Courtesy Yavapai-Apache Nation
Yavapai-Apache Nation Chairman Thomas Beauty

Arizona Indian Gaming Association Holds DC Impact Week

Gale Courey Toensing

Arizona Indian Gaming Association members are in Washington D.C. this week to meet with agency heads and legislators to talk about Arizona-specific issues. The American Indian Gaming Associaiton’s 17 member tribes are dedicated to supporting gaming enterprises on Arizona Indian lands as a way of protecting tribal sovereignty, achieving self-reliance and enhancing the economic, social and political lives of their citizens.

Thomas Beauty, chairman of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, is vice president of the Arizona Indian Gaming Association (AIGA) and vice president of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona’s executive board. He talked to Indian Country Today Media Network over the weekend before heading to the capitol.

What was your response to the news that Indian gaming revenues in Arizona increased 3 percent in 2012 from $1.75 billion to $1.8 billion—higher than the national rate of growth (2 percent)?

We believe it’s great news. This increase in revenues increases the contributions to the Arizona Benefits Fund that impacts all Arizonans. Since 2002, Indian gaming has contributed around $1 billion to the state economy. As the economy of Arizona slowly begins to rebound, the residents of the state are planning more “staycations,” which helps contribute to the increase. In addition, the casino operators have done a great job in creating wonderful environments for their patrons with smart offerings to maximize revenue potential.

Does the AIGA meet as a group with agencies and congressional representatives, and if so, does the association prepare a common agenda of issues to discuss?

The Arizona Indian Gaming Association along with the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona have scheduled joint meetings on behalf of each respective association with congressional representatives, agencies and organizations. In addition to scheduling the meetings, the organizations have worked with Arizona tribes to develop unified positions on issues that impact Arizona tribes as a region.

What are the top three issues that you’ll bring to Washington as a group?

As a unified group, [our issues are] the Arizona Inter Tribal Trust Fund, tribal healthcare and Indian Health Services, and tribal water issues.

What is the association’s consensus position on internet gaming?

Arizona Indian Gaming Association and its member tribes share concerns about the potential proposals for Congress to enact Internet gaming legislation. As the Chairman of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, I believe any Internet gaming proposal must be consistent with existing Tribal-State Compacts and with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.  What works for some tribes, may not work for all Tribes.

What are the top three issues facing the Yavapai-Apache?

We’ll be focusing on the tribe’s Indian Water Rights, as the Yavapai-Apache Nation continues to pursue the negotiation of its federal water rights and the adjudication of the Verde River in Arizona. The Verde River is not only the lifeline and cultural hub of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, but it is also Arizona’s only remaining free flowing river. Protecting the Verde River and negotiating a future for the tribe’s community is a critical priority for the Nation. It is very likely that a settlement of the Nation’s water rights could serve as a catalyst for resolving a number of water issues on the Verde River and the development of a conjunctive management regime for the River that one day might assure the long term sustainability of the Verde and the communities it supports. 

The Nation will also discuss Arizona’s bald eagle population and the protection of the eagle. The eagle is not only important spiritually to the people, but the eagle is also the barometer of the Verde River. Protecting Arizona’s eagle population will reflect the protection of waterways and results in sustainable life for communities along the river.

As a tribal community, identifying and protecting our sacred sites and tribally sensitive species, like the Bald Eagle, is a mission that remains dear to our hearts. The Yavapai-Apache Nation sees that many of our sacred or more correctly, holy sites are now being threatened by development, mining and even renewable energy projects. The Nation thinks it is critical for Tribes throughout Arizona and across Indian country to stand together to protect our sacred sites and we hope that the federal government will stand with us, even when faced with competing pressures brought by private industry and other priorities. Throughout the United States, it seems as though the term “sacred” has been referenced so frequently that the meaning is often times hollow. Because of this, the Nation focuses on holy sites that our people identify as places of significance where our people have had a connection with the Creator.

[The Yavapai-Apache Nation is comprised of two distinct peoples —the Yavapai  (Wipuhk’a’bah) who speak the Yuman language and the Apache (Dil’zhe’e) who speak the Athabaskan language. They share a common history of being ethnically cleansed from their ancestral lands:  In 1875, the Yavapai and Apache were forced to march through winter flooded rivers, mountainous terrain and harsh weather from the Rio Verde Indian Reservation 180 miles away to the Indian Agency at San Carlos, Arizona, resulting in the loss of several thousand acres of treaty lands promised to them by the United States government. When released from internment 25 years later around 200 Yavapai and Apache returned to the Verde Valley. Today, the Yavapai-Apache Nation is more than 2300 strong and uses gaming revenues from its Cliff Castle Casino-Hotel to develop its communities, provide educational, social and economic services to tribal members and improve the quality of life on the reservation. And the Nation continues to reclaim the treaty-promised lands and the culture that was taken from the people during the removal, Beauty said.]

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