REMARKS OF HUALAPAI TRIBAL CHAIRWOMAN SHERRY J. COUNTS
GIVEN TO THE ARIZONA STATE LEGISLATURE
“TRIBAL DAY” – JANUARY 20, 2015
Good morning, President Biggs, Speaker Gowan, Minority Leader Hobbs, Minority Leader Meyer and all members of the Arizona Legislature. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today on behalf of the Hualapai People, and to represent for a few minutes at this podium all the Native American tribes throughout Arizona.
I would like to first, give glory and honor to my God and Savior Jesus Christ without the presence of his Spirit I would not be able to be here fulfilling His goal for my life. I thank him for his salvation from so many addictions he brought me through to become a leader of the Hualapai Nation!!!
It is my honor and privilege to stand before you. Like you, I have been blessed to receive the support of my constituents.
Like you, each day I must deal with so many issues of importance – more than most people imagine.
I can’t possibly fully understand them all, but like you, I work hard each day to gain more knowledge and make good, fair decisions on behalf of those who count on me to lead.
I have often heard people giving speeches in special situations – like winning an Oscar, or being elected President – and heard them say that they are so “humbled.” And I think to myself, “Why are you humbled now? You just won! You should have the biggest ego in the world right now!”
Then I was elected to office.
I understand a little better now what being “humbled” means. It means the realization that no matter how good I am, others might be better. It means acknowledging my weaknesses. It means knowing that despite my accomplishments or experience, we are all equal in God’s eyes.
“Humbled,” it turns out, is a good way to go through life.
How could any of us not be humbled by the issues facing our tribes, and all the people of Arizona?
Though we live in a place of amazing beauty and great opportunity, the citizens we serve are constantly struggling for a better life, a chance for their children to achieve, to live in peace, to live in freedom.
Arizona is home to 22 Native American tribes, and the problems we face are the same as those you encounter here at the Legislature:
- keeping our economies strong so that our people can work and provide for their families;
- ensuring a quality education for all our precious children;
- making sure government services are delivered in the most efficient and effective manner;
- fighting crime so that our people are safe in their homes and workplaces;
- battling the vices and addictions that affect so many of our families;
- keeping our infrastructure strong and well-maintained;
- and, of course, protecting the land and water that sustains our lives.
Each of these issues must sound familiar to you, and at times you’re probably as challenged as I am. There’s so much to know, and so much to do.
But I want to assure you that the leaders of all Arizona tribes walk in your shoes each day as we listen to our people, and confront our problems. As I just listed, they are often the very same problems the Legislature deals with each session.
However, I respectfully admit there are differences, too.
Unlike other Arizona government entities, our tribes are each their own sovereign governments under law. That sovereignty is precious to the Hualapai people, and all tribes.
Also, in so many ways, our lands are the soul of our existence. (We’ve been here a very long time, even before Twitter and Facebook! Thousands of years ago, “social networking” was a lot different, and it was much harder to “unfriend” someone!)
Our land and water have sustained us for many centuries, and protecting these natural resources are ingrained in our cultures. Without them, our lives are endangered and our spirits diminished. I cannot possibly state this too strongly.
We also have a unique combination of federal, state and county laws that often bump into our Tribal Constitutions and laws. Figuring out these conflicts keeps our Tribal Councils very busy, as well as a lot of attorneys.
But despite each of these differences, the far more important fact is that no matter what tribe, no matter what sacred lands, no matter what proud traditions, we are also citizens of Arizona.
We love this state. We care about its people. We want what all other Arizonans want: peace, opportunity, freedom and a home to raise our children. Our passion for out state should bring us together as people to work towards a common goal.
Each of you have Native American constituents, whether they live on our reservation land or in any other Arizona community. I hope you will know them, and listen to them. Their stories are part of our state’s history.
Please allow me a brief moment to share one of mine.
Last year, the Hualapai Tribe finished an important construction project. We finally completed a new and improved section of Diamond Bar Road, which is the way almost everyone gets to our development at Grand Canyon West, and our incredible SkyWalk.
For many years, Diamond Bar Road was dirt, filled with bumps and holes, and constantly being washed out by heavy rains. Now it’s smooth, safe and efficient.
Our Tribe was having a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a particular place along the road – about three miles from the Grand Canyon — to celebrate its completion. I was at the podium addressing the many visitors and guests we had from across the state.
In the back of the crowd stood a couple. As the saying goes, “They weren’t from around here.” They seemed a little unsure of themselves, and one of our tribal advisors walked over to them to offer some help.
They were from Japan. They spoke little English. But they had driven from Las Vegas to see the Grand Canyon and, seeing the big crowd, assumed they had arrived at the Canyon’s edge.
To say the least, they seemed a little unimpressed. It looked like just a wide spot along the road to them.
After our advisor told them the Canyon was still three miles farther, they got big smiles on their faces! What a relief!
At that one moment, so many things came together: infrastructure improvement, tourism, interstate commerce, community involvement and international relations.
Two people from halfway around the world came to Arizona, to Mohave County, through Kingman, to the Hualapai land to see our shared treasure, the Grand Canyon.
That is something we can all take pride in, and is an example of how all of us live, work and play together. We all benefit, we all care.
And that is humbling.
I would also like to thank the whole Arizona delegation at the legislature for supporting the Hualapai Water Rights Bill. Since July 2014 the bill passed through the House and Senate in Washington, DC the first week of November 2014 and has since been signed by the President. People ask me how did that bill move so fast so many bills take years. I tell them it is because I have great faith in God and that He answers prayer. But without your hard work and effort here we could not have accomplished this. There is much more work to be done and we hope to have the support as we continue to move forward.
Promoting education for our youth with encouragement and understanding to ensure hope for the future. We must instill great values of trust, integrity and love in our children. To me the future will be bright for all.
The hope we have for the future is for our youth to prepare them to become leaders of our world and the greatest example is for us to work together, be leaders of integrity, leaders of hope, leaders of peace so that our legacy will live on through our children.
Lets continue to work together arm in arm as we face the challenges of this great state and our tribal nations. Let us be willing to lay down things that may stand between us of those long gone battles of the past. We work towards the betterment of all people that live in Arizona!
Thank you very much for the chance to speak with you today on behalf of the Hualapai Tribe, and all tribes in our great state. May your work these coming months be productive, and may your burdens be light.
May God Bless our troops that fight for our freedom, the Hualapai Nation, the great state of Arizona, and of course the United States of America!