Tribal leaders decry official-English effort
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 19, 2005

Judy Nichols

Native American leaders visited the state Capitol on Tuesday for the 10th-annual Indian Nations and Tribes Legislative Day and expressed their displeasure with a proposal to make English the official language of Arizona.

More than 500 representatives of Arizona's 22 Indian tribes filled the gallery or sat among state legislators from their districts for introductions and prepared speeches.

Sen. Bill Brotherton, D-Phoenix, urged them to express their opinion on House Concurrent Resolution 2030, which would allow voters to declare English the official state language. The bill will be considered during this year's legislative session.

"In plain English, sir, we don't like it, and we don't want it," said Kathy Kitcheyan, chairwoman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe. "As the first Americans, we never asked anyone to speak a specific language."

Vivian Juan-Saunders, chairwoman of the Tohono O'odham Nation and president of the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, called the measure "divisive, objectionable and unnecessary."

She said it was reminiscent of government boarding schools where Indian children suffered verbal and physical abuse for using their Native languages.

Juan-Saunders said Navajo Code Talkers and other Indian soldiers used their native languages to pass coded messages, helping win World War II.

Both women received standing ovations.

Speaking at lunch on the Senate lawn, Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr., said he was beginning to feel like tribes are an endangered species.

"One hundred years from now, 500 years from now, we want to be Navajo people, talking in our Navajo language, telling our stories in our Navajo language," Shirley said.

In 1988, Arizona voters approved an English-only law but the state Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional because it violated free speech and equal-protection rights.

Former Sen. Jack Jackson Sr., honored as the father of the Indian Nations and Tribes Legislative Day, said he organized the event to try to deal with problems the tribes have, some dating back to drawing the state's borders without input or consideration of tribal lands.

"Down by Tucson, they put half the Tohono O'odham community in Mexico," Jackson said. "The Navajo Nation is in three different states."

Other tribes are split across county and city borders, causing jurisdictional nightmares.

Leaders also addressed other concerns: growth, water, education, transportation and health care.

Hopi President Wayne Taylor Jr. said his tribe faces an economic crisis with the threatened closure of the Mohave Generating Station.

Water pumped from the Navajo aquifer is used to slurry coal from the Black Mesa Coal Mine 273 miles to the generating station in Laughlin, Nev. But the Navajo and Hopi tribes say the operation is depleting the aquifer and won't allow it to continue after 2005.

"Some of our wells and springs are drying up already," Taylor said.

Without an alternate water source, possibly a pipeline from the Coconino aquifer, the mine and generating station will be closed.

The Hopis receive $7.7 million, one-third its operating budget, from coal royalties.

Juan-Saunders said her tribe is concerned about high school seniors passing the AIMS test, encroaching development of homes and shopping centers on reservation borders and a lack of funding for homeland security expenses.

"We have 75 miles of national border and we've spent $7 million of our own resources," she said.