Yavapai leaders reveal plans for reservation
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 16, 2006

Jessica Coomes

FORT MCDOWELL - The Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation's three recently elected leaders started their terms Wednesday by pointing to developments on the reservation, such as a K-12 school and a justice center.

At the Tribal Council inauguration, Fort McDowell's leaders also praised the reservation's modern successes and changes.

"We live in a prosperous time, but we can make it better," said Paul Russell, who is starting his first term as a Tribal Council member.

Russell was elected Jan. 10 with two incumbents, Vice President Bernadine Burnette and Secretary Pansy Thomas.

Wednesday's inauguration coincided with the three-day Southwest Indian Gaming Conference and Expo, which this year brought tribal leaders from Arizona and New Mexico to Fort McDowell's newly opened Radisson resort.

Representatives from about a dozen tribes were nearby and witnessed the inauguration.

Wednesday also marked the end of Gwen Bahe's 14 years as a Tribal Council member. She did not seek re-election this year. Burnette won the vice presidential election with 103 votes; Russell won his council seat with 101 votes; and Thomas was re-elected with 232 votes.

Burnette, who has also been a Tribal Council member for 14 years, mentioned plans to build a K-12 school at Fort McDowell, which would keep children on the reservation to learn Yavapai culture.

The 'Hmań 'shawa Elementary School, which goes up to third grade, is the only school now at Fort McDowell.

The school teaches Yavapai culture, including the traditional language. Students from the elementary school sang the tribal anthem in both English and Yavapai at the ceremony.

"We are first, foremost Yavapais, before we are doctors, lawyers, council members," Burnette said. "This is what separates us from mainstream society. . . . We must teach our culture, our language, our customs and our values. Otherwise we may lose our sovereignty."

Burnette also mentioned construction of the tribe's new justice center, which will include the tribal court, prosecutor's office and Police Department. Eventually, it will house the Fire Department and detention facility, she said.

And Burnette called for increasing funds for substance-abuse treatment programs and quality health care.

An election challenge was filed against Burnette last month based on the validity of her last name. The challenge was thrown out by the Election Board and Tribal Court. Burnette mentioned the ordeal in her speech.

"If you spend petty time on a surname, I'm sure you can get out there and fight alcohol and drugs," she said.

Russell wanted to combine the talents and energy of the elderly and the young to tackle drug and health issues.

"Tomorrow, the work begins," Russell said.