Ak-Chin: 'We're doing fine'

Chairman Robert Miguel (Courtesy photo)

Patty Talahongva

Indian Country Today Newscast for Monday, August 17 with guest Chairman Robert Miguel, Ak-Chin Indian Community, along with ICT reporter/producer Aliyah Chavez

The Ak-Chin Indian Community is located 35 miles south of Phoenix, Arizona. It has a population of 1,100 tribal citizens and a land base of 22,000 acres.  

In March as the coronavirus spread across the country, tribal leadership strte shutting down enterprises and telling its people to stay home. Now, they are slowly reopening. How are things going for this tribe? Our guest is Robert Miguel, chairman of the Ak-Chin Indian Community. 

Here are some of Chairman Miguel's comments: 

"We had to make an adjustment that we weren't accustomed to, a new way of life in a sense. Having to shut down our community at one point and to have a curfew was definitely something our people were not accustomed to and had to adjust of course."

"Early on there was a lot of frustration, a lot of things that we weren't doing out of the norm even visiting family members within the community was somewhat prohibited. Everybody in Ak-Chin knows one another and we're all family. So it was really, really difficult to communicate in a sense having to call, rather than meeting in person was an adjustment."

"We found ways to help one another. Of course the virus and the pandemic is a negative overall it creates a lot of negative issues as far as our way of life but it also brought us back to what we used to do as people before everything came about, as far as social media, as far as technology, as far as just the overall way of life today."

"This gave us the opportunity to look back and say, what did we do back when, before we had all of this? I'll give you an example, how it's helped me in a positive way is I have a 10 year old who asked, 'Dad before we had all of these technology advances today, what did you guys do for leisure to have fun?' And so I explained to her, there was nothing out here in Maricopa Ak-Chin area."

"So our way of life was to go out and explore the desert scenery, the different formations. And so what I do now or what I've done as we've slowly adjusted to this life, new life is I've taken her out for rides into our community where there's a lot of desert area. And so I explained to her what the different formations are, vegetation's in my language."

"So it's helped us to communicate in that way, to where she's starting to understand my language, our language, because again, it's our way of life that we're adjusting to and it's connecting us to the past. And so I use it as a positive way, but of course, I know we do encounter a lot of negativity, as far as just the normal way of life, but our community, I'll tell you what Patty, they just adjusted so well, again, frustration from the beginning but as we moved along, we've learned to identify that, we don't need to let this hinder our way of life."

"With our casino we had unfortunately, close our doors just as other casinos have throughout the country but we've also as we moved towards moving into opening our doors, we've definitely made it a priority to abide by CDC guidelines and other avenues as far as what we need to implement to keep everyone safe and healthy."

"Our priority is to make money for community for services and other needs throughout the state but our first priority and I'm sure I can't speak with the other tribes but I'm sure they thought the same thing but our main priority and our main thoughts was just make sure that our patrons were safe and healthy. So we implemented a lot of guidelines."

"We remove a machine or two. So again they're not as close to one another, we've implemented some monitors at our entrances to check temperatures at the door. So when they're coming in, if there's a problem, we'll identify that."

"And one of the great things is that our GM and their team, they're coordinating with the other 21 tribes (in Arizona) and getting ideas that they may not have here in Ak-Chin. So we're collaborating with one another to see what's working out for each and every one of us and how we can implement that together."

"We've been fortunate here at Harrah's Ak-Chin Casino to be able to get back to our positive numbers that we've been accustomed to. We're doing great overall Patty, we are actually surpassing plans from the previous year. So that's a good thing and I'll keep it at that, that we're doing fine. I believe recouped a lot of the financials that we had to succumb to when we closed down. So we're doing fine."

"Hopefully crossing our fingers that not just us but all the other tribes are able to get back to their normal ways."

"These financial figures that we get through gaming is going back to the people. I want to make that a priority to let others know that it's going back to the people it's going back to the state in any way we can help, as far as expanding services, especially during this pandemic."

"We don't know how long this pandemic is going to be here but we're going to take every precaution. Together we're identifying areas where we need to improve or where we can improve."

"Right now the Maricopa Unified School District and charter schools in the area have just begun. We began to try to reestablish and reconnect to our normal way of life, we're going to run into a lot of problems, but again it's a problem that we're going to learn from."

"I'll tell you what we're preparing for the worst and cross our fingers. We hope that does not happen but we have to prepare for that but I see us sustaining and moving forward in a positive direction, regardless if it hinders our way of life, even more. So again, we've got a great team. We've got great members overall that are looking into the future and putting that thought of what, if this happens, what if that happens? So we're preparing ourselves."

Here are some comments from Aliyah Chavez about the DNC convention.

The democratic party kicks us off with their convention starting today, Monday and ending Thursday. Americans are used to seeing a big, bright stage and a large arena filled with people. But this year's DNC convention will be mostly virtual with many speakers who have pre-recorded their remarks."

"One of those is a Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez. He is dubbed one of 17 rising stars in the democratic party and will be speaking in a keynote address on Tuesday."

"The entire goal of these conventions is to officially nominate a party's choice for president. This year we are more than confident that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be chosen by the Democratic party, which means that this week and well into November's general election, we'll really see a lot of Democrats working to unify the party and to rally around the candidates."

"The other point of the convention is to pass a party platform, which is a document that essentially states the Democratic party's values for the next four years. It is a 92 page document that shares their wish for achieving things like universal and affordable healthcare, combating the climate crisis and even plans to protect tribal sovereignty."

"What's new this year is the party platform begins with a land acknowledgement. It says the democratic party gathers to state its values on lands that have been stewarded by tribal nations since time immemorial saying, 'We honor the communities Native to this continent and recognize that our country was built on Indigenous homelands. We pay our respects to the millions of Indigenous people through history who have protected our lands, waters and animals.,'"

"We know that he'll (Nez) be speaking on prime time. So if you turn on your television, every single night, Monday through Thursday, the DNC remarks will begin at 9:00 PM Eastern time and they'll go for two hours every night. So we know that President Nez will be speaking during that timeframe."

"The DNCs Native American Caucus, which is an official constituency caucus of the organization, they're hosting their two meetings virtually as well. They're hosting one meeting on Tuesday and another Thursday and it's really a chance for Native delegates and allies of Indian country to gather and talk about Indigenous issues."

"Tuesday's meeting will be called For Our Future and Environmental Justice and Empowering Native Youth and that panel we'll include representatives, Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids, as well as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker."

"Monday night's theme is called Uniting America and the keynote speeches tonight will come from former first lady Michelle Obama and Senator Bernie Sanders, who, as we all know, are well known names in Indian country. We've had some pretty significant work come from the two of them. I imagine that a lot of people, Americans, both Native and non-Native will be tuning in tonight."

Also in the newscast, Deputy Managing Editor Jourdan Bennett-Begaye has the latest positive COVID-19 test numbers in Indian Country. The anchor and executive producer of the newscast is Patty Talahongva.

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