Congressman Grijalva - A Man For The American Indian
The campaigner was told how the land was originally the southern part of the tribe’s 270,000 acre reservation along the Colorado River. The reservation extends into California and is home to 3,600 members of the Navajo, Chemehuevi, Hopi and Mohave tribes.
The reservation was created in 1865 by President Lincoln, a month before his assassination. A few years later the government decided to extend the southern boundary to prevent non-Indian encroachment. Under the administration of President Grant, a survey of these “La Paz” or “The Peace” lands was done and the land was attached to the reservation by presidential order in 1876.
Since then, there had been numerous conflicts between the tribes and mining companies seeking mineral rights on the land. In 1915, President Wilson ordered the removal of the La Paz section because there, supposedly, was a boundary error on the initial survey. The 15,375 acres were taken from the tribes and they received no compensation for the land.
For 90 years, the tribes fought to get back their lands through letter writing campaigns and through research complied by the Interior Department which determined there was no boundary error. But, Interior argued it did not have the authority to overturn a presidential order.
Grijalva decided the tribe’s request was a valid one and in July 2003, he introduced a bill (then called a House Resolution) to return the land to the tribes. Grijalva was not the only member of Congress from Arizona to introduce a bill to return the land to the tribe. The first bill was authored by the late Senator Barry Goldwater and it failed.
Again, Goldwater, a Republican, and the former Senator Dennis DeConcini, a Democrat, introduced bi-partisan bills in 1980 and 1981 to restore the La Paz Lands to the tribes. They also failed. Another Arizonan, Former Rep. Bob Stump, a Republican, showed little interest when approached by the tribes through the late 1990’s. He decided not to seek re-election in 2002 after 13 terms in Congress.
When Grijalva was elected to Congress in 2003, tribal leaders saw a ray of hope towards a solution to their land problem. But, how was Grijalva going to get the bill passed by Congress?
Grijalva, aware that he was a Democrat in a Republican dominated House, wisely garnered the support of Arizona’s Republican Congressmen – J.D. Hayworth, Rick Renzi, Jeff Flake, Jim Kolbe and the other Arizona Democratic Congressman, Ed Pastor.
Grijalva let it be known that the tribe was willing to make some concessions along with reassuring his Arizona associates the bill did not require any government spending.
The support of Reps. Hayworth, Flake and Renzi was extremely crucial because they, along with Grijalva, sat on the House Resources Committee.
Grijalva was given a setback when he was told the deal might not go through if the returned land included gaming rights and after consultation with tribal leaders they agreed the getting the land returned to the tribe was much more important than any gaming rights – which were omitted from the bill.
Other obstacles reared their heads along the way: Some 840 acres within La Paz land running along Interstate 10; public access for hunting and fishing; water rights along the Colorado River; and citizens protesting because the land deal could hem them in and limit development along I-10.
Over time, the issues were resolved and Grijalva even got limited support from the Bush Administration. The bill was unanimously voted out of committee and on September 28th, 2004. Grijalva’s bill was passed in a voice vote by the entire House of Representatives.
With little time to celebrate because of the national election just weeks away, the bill was stalled in the Senate by mid-October and eventually died as Congress ended its ’04 session.
On February 14th 2005 – Arizona Statehood Day - Grijalva re-introduced his bill which was passed by the House on April 12th. The next day it was sent to the Senate where John, McCain, (R-AZ) who had just become the Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee received the bill with open arms. He and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) were both supporters of Grijalva’s reworked Indian bill.
On July 26th McCain’s Committee unanimously approved the bill and it was sent on to the Senate and passed. Six days later, President George Bush signed the bill into law officially returning the land to the tribes.
At the tribe’s celebration, members gave out T-shirts with the imprinted words that summed up their struggle, “Victory 1915-2005 – La Paz Lands Restored.”
The tribes have not decided how the land will be used, but tribal Attorney General Eric Shephard said any plan will benefit all of the 3,600 tribal members.
This article headlined “Tough Path For Grijalva – Congressman fought to return land to Indians – appeared in the December 5th edition of The Arizona Republic bylined Billy House. It is extremely informative, and illustrates the difficult route a legislator must take to get a bill passed in Congress.
I edited the story for length and content to point out to Native Americans that their legislators both, state and national, can make a difference in their lives if tribal leaders will take the time and effort to become involved with the political process and its representatives and senators.
I also have a special interest in Representative Raul Grijalva as he is my Congressman. Altho, I have never met him, I am very impressed with the responses I ALWAYS get from him when I send him those Internet messages supplied by the various humanitarian, environmental and political groups I’m involved with. He sends the first to say he has received the message and a follow-up letter stating how and why he did vote or will vote on the particular issue.
I understand they are FORM letters, BUT at least he takes the time and effort to respond, directly, to me.
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