Native American Caucus meeting focuses on
STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – The Arizona Legislature’s Native American Caucus recently hosted a discussion on the transportation issues facing Native American Nations. Legislators heard presentations from experts on transportation funding and the expectations of indigenous communities.
The Division Director of the Navajo Division of Transportation, Paulson Chaco, gave an overview of what is needed to resolve the transportation issues in the Navajo Nation. The presentation focused on the need for road improvements. The majority of the Navajo Nation’s roads are unpaved which has resulted in variety of community problems. For example, some children miss school because busses often get stuck in the mud on rainy days. Chaco stated that the division of transportation is lacking adequate funding to deal with what he referred to as a transportation crisis.
Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson (District 3), shared her concerns about the transportation situation affecting education.
“When we have thousands of children riding two hours to school on bad roads and miss 20 days of school on average, due to road conditions, we have bigger problems!” Gonzales said. “Let’s get to work on roads in Arizona!”
Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson (District 9), added that it is also important for indigenous leaders be included in the decision-making process.
“Arizona’s transportation infrastructure is in crisis, and nowhere is that crisis felt more than on Native American tribal lands,” Steele said. “As we address these issues, we must do so with Native American representation at the table.”
Rep. Albert Hale, D-St. Michaels (District 7), agreed. He highlighted the importance of Indian nations having a seat at the table for road development decisions.
“Transportation is essential to the economic development of any area,” Hale said. “Roads and other transportation systems need our constant attention so they do not adversely affect economic development. Indian nations are part of the economy of the state of Arizona. It is, therefore, important that Indian nations have a seat at the table when road development planning takes place at the state level. Too many times, we hear about traffic accidents that result in fatalities because the roads on Indian nations are unsafe. The state needs to pay attention to the safety of its Native American citizens and work with Indian nations to address safety issues and provide economic development through transportation infrastructure development.”
The Assistant Director of the Arizona Department of Transportation, Kevin Biesty, also spoke about state funding for transportation and the importance of improving Arizona’s transportation system. He said that Arizona is poised to become a manufacturing powerhouse, and in order to benefit from new businesses, the state must invest in its transportation infrastructure.
Sen. Carlyle Begay, D-Ganado (District 7), said that investing in transportation is important to economic growth.
“Transportation is the tie that binds us together as a state and is the backbone of Arizona’s tribal communities by helping to drive growth, create jobs, and provide more livable communities. Our roads, bridges, and transit systems quite literally carry people across a network that supports a multitude of economic interests, including tourism, agriculture, energy production and manufacturing,” Begay said. “However, progress within Arizona’s tribal communities does not travel down dirt roads and broken bridges. There is a dire need for further investments in transportation infrastructure in both rural and tribal communities. It is time, in this 21st century, for opportunity to be able to travel safely down our roads and connect the commerce and culture of our tribal communities. Asphalt is the great equalizer.”
“Transportation is critical. Good roads are how we get to work, school, the doctors and hospitals, and how goods and products are transported,” Gonzales said. “If we can’t get through, there is a big problem! Transportation needs to receive more attention here at the Legislature for all of these reasons and for a good economy.”
Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Cameron (District 7), added that transportation contributes to tourism, which benefits Native American Nations and the state.
“Much of rural Arizona and especially Native American reservations are dependent upon tourism,” Peshlakai said. “Arizona’s natural beauty and cultural diversity ought to be accessible for all so that the state can remain a global destination point on every person’s bucket list.”
The Native American Caucus would like to encourage people to get involved in the legislative process and to make sure their voices are heard. To receive a registration form for a Request to Speak System account, please email Melissa Upshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the office of Rep. Hale at 602-926-4323. Once your account is created, you will receive the Request to Speak System Manual by email and you can comment on bills being heard in committees through your online access by going to www.azleg.gov and clicking the Request to Speak System link.