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Local News

Governor’s Office on Tribal Relations renewed until 2032

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by Shondiin Silversmith, Arizona Mirror
June 24, 2024

After months of uncertainty, the fate of the Governor’s Office on Tribal Relations is finally clear after Governor Katie Hobbs signed a law passed on the final day of the legislature’s annual session that allows the office to operate until 2032. 

“We’re glad that this has finally been resolved, and our work can continue now that we have that legislative mandate,” said Jason Chavez, the director of tribal affairs for the Governor’s Office on Tribal Relations.

Legislative efforts to continue the Governor’s Office on Tribal Relations started in January when the office faced a sunset review with the Arizona House Government Committee. The continuation of the office was part of House Bill 2429, which passed out of the House of Representatives but later died in the Senate when it was not scheduled for a hearing.

The continuation of the office was then added to House Bill 2210, a bill that modified the powers and duties of the Arizona Commerce Authority and continued operations for certain state agencies, including the GOTR. 

“Tribal Relations play a critical role in building an Arizona where everyone can thrive,” Liliana Soto, a press secretary for Hobbs, said in a written statement. “Signing HB2210 into law ensures an eight-year protection for Arizona-Tribal relations, which is essential to help support the strong relationships Governor Hobbs has built with tribal leaders and tribal communities.”

The bill states that the office aims to assist and support tribal nations and communities across Arizona and enhance government-to-government relations between the 22 federally recognized tribal nations.

Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren said that, because of Arizona’s large Indigenous population, the Governor’s Office on Tribal Relations is more important than ever. 

“Like the Navajo Nation, I’m certain Arizona’s 21 other Native governments are relieved that the office will continue its work,” Nygren said.

Arizona has the third highest Indigenous people population in the United States, and they come in behind Oklahoma and California. Indigenous peoples comprise about 5.6% of Arizona’s population, and tribal lands cover about 28% of the state’s land mass.

“Given the significant Native American population in the state and the tribal lands in Arizona, having a dedicated office on tribal relations is of high importance to both the state and the tribes,” Chavez said.

The revitalization of the Governor’s Office on Tribal Relations happened in 2023, and Hobbs appointed Chavez, a citizen of the Tohono O’odham Nation from the San Miguel village in the Chukut Kuk District, as the director of the office.

The Governor’s Office on Tribal Relations was initially established as the Commission of Indian Affairs in 1953 to consider and study conditions among Indigenous people living within the state. 

Now, Chavez said the office works to ensure that the interests of Arizona’s Indigenous communities are heard and respected during policy-making decisions because the challenges that Indigenous communities face are unique and complex.

Chavez said having a dedicated office at the state level helps address those challenges, and he thinks that demonstrates the state’s commitment to collaboration going forward. 

During the whole process of getting the office renewed, Chavez said they’ve had support from all 22 tribes in Arizona, and several tribes reached out with letters of support to legislators. 

“One of the things that was cited by tribal leaders was the importance of the office serving as a bridge between state government and tribal nations,” he said. 

The Office of Tribal Relations comprises a tribal affairs advisor, a project coordinator, an executive assistant, and a coordinator for missing and murdered Indigenous peoples.

Chavez said the GOTR regularly facilitates leader-to-leader meetings between tribal leaders, the Governor, and state agency leaders on issues of mutual concern. He said this simple act helps streamline communication and collaboration between the tribes and the state.

Maintaining that government-to-government relationship is essential, said Crystalyne Curley, speaker of the Navajo Nation Council.

Curley is one of many tribal leaders who stepped forward to testify on behalf of the continuation of the Governor’s Office on Tribal Relations. When she heard that the office would remain open, she was happy to know that what they’d been advocating for with other tribes had been heard.

“It’s very great news that tribes still have that dialogue or that appropriate channel to voice our concerns,” she said, hoping that will provide more opportunities to work on initiatives that tribes are trying to address.

This story is republished from AZ Mirror under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.