribal leaders emphasized the importance of continued collaboration between the state’s 22 tribal nations and state officials to address the various challenges their communities face.
“All of us benefit from one another’s successes,” Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community President Martin Harvier said. “We know that we must work together to build a region where there will be opportunities in the years to come.”
Tribal leaders from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Hualapai Tribe and the Ak-Chin Indian Community provided a tribal nations address at the Arizona House of Representatives as part of Indian Nations and Tribes Legislative Day on Jan. 10.
House Speaker Ben Toma, a Republican from Peoria, emphasized the important role of tribal nations as partners to the state, saying that they have significantly contributed to the success of the state’s economy, generating thousands of jobs and billions in revenue.
“This annual gathering serves as more than a ceremonial event,” Toma added. “It is a testament to the enduring partnership between the state and tribal communities.”
Senate President Warren Petersen echoed Toma’s remarks on the value of Arizona’s partnership with the 22 tribal nations as they continue to work together, such as securing Arizona’s water for future generations and prioritizing conservation and augmentation efforts.
“As we begin our first week in the legislative session, I’m confident we’ll continue on this trajectory together, working together for a stronger Arizona and a better future for everybody who lives here,” the Gilbert Republican said.
Sen. Theresa Hatathlie, D-Coal Mine Mesa, said it is an exciting time at the Capitol because she believes the legislators are opening up to learning more about the various tribal nations and how they operate.
“We’ve been here since time immemorial,” Hatathlie said of Arizona’s Indigenous people. “We’re all very unique in our own culture, in our own languages, in our own diverse way that we’re able to move our nations forward.”
Hosting an Indian Nations and Tribes Legislative Day, Hatahlie said, provides the education and awareness that legislators need about Arizona’s 22 Tribal Nations.
She said she looks forward to meeting with all the tribal leaders and working with them on the legislation she will put through this session, including reforms to behavioral health services across the state.
Robert Miguel, chairman of the Ak-Chin Indian Community, said it’s vital that Arizona’s 22 tribal nations continue to work together and advocate for one another because they all share some of the same problems.
“Anything that happens in the other 21 tribes is our problem, too,” he said. “We’re there to support each other.”
Some of the common issues brought up by the leaders included economic development, housing development, revitalizing behavioral and mental health services, water security, human services, land development and economic growth.
“There are many issues that link us together that need to be addressed in order to improve the well-being of our communities,” Harvier said.
Chairwoman of the Hualapai Tribe Sherry Parker said that her community desperately needs housing development for their people. She said the Hualapai Tribe has more than 2,300 tribal members, and some 1,1000 live on tribal land — but there are only about 400 houses within their community.
“Overcrowding is something that still exists on the reservation,” Parker said, adding that the tribe is adding 30 new homes this year, but that doesn’t match the growing need.
“We need all our people to have proper housing, clean housing (and) good housing,” she said.
One of the significant challenges highlighted by all three tribal leaders involved the continued harm being done by the fraudulent sober living homes that target Indigenous people.
For years, hundreds of facilities had recruited Indigenous Arizonans with the promise of providing treatment for substance abuse, but they instead bilked the state’s Medicaid program for hundreds of millions of dollars in services they never provided.
Since May 2023, the state has shut down hundreds of behavioral health, residential, and outpatient treatment service providers.
Like so many Indigenous communities across Arizona, Harvier said his community has witnessed their people get picked up by people from these fraudulent homes with the promise of providing substance abuse services, only to leave them without any treatment or a way home.
“The outcome has been tragic,” he said of the sober living homes crisis. “Many people have died.”
Due to the impact of the sober living home crisis, Harvier said that tribes have been working with state officials and legislatures to propose changes to a system that has been ripe for abuse.
He said he looks forward to continued work with the legislature to clarify any laws that will provide a permanent solution to the crisis.
Hatathlie said addressing the sober living crisis in Arizona is a priority for her this legislative session, and she wants to make legislative changes put in place not only for sober living but for the behavioral health crisis in the state.
Hatathlie said she wants to be able to look at the issue beyond the fraud and monetary perspective, which has been a priority.
“We really do need some answers when it comes to the loss of life, the loss of our relatives, and making sure that these individuals are being held accountable for that,” she added.
“It’s a multifaceted issue,” she said.
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