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Tribal leaders push for funding from infrastructure bill

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Posted at 4:43 PM, Dec 10, 2021

SALT RIVER INDIAN COMMUNITY — Kicking off their "Build Back Arizona" tour, several tribal leaders from across Arizona gathered Friday on the Salt River Indian Community, looking to secure their portion of the $11 million set aside for Native communities in the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure bill.

"We owe a huge debt of gratitude to President Biden and his administration for making sure Indian country was included from the beginning in the historic legislation," said Chairman Robert Miguel of the Ak-Chin Indian Community.

He, along with President Martin Harvier from Salt River and Gila River Governor, Stephen Roe Lewis outlined the tribes' most desperate needs.

"The need to close the widening infrastructure deficits in the areas of broadband, transportation, housing and especially water projects," said Governor Lewis.

President Martin Harvier from Salt River, spoke on the need for paved roads. President Harvier added, "Each day nearly 600,000 vehicles use the highways and roadways through our community."

That type of activity, he said, is taking its toll on the local infrastructure and thus the need for federal funds.

"That is why I am hopeful that the new infrastructure law will provide opportunities for all tribes located in both urban and rural areas," he said.

Each tribe reiterated the need for more broadband, stressing how important it is for the education of Native children.

"The digital divide has hit Native communities the hardest as our children have had to apply to colleges from McDonald’s parking lots because the connectivity to participate in the modern world has not reached our communities," said Chairman Miguel. "It will allow our residence to explore all job opportunities and our students to be able to do their homework at night," he added. "No one should have to drive tens of miles away to connect to the world. This funding will help right that wrong," Miguel said.

But the most immediate need, according to tribal leaders, is access to water.

"Outdated canals, water lines, and pipes are hurting the health and well-being of our people," Miguel said.

Governor Lewis pointed out Gila River occupies more than 325,000 acres just south of Salt River and the great need for farmers to water their land.

Lewis already secured some of his federal funds, signing off Friday on a $92 million irrigation project. The money fulfills promises made in the 2004 Arizona Water Settlements Act.

"The funding will allow us to complete large-scale long-term water projects while creating jobs in our community," Lewis said.

As for other major projects, tribal leaders say they're shovel-ready, and they're now working with government officials to receive the funds.

"I hope that you take away from today's event that these types of projects from the Salt River, Ak-Chin, and Gila River communities are possible when tribal governments, Congress, and the administration work together to meet the needs of tribal communities," Lewis said.