At the Capitol, tribal leaders bring concerns about water, education, voting rights

Navajo Nation President Myron Lizer, speaking with Shiprock as a backdrop, addressed the Republican National Convention in a taped message that praised President Donald Trump Tuesday – just one week after Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez addressed the Democratic National Convention./ Photo courtesy C-SPAN

By Debra Utacia Krol | Arizona Republic

Amelia Flores, chairwoman of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, stood on the floor of the Arizona House of Representatives Wednesday to talk about her tribe’s contribution to a multi-state effort to deal with long-term drought on the Colorado River.

Stephen Roe Lewis, governor of the Gila River Indian Community, talked transportation and gaming concerns.

And Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez called on Arizona lawmakers to reject a raft of bills that would inhibit Native peoples’ ability to participate in state, local and federal elections.

The speeches highlighted the 27th annual Indian Nations and Tribes Legislative Day, a statutorily mandated event during the first week of the legislative session meant to spark better communication between tribal leaders and governments, legislators and state government officials.

While tribal and state government leaders met in the House chamber, various agencies, nonprofits serving tribes and private firms like a Native-owned real estate company, were on hand to showcase their programs or offer their services.

In-person attendance was lower than usual due to COVID-19 pandemic concerns, but the smaller crowd was no less enthusiastic about the opportunity to talk with lawmakers and tribal leaders.

What not everyone knew was how Indian Nations Day was established and the role a legendary Arizona lawmaker had in its creation.

‘A man came into my office. His name was Burton Barr’

The event has its origin in a simple conversation between lawmakers. Then-Rep. Jack Jackson, Sr., a member of the Navajo Nation, was serving his freshman term in 1986. He was one of the first Native Americans to be elected to the legislature.

“In 1986, a man came into my office,” Jackson told a reporter in 2001. “His name was Burton Barr.”

But this was no ordinary visit from a constituent. Barr was the longtime Republican majority leader in the House and wielded considerable power.

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