When Thomas Beauty attended President Obama’s 6th Annual White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington, D.C. in early December, he wore three virtual hats: Beauty is chairman of the Yavapai-Apache Nation; he is the elected executive vice president of the Executive Board of Directors for the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona; and vice chairman of the Arizona Indian Gaming Association.
The one-day conference on December 3 featured a diverse panel of cabinet level speakers, discussing tribal priorities, accomplishments in Indian country and an opportunity for leaders to ask questions about the administrations priorities and bring awareness to key issues such as federal trust responsibility, Indian education, immigration reform, the Keystone Pipeline and other tribal issues.
It was in his role as Yavapai-Apache Nation chairman that Beauty was among a dozen tribal leaders invited to attend an exclusive meeting at the White House hosted by the president a day earlier.
“As Chairman, I always speak from my heart and for my people,” Beauty told ICTMN. “Having the opportunity to meet directly with the president of the United States was a tremendous honor and a once in a lifetime opportunity. When I was given the opportunity to speak, I was proud to tell the president that as Indian people, we are the invisible minority, often times forgotten and only seen when the federal government wants to infringe on our sovereignty or to take things that do not belong to them.”
Beauty, who represented the western region, discussed issues important to the Yavapai-Apache Nation and shared some of those concerns with ICTMN:
First, what were the Yavapai’s best achievements in 2014?
The Yavapai-Apache Nation used 2014 to focus on internal achievements that were for the direct benefit of the tribal members. The Tribal Council and Executive Office are extremely proud that in 2014 the Nation completed the development of the wastewater treatment pipeline from the Cliff Castle Casino district to the Middle Verde Reservation. This was a critical project for the Nation, because the existing wastewater treatment plant near the casino was at capacity, which hindered the Nation’s ability to bring in additional economic development in the casino corridor. With the completion of the pipeline, the Nation is now in the preliminary phase of strategically planning additional economic develop near Cliff Castle Casino. The vision is to have a balanced economy that compliments the casino and hospitality industry that currently exists with tribally owned business, tribal member owned business and off-reservation business. Not only will this generate additional revenue to the Nation, enabling the Nation to further grow its services to tribal members, but it will also create additional jobs for tribal members, in a rural part of Arizona, where job creation has been and continues to be stagnant.
In 2013, prior to being elected, the Tribal Council made a significant change to the Nation’s Revenue Allocation Plan. The Yavapai-Apache Nation is a per-capita community. Prior to 2014, there were no contingencies on receiving per-capita. In 2014, the Tribal Council amended the RAP, making it a requirement for tribal members, specifically our tribal youth, to have a High School diploma or GED, must complete a financial education course and also a cultural assessment that includes, history, stories and language.
The Nation’s water rights have been a priority for the past 40 years, and remain a priority. The Nation is located in the Verde Valley, and is home to the Verde River. In 2014, the Executive Office reflected on the challenges of the water rights negotiations, and re-branded the tribal initiative from the Yavapai-Apache water rights to the Verde Valley water rights settlement. However, the Nation and other tribes must push the State of Arizona to make it the state’s priority to settle federal Indian water rights. With the re-branding of this effort, the Nation launched a new approach to community relations, new vision for negotiating the water rights for the Verde Valley, and initiated dialogue with stakeholders. [We’ve made] significant progress on the project and the Nation continues to work to settle the water rights for the longevity of the Verde Valley and Yavapai-Apache Nation’s future.
In addressing the Arizona State Legislature on January 20 in Phoenix, I said that the tribes support the settlements of the remaining Indian water rights claims in the state. Just like the non-Indian communities that are party to the pending water rights litigation and settlement efforts, we want the certainty of a secure water supply that will allow us to develop our communities with some degree of confidence. We want to build the permanent tribal homelands that were promised to us when we gave up our historic homelands for the reservations that we now live on.
What are the top three priorities for the Yavapai-Apache Nation in 2015 and did you get an opportunity to discuss them at the summit?
When I took the oath of office, I sat in my office and made note of several things that I wanted to accomplish while serving as chairman. My grandfathers were part of the original water rights negotiations, and a priority for my Administration is to continue to work to a final settlement of the Nation’s water rights. Additionally, housing is a major challenge for my people. We are not only a checker-boarded reservation with minimal land base, but we have limited housing with a growing population. My Administration’s goal is to develop an additional 60-70 new homes in the Tunlii tribal community, to accommodate the housing needs of tribal members, eliminating homes that are over-crowded and tribal members who are unable to reside on the reservation because of lack of homes.
In 2015, I am looking forward to working with the Tribal Council to diversify our tribal economy and bring in additional economic development that will generate revenue for the Nation and create jobs for our people.
It is also my priority in 2015, to work with the Tribal Council on the expansion of Cliff Castle Casino-Hotel, and develop a new hotel.