Hobbs intends to strengthen relationships with Arizona’s tribal nations

By: - December 19, 2022 12:09 pm

Navajo Nation President-elect Buu Nygren celebrates his victory by shouting to his supporters on election night. Joining him, from left to right, were his wife, State Rep. Jasmine Blackwater Nygren, Navajo Nation Vice President-elect Richelle Montoya Chee, and her husband, Olsen Chee. Nygren hopes to work with Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs on issues of water rights, infrastructure and taxation in the Navajo Nation. Photo by Shondiin Silversmith | Arizona Mirror

Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs hopes to actively work with leaders of Arizona’s 22 tribal nations on a government-to-government basis to build stronger relationships that benefit Indigenous communities.

“For too long, our leaders have failed to prioritize proactively working with tribes to address the challenges Indigenous Peoples face,” Hobbs said in her Indigenous communities plan. “From fixing education to lowering the cost of everyday necessities to finally addressing the impacts of prolonged droughts, I will work with tribes to solve these issues.”

As part of her plans to facilitate tribal sovereignty and partnership, Hobbs intends to revitalize the Office of Tribal Relations, hire a dedicated tribal policy advisor and bring in stakeholders to work on pressing issues that face Arizona tribes.

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As part of Hobbs’ tribal communities plan, she lays out several ways her administration intends to work with Arizona’s tribes. These include tribal sovereignty and partnership; economic security and opportunity; child welfare; the next generation of leaders; voting rights; an accountable justice system; adequate access to health care and water rights.

Hobbs said that throughout her campaigns for secretary of state and governor, she had heard from tribal communities and other marginalized communities about how politicians tend to visit their communities asking for votes, but then they don’t come back until the next election. 

“I now have the opportunity as governor to make sure that we’re bringing our tribal communities to the table,” Hobbs said. 

Hobbs said she wants to work on addressing the issues that Indigenous communities are facing by bringing in opportunities that tribes may be traditionally shut out from.

Hobbs wants to make sure tribes have a seat at the table.

“Not as an afterthought, but as part of critical decisions we’re making for the state, and I’m absolutely committed to that,” she added.

Some significant issues impacting indigenous communities across Arizona include water rights, infrastructure, missing and murdered Indigenous peoples and gaming. 

For instance, over the past few years, more light has been shed on missing and murdered Indigenous peoples. 

An Arizona Mirror analysis of the sparse available data on MMIWG cases found that more than 25% of murders involving Indigenous women in Arizona go unsolved. Additionally, the Murder Accountability Project found that one in three murders of Native Americans in Arizona goes unreported to the FBI.

A 2017 study from the Urban Indian Health Institute found that Arizona has the third-highest number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in the country. That study reported 506 known cases in 71 urban cities across the country, and 54 cases were identified in Arizona, including 31 in Tucson. 

In some tribal communities, women face murder rates that are more than 10 times the national average, according to the Department of Justice.

In 2017, homicide was reported as the fourth-leading cause of death among Indigenous women under the age of 19 and the sixth-leading cause of death for ages 20 to 44, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

And the National Institute of Justice found that 84% of Indigenous women experience violence in their lifetime, compared to 71% of white women.

Regarding missing and murdered Indigenous peoples, Hobbs said she understands the issue because of her background as a social worker. 

In the past, workers who had dealt with violence against women knew it was more prevalent in tribal communities, but the phenomenon didn’t have a name. 

Through Arizona’s MMIP study committee, Hobbs said she is committed to giving Native communities the resources they deserve to bring awareness to the issue and for the state to help address it. 

“We do what we need to do to make sure that it’s not continuing to be a problem,” she said.

In her plan, Hobbs outlined how she intends to develop a fairer and more accountable justice system. She also wants to review the recommendations made by the Arizona missing and murdered Indigenous peoples study committee. 

“For too long, our state has not prioritized seeking justice for missing and murdered Indigenous Peoples, ensured Native Americans have leadership roles throughout our judicial system, or fully recognized the historic injustices these communities face,” Hobb stated in her plan. “We will work to create and increase support for programs that address these critical issues.”

Some of Hobbs’ recommendations include building cooperative partnerships between tribal, local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to better respond to and investigate cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous peoples.

Incoming Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren looks forward to developing a relationship with Hobbs and thought it was a historic move by Arizona to elect a Democratic governor, which hasn’t been done in years. 

“I know it’s going to be instrumental, and I feel like she really has a strong interest in working with tribes,” Nygren said in an interview with the Mirror. 

During her term, Nygren hopes to work with Hobbs on water rights, infrastructure and taxation, some of the issues facing the Navajo Nation.

Nygren said that water issues are a big topic, and he understands that it’s been an ongoing discussion. Still, he looks forward to working with the incoming administration.

Nygren said he wants to figure out how they can ensure that the Navajo Nation and its people’s water rights are protected. 

As part of Hobbs’ tribal communities plan, she outlined a few key topics she intends to focus on regarding water rights for tribal communities. 

Hobbs said she had observed the water negotiations from afar. But she understands that water will continue to be a prevalent issue in Arizona, which her administration intends to stay focused on.

“There’s so many communities that don’t have settled water rights claims,” she added.

As part of Hobbs’s plan, she said she’ll support resolutions that involve tribal water rights claims, which affect half of the federally recognized tribes in Arizona.

She promises to prioritize stakeholder cooperation and planning, regional discussions and negotiations on Colorado River issues and groundwater management, and advancing negotiations of tribal water settlements.

Another priority will be allocating up to $15 million in a one-time grant program to help rural and indigenous communities unable to secure a certified well driller to dig permitted wells that don’t risk contamination from nearby sources.

Another big topic Nygren wants to discuss is infrastructure, especially when it comes to roads across the Navajo Nation. 

He hopes to develop partnerships to help the Navajo Nation build and maintain roads. Nygren said the Navajo Nation makes up a third of Arizona, and he wants to work with the governor’s office to improve roads.

“We do understand that not a lot of funding does come from the government that’s going to  meet the needs of road construction,” Nygren said, but he hopes they can find some creative solutions. “Why not partner together to make sure that the roadways across Arizona are better.”

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Shondiin Silversmith
Shondiin Silversmith

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues. Her digital, print and audio stories have been published by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic, Navajo Times, The GroundTruth Project and PRX's "The World." Silversmith earned her master's degree in journalism and mass communication in Boston before moving back to Arizona to continue reporting stories on Indigenous communities. She is a member of the Native American Journalist Association and has made it a priority in her career to advocate, pitch and develop stories surrounding Indigenous communities in the newsrooms she works in.

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