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February 15, 2010


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While I mostly agree with this article, please don't confuse agricultural commitment to agricultural success in the Gila River Indian Community. They have a ways to go, and I hope that they can set an example for the entire region, but the tribal farmers face many of the same issues as other farmers in the area.

And for the record, I hope that the Loop 202 does succeed, sooner rather than later -- which I believe was the second freeway to which you alluded. For purely pragmatic reasons, it can bring in huge amounts of federal dollars to stimulate further growth closer to the center of town (no comment about what kind of growth). But it's also a necessary local route for easing congestion on the notorious Broadway curve, and its completion would justify hospital investment in one of the state's highest need areas, because of its ability to bring together substantial populations between Laveen and Ahwatukee (rez communities included). No freeway = continued long emergency commutes for a significant (and growing) population south and west of the I-10.

But it seems I have digressed.... Back on topic, GRIC officials have finally realized that the above benefits exist, as well as the dollar signs that pop up when they consider dragging the freeway onto their land. The Loop 202 will benefit the tribe immensely -- it's just a question of whether it will be direct or indirect. And if the same tradition of interconnectedness between Laveen and Komatke that has lasted for over a hundred years persists, at least that part of the GRIC community can show a more successful and fluent integration effort than is apparent on many other reservations.

Great overview, Jon. Too bad you've got to write this stuff from Seattle. You have such a deep connection here, and it's evident in everything you write.

I grew up in a rural midwestern state and had major exposure to Indian culture, which I found fascinating and worthy of much admiration. Unfortunately, much of it was erased, by design.

What concerns me most about the leverage the Arizona tribes are accumulating is the lack of transparancy. They are not subject to the nominal public records laws that allow inquisitive journalists and citizens to follow the proverbial money. Gaming is never a pristine enterprise. While I do not begrudge the tribes their long overdue opportunities to buoy themselves economically (I even welcome the term "payback"), I also shudder to think of what forces might be attempting to co-opt their burgeoning lucre and influence.

Fascinating story, Jon. It's interesting to see the decisions the Indians are making today -- they seem to be much more aware of how these decisions will impact their descendants than the Anglos are. Either that or the Indians actually care about the legacy they leave behind.
The Indians haven't exactly diversified their tribal economies beyond casino gambling, but they haven't abandoned agriculture, either. Farming isn't an industry that generates wealth like petroleum, biotech or even real-estate development. Perhaps the Indians simply respect the Earth too much.
I wish it were different off the reservations. The Kooks and the Real Estate Industrial Complex refuse to give up on the old-growth machine of real-estate development; they hold out hope that it can be revived, that Arizona will resume the mass importation of people from the Midwest and other parts of the country that characterized Phoenix during the latter half of the 1900s and into the 2000s.
After all, there is enough undeveloped land out there, right? Behold, Buckeye and Queen Creek.
But, everyone seems to ignore the important and increasingly urgent question regarding water: Is anyone even studying how Arizona is going to replace what it currently takes from the Colorado, Salt and Verde rivers as they continue to dwindle under the assault of climate change?
On a different note, thanks for mentioning the Deuce, Jon. It was gone by the time I old enough to process the sights and sounds around me -- I was born in Tucson in 1976 and my family didn't move to Phoenix until 1980 -- so I never got to see it. However, I found a cool black-and-white slideshow of Phoenix circa 1960s-1970s on YouTube. The very last scene of the slideshow appears to be the Hotel Windsor, which was one of those old single-room-occupancy flophouses that characterized the Deuce. Please write about the Deuce and/or other neighborhoods that Phoenix demolished years back. I'd love to read about the city's missing history.

Here's a link to the YouTube slideshow:

The 202 freeway you mentioned will now likely be built, as a second federal stimulus bill is pending and all the infrastructure spending will go to roads (probably the biggest disappointment of Obama). The freeway will be the most expensive in Phoenix history - 1.7 Billion - if the route along Pecos is used, as it will need to cut two ridges of South Mountain in half. But it will be "shovel ready" so it will likely receive funding.

I remember Jon writing a column on this freeway a couple years back - Pointing out that the freeway was simply a gift to the Real Estate Industrial Complex to enable the conversion of some of the last agricultural areas close to the City (Laveen) into subdivisions and strip centers.

If this were 2004, I would agree. I would also say that the GRIC would benefit - enabling a commercial corridor similar to the Pimas on the 101.

However, now, I don't think even a massive freeway investment is enough to resuscitate Phoenix's sprawl machine. The national home builders are going to move forward very cautiously - the days of building entire speculative "communities" without significant pre-sales is over. And I don't think they will get those pre-sales for the next decade, perhaps longer if the kooks remain in power. There is ~5 years of inventory on the market now and alot of it is new build. The only economic base Phoenix has now are snowbirds and retirees.

Housing demand is shifting, even seniors now are looking for something other than "resort living". More and more now want "urban living". I seriously doubt that many seniors will continue to retire in Phoenix. They don't want endless car driving. They don't want 100 degree Octobers and Aprils. They don't want months of Ozone and Particulate warnings. The don't want a cultural wasteland. They don't want an immigrant war zone.

All the Indian slot machines and sewage irrigated Golf Courses in the world are not going to overcome these negatives.

Just for the record, there were eight Hopi code talkers during World War II.

They are honored at the Hopi Veterans Memorial Center on the Reservation with a bronze plaque that says, in part, "The Hopi Tribe pays tribute and recognition to the remarkable achievements of these eight Hopi code talkers whose own Hopi language confounded the Japanese and contributed to the liberation of the South Pacific islands and final victory against the military forces of the Empire of Japan in World War II."

Thanks for the info, Tina. It does not fall on deaf ears. If I may speak for others here, we certainly appreciate and are indebted to the Hopi Code Talkers' service to our nation during World War II.

Very interesting and enlightening article and excellent comments.

A couple of thoughts provoked by the conversation:

* My Great-Grandfather was captured and held for seven years by the Apache Indians. From age 7 to age 14. He went on to be a successful trader in the Arizona/New Mexico area.

* I just heard the other day that folks in Ahwatukee now refer to themselves as "Tukees". Got a chuckle out of that. A thousand years down the road, the Tukee ruins will be excavated.

* based on a recent ruling I saw, as you say Jon, water will be the real bonanza for the tribes.

* I consider myself fortunate to have been born in the middle of all this Indian culture.

Curious no mention is made of the more numerous Navajo Code Talkers. I believe the Navajos did the lions share of the code work, and have the reputation as "the code talkers".

Jon specifically mentioned the Navajo code talkers in his piece, which is why I pointed out that the Hopi had code talkers, too.

Pardon the criticism, but this piece rambles . . perhaps because the Native American issues are too complex to be illuminated in just a few paragraphs. Starting with the basics, too many tribal members lack education and basic health habits. Diabetes is epidemic. Alcoholism is ever present. On the tip of the pyramid lies huge economic muscle. On the bottom lies social dysfunction that goes under-reported. Meanwhile, the media turns a blind eye. Opinion: this is worth more depth-y reportage.

Hey there Jon, nice piece--but your facts are just a bit off. Actually, it's Los Angeles that has the largest population of American Indians--although it's true that they're mostly urbans [that is, relocated Indians]. Phoenix has the SECOND largest population.

You are quite correct, however, in your statement that tribal members are opposed to long-term leases of their land. [after all, look what happened in Parker--where the non-Indians outnumber the Colorado River Indian tribal members on their own rez!] The tribes will lease office space or a shorter-term lease to operate a biz, but not housing lands, you can bet on that one.

As to tribes not being as transparent: look at history. Every single time a tribe has tried to be economically self-sufficient, they have been stomped on. Look at Gila River: The tribe was once extremely wealthy, as they were the major supplier of wheat and other food stuffs to the U.S. Army. After non-Indian farmers began diverting their water, and after the construction of the Salt River dam system, the tribe was plunged into the dire poverty it still suffers from today [gaming revenues notwithstanding].

Look at Fort Berthold [the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nations]: once the nation's ONLY self-sufficient tribe, the flooding of their upper Missouri River bottomland home created multi-generational havoc that persists to this day. [read "Coyote Warrior" if you want the whole scoop!] After these and many more incidents that can be listed in a blog, it's no wonder that tribes don't want any outsiders peeking into their books.

What's the solution? I don't know what to offer today as a solution, but I think it's going to be at least another generation before trust between Indian tribal governments and non-Indians is reestablished, if then.

And Indian boarding schools are one of the most devastating, if not THE most devastating, blow to Indian communities in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Other than that, it's great food for thought, and at least you got some good discussions going.

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