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Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. goes to bat for its members

PHOENIX -- The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc., a private, nonprofit
corporation with representation from 20 of the state's 22 tribes, is an
agency that effectively works to promote tribal sovereignty by providing a
viable forum for collective community political action within the state.
Initially established in 1952 in response to the shifting federal Indian
policies of previous decades, the united voice of ITCA created new
opportunities for Southwestern tribes to fully participate in the important
formation of public policy.

During the 1945 -- '61 Era of Termination, legislation was passed calling
for a reversal of tribal self-governance that had been previously endorsed
in the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. In addition, Congress began to
call for an end to federal responsibilities for Indian tribes.

At the same time, Public Law 280, passed in 1953, gave six states mandatory
and substantial criminal and civil jurisdiction over Indian country.
Arizona was one of eight "optional" states that adopted a modified version
of PL 280, with disclaimers in its state constitution limiting jurisdiction
over Indian country within state borders.

Although state jurisdiction in Arizona is subject to legal challenge, the
statute was an aggressive attempt to weaken tribal sovereignty and the
power of tribal governments. ITCA was organized to help bolster and fortify
the influence of tribes at the bargaining table.

ITCA is governed first by a four-member board of directors that currently
consists of Board President Raphael Bear, president of the Fort McDowell
Yavapai Nation; First Vice President Leonard Rivers, vice president of the
Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community; Second Vice President Carmen
Bradley, chairman of the Kaibab-Paiute Tribe; and Secretary/Treasurer
Sherry Cordova, chairman of the Cocopah Tribe. The board is assisted by a
team of 50 support staffers, headed by Executive Director John R. Lewis, a
Mohave/Pima/Tohono O'odham member of the Colorado River Indian Tribes who
has worked with ITCA for some 30 years. Alberta C. Tippeconnic, Navajo
Nation tribal member, is the organization's assistant director.

Bear believes that ITCA is an important organization for both the Arizona
tribes and the non-Indian communities within the state because of the
spirit of partnership that has developed through their work together. "ITCA
provides a platform for discussion of issues that concern our tribes," he
said. "We also have concerns about areas surrounding our communities.
Phoenix is the fastest-growing city in America; and since Indian country
occupies 20 percent of the state, and many local voters patronize our
casinos and other enterprises, we are also concerned about local issues.
ITCA has helped us create a workable atmosphere of collaboration,
partnership and development with local, state and federal agencies as
well."

ITCA's members consist of tribes' top elected officials, including
chairmen, presidents and governors. They meet four times per year. As
representatives of Arizona tribes with a shared historic and political
background, these members address the concerns, needs and problems common
to Arizona's Indian population.

Working groups, comprised of staff members, tribal program directors and
service agency representatives, are formed as ad hoc committees charged
with investigating and addressing concerns. "A lot of issues that affect
Indian people are similar and other tribes may have the same concerns, so
there is often a need to address these problems as common concerns." Lewis
pointed out.

Sometimes issues of concern are legislative matters, and ITCA isn't able to
address the issue directly. In that case, it will confer with local, state
or federal delegates. "We approach legislators, sit down with their staffs
and express our concerns. Tribes within certain districts usually take the
lead on particular issues that directly affect them, and their delegates
respond accordingly. We also do a lot of work at the federal level and
spend a lot of time in Washington working on matters of legislation," Lewis
said.

According to the organization's mission statement, the ultimate goal of
ITCA is to provide "an independent capacity to obtain, analyze and
disseminate information vital to Indian community self-development." One
way its objectives are accomplished is by operating more than 20 relevant
projects designed to offer ongoing technical assistance and training to
tribes and tribal governments in program planning and development, research
and data collection, resource development, management and evaluation.
Through seminars, workshops, conferences and by conducting public hearings,
ITCA serves to facilitate the participation of tribal leaders in the
formulation of public policy on every level.

"Sometimes there are gaps that need to be filled," said Lewis. "Homeland
security is a good example. Money is being channeled to state and local
governments to help build an infrastructure around bio-terrorism and
homeland security. Tribes need direct funding from the state in order to
coordinate these efforts. Arizona has the most comprehensive working
relationship with Indian tribes of all of the states. This has been
accomplished through intergovernmental agreements that strive for a more
equitable approach to resources."

Additionally, ITCA maintains affiliations with many outside Indian agencies
that assist tribes and their members with special needs such as health care
and dental services, human and social services and environmental concerns,
as well as agencies for political and economic development.

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"We work with all federal and state agencies," said Lewis, "but we don't
ever compete with tribes for funding. Rather, we try to get more access to
funding for tribes. For example, along with the Navajo Nation, we serve as
an agency on aging. We then work with the National Council on Aging and
tribal resource centers, contract with tribes, and also provide some funds
for their regional programs."

This coming spring, ITCA will lend its support to three important events:
the 2006 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, the American Indian Ready
to Learn Program and the 3rd Annual Construction in Indian Country
Conference.

A VITA site has been established in Phoenix, and from Feb. 4 -- April 15,
volunteers will be on hand to provide free tax preparation services to
American Indian individuals and families of low to moderate income.
Knowledgeable VITA volunteers help working families each year to claim tax
benefits such as Earned Income Tax Credit, a federal tax benefit that
provides more than $32 billion annually in tax relief for eligible
families.

"In response to the shared needs of tribal members across Arizona, we have
been working with the state, the Internal Revenue Service, Phoenix Indian
Center and other agencies to get this program up and running," said Lewis.

The American Indian Ready to Learn Training Program, which will be held
Feb. 8 -- 9 in Phoenix, offers parents, primary caregivers, businesses,
health care providers, educators, faith groups, government, media and
service organizations an appropriate procedure for educating both Indian
and non-Indian communities about Native cultures.

Finally, ITCA is lending support to the Construction in Indian Country
conference, sponsored by Arizona State University, which will be held April
6 -- 7 at the Radisson Hotel in Fountain Hills. The conference will provide
an opportunity for successful tribal project owners, decision-makers,
builders and experienced tribal and industrial contractors throughout
Indian country to meet. The group will share critical information on
subjects such as construction law, alternative project delivery methods,
building project needs, community planning and pre-construction,
construction management and contractor/tribal relations in Indian country.

Lewis contends that there is no one single issue that can be viewed as the
most important concern of Arizona tribes in 2006. "In some ways our
concerns never change." he said. "Protecting and strengthening tribal
sovereignty is always critical. Ongoing issues that surround land, water
and resource usage and protection constantly need to be addressed.
Governmental functions are also important. Tribes must have the flexibility
to do what must be done for their tribal citizens, and so federal, state
and local governments must recognize the concerns of tribal governments,"
he added.

Lewis said that in the future he would like to see disparities in tribal
needs addressed more adequately. "There is always a gap in terms of what is
needed or what is available," he offered. "In the area of health care, for
instance, IHS can only meet 60 percent of tribal needs across the board.
There's a whole range of services that still need to be set in place.

"I would like to see more recognition of the needs of tribes, and more
effort to move ahead to fill them. IHS and the tribes need to collaborate
on formulating new ways to address these problems. They need to ask how
tribes can improve services for their members, and how they are set up to
confront these issues."

Lewis said safety and transportation problems in Arizona's Indian country
are also big problems that need to be addressed: roads and bridges need
building and repair, and more effort needs to be put into making travel
through tribal lands safer. "We are way behind in equitable services," he
added.

Still, he said the political atmosphere between the tribes and the state
has improved over the years, particularly since Gov. Janet Napolitano took
office. "Our working relationship has improved, but there are always gaps
that must be filled," he said. "Legislative representatives are spending
more time with the tribes, and tribal input is increasing. Napolitano has a
very unique approach to working with tribes. She is doing more than any
previous governor to identify and meet the needs of Indian people. She
meets with individual tribes as well as organizations, and is doing much to
make state government more 'tribe friendly.'"

Nevertheless, he believes that ITCA must continue to advocate on behalf of
Arizona's tribal nations. "We have to encourage an ongoing effort toward
state and tribal coordination and more equitable input for Arizona tribes,"
he said.