Carina Dominguez
Indian Country Today

The U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Martin Walsh joined U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly at the Phoenix Indian Center to discuss Native American employment on and off tribal lands.

Secretary Walsh is touring the nation, meeting with local officials and a few tribal communities, advocating for President Joe Biden’s economic agenda.

Walsh and Kelly, an Arizona Democrat, were in downtown Phoenix on Aug. 24 discussing the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the “Build Back Better” agenda outlined by the White House - the same day both measures were advanced by the U.S. House of Representatives.

“It's good for me to be here because of the impact,” Walsh said. “When you think about Build Back Better, what it can do for the tribal communities and reservations.”

The $1 trillion senate-passed infrastructure bill would bring more workforce training and employment opportunities for Native Americans.

“This legislation will go a long way to improving the infrastructure in Arizona, but particularly on Native American and tribal lands, roads, bridges, water infrastructure, providing clean water to tribal members, broadband internet,” Kelly said.

Last week the Democratic-controlled House agreed to vote by Sept. 27 on the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

The Department of Labor’s Division of Indian and Native American Programs funds the Phoenix Indian Center’s skills training and employment services to help reduce unemployment.

Patricia Hibbeler, Salish and Kootenai, is the CEO of the Phoenix Indian Center, which is the first urban Indian center in the nation to assist tribal citizens with employment.

The center serves more than 7,000 Indigenous people from more than 100 tribes with workforce, education and social services programs.

“We really pride ourselves in eliminating all of the barriers that our clients might have to getting them successfully launched back into the workforce,” Hibbeler said.

Program Manager Olivia Hendricks, Tohono O’odham, builds relationships with clients and shows she cares to ensure they successfully get back to work or change career paths.

Hendricks invited five clients to meet with Walsh and Kelly to share their stories of personal struggles and triumph.

“The funding that they’re giving our program is making an impact on the community,” Hendricks said.

Labor Secretary Visits Phoenix Indian Center

Frances Lincoln, Navajo, was one of the clients who shared her story. Lincoln started with the center when she was a teacher of Hendricks’ son and wanted a new career path.

“I knew I was searching for it, but I just didn't know how to go about it. Especially wanting to give back to our Indigenous people,” Lincoln said.

Now, she’s an executive assistant for a Navajo-owned project development company.

“Phoenix Indian Center is the place to go to get that started and you would have to do the work, believe in yourself and it'll all come together,” Lincoln said.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), Section 166, passed in 2014 and funds the Division of Indian and Native American Programs - supporting employment and training opportunities.

“Incredible stories of coming back from really challenging circumstances and finding, you know, new careers and new opportunities, and then getting through some really tough times; got an incredible staff here,” Kelly said.

Walsh has visited over 20 states in the last two months advocating for the spending in the Build Back Better agenda and bipartisan infrastructure bill.

An analysis by the Brookings Institution, a non-partisan think tank, concludes its the biggest infrastructure package in decades and characterized it as a “generational investment”.

“I was just asked a question by a reporter about people worrying about spending… is it too much spending. It’s not about spending, it’s about investments. And right now we’re at a moment in time where we can make investments in people,” Walsh said.

On Aug. 25, Walsh visited the Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico.

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