River's next leader facing array of issues
our neighbors on the Gila River Reservation will be holding a primary election
for tribal council. Gov. Richard Narcia faces eight challengers for his job,
among them Mary Thomas, who served as governor from 1993 to 1999 and currently
is lieutenant governor.
In the past three years as governor, Narcia has been involved in some landmark achievements for his community. The tribe's health care corporation opened two state-of-the-art dialysis centers. The tribe reached a historic water settlement with Congress that will restore water to the people whose native name, "Akimel O'odham," means "People of the river."
Narcia is the first to say that such huge improvements for the quality of life in his community were group efforts. But he was at the helm when they came to fruition, and he deserves credit for that.
Thomas, like Narcia, has been an advocate for improved education and health care. This year, she took up the cause of some tribal students who feel they are being harassed by Ahwatukee students at Desert Vista High School.
There are several long-range issues that the governor and council will be addressing that are of interest to those off reservation:
• The South Mountain Freeway. On the books for 20 years, the freeway is finally heading into serious planning. The alignment has long been penciled in at Pecos Road, but many Ahwatukee residents would like to see the freeway moved south onto Gila land. Gila River officials at times seem to be entertaining the possibility of allowing the freeway, but at other times do not. In particular, the residents in the area where the freeway might run do not want it.
• 40th Street connection. The tribe has set aside money to study routes that would connect 40th Street and Pecos Road in Ahwatukee Foothills to their own 48th Street and Wild Horse Pass Boulevard. The slanted alignment represents a fallback arrangement for the tribe, which had wanted to run 48th Street directly north. Ahwatukee residents vehemently opposed running a major road through Pecos Park, although former Mayor Skip Rimsza had given tribal officials the impression the road would go through. A connector along 40th Street would make it easier for Ahwatukee residents to visit the tribe's golf courses, Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa and the upcoming Rawhide Western Town & Steakhouse.
• Addressing the traffic needs of Arizona 347 through the reservation. The four-lane road from Maricopa to Phoenix will likely become overstressed as the small city grows faster than its employment base. Those drivers will be coming up to Interstate 10 just south of Ahwatukee and Chandler.
In recent years, there has been a marked improvement in communication between the tribe and its neighboring communities. It is hoped that whoever takes the lead of the Gila River Indian Community will continue that trend.