by Governor Stephen Lewis, Gila River Indian Community
The Gila River Indian Community was honored to welcome participants of the conference, Indigenous Perspectives on Sustainable Water Practices, to our Community. This conference comes at a critical time for Arizonas Native people. Much has been accomplished, but much more needs to be done. Change has come because of the dedication of our leaders, past and present, and we owe them a debt of thanks. I learned from my mother and my father, Rod Lewis, the life lesson of community service, strength, to give back what you have to your people. We have a legacy to live up to from people like Richard Narcia, governor at the time of the settlement, and John Echohawk, who fought along with my father and took cases to the Supreme Court. We also owe much to our elders, who are the moral and ethical fiber of our community.
A central theme for tribes was unfortunately loss in many areas: loss of land, culture, language, and human capacity. For the GRIC, it was the loss of ourriver and its water and the need to bring back the importance of water to our community. Elders remember the sound and smell of water. Bringing this back to our young people was vital because it is our destiny. We will never get flow of the Gila River back, but our planning and projects will set in motion many positive things that will increase the flow of the river and reestablish our culture and traditions. This year, 2015, is the year to honor our water resources, ten years after the Arizona Water Settlements Act that culminated our fight to bring back our water.
Fights of the past against the State, Federal Government, Salt River Project, Arizona Public Service Company, mining companies represented a commitment to getting our water back. Now we have partnership with these entities and we are building on this foundation and partnerships.
The settlement right to water allowed the GRIC to chart a course to the future. The Council is developing plans for long-term access to multiple sources. Two sources are pumping groundwater in balance with surface water and increasing Gila River water through our Central Arizona Project allocation. We will move CAP water directly to the Gila River for ecological restoration to bring back our agrarian culture. We will also be increasing our groundwater storage on the reservation for future use. We know we must have a plan for the future and be vigilant to protect our water for the future in a sustainable way.
It was an important time for this gathering to have Tribal leaders here, Tribal government, and to have the next generation of tribal hydrologists, tribal engineers, and tribal environmentalists, those who will be doing policy work in the future. To have those tribal activists as well, who separate themselves from the Tribal governments, who are the watchdogs, who keep those Tribal governments honest, as well. And as well to have those institutions of higher learning that have that responsibility, the public trust to work with Tribes, especially in Arizona where over a fourth of the land base is Tribal land. So moving forward, there are such opportunities to work together for public, private, Tribal partnerships, and so with this gathering, hopefully these seeds have been respectfully planted here and well see the fruits coming from it. Where it goes from here, I think this opens a dialogue.