July 7, 2011

Casino Arizona and Talking Stick Resort Appoint New Director of Sales and Marketing

Casino Arizona and Talking Stick Resort, two Scottsdale, Arizona-based enterprises owned and operated by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, recently appointed a new senior director of sales and marketing for both properties.

Peter Arceo, with more than 19 years of experience in the gaming and hospitality industries, worked his way up the ranks from serving as a front desk clerk and blackjack dealer. Prior to joining the Salt River-run gaming facilities, Arceo spent many years with the Las Vegas Hilton, where he implemented the property’s casino systems and technology and helped develop the casino’s marketing strategy.

“In order for us to develop the recently opened Talking Stick Resort into the premier gaming destination resort in the entire Southwest and to continue Casino Arizona’s stellar performance, we require the professional leadership and marketing skills that Peter provides. We are extremely pleased to have Peter join our management team,” said Dennis Leong, president and chief executive officer of Casino Arizona and Talking Stick Resort, in a statement.

Arceo will devise marketing strategies, while managing advertising, public relations, interactive, player development and promotions.

“It is with much excitement that I approach my new role at Casino Arizona and Talking Stick Resort. The people I work with on a daily basis offer a wealth of experience and knowledge of the organization that I admire greatly,” said Peter Arceo, senior director of sales and marketing for Casino Arizona and Talking Stick Resort.

“We have two wonderful and special properties. Talking Stick Resort is one of the most amazing properties I’ve seen. Our room product is upscale and modern providing comfort for the leisure and business guest. Also, the sheer fact that the property received the Four Diamond Award from AAA in its first year of operation is a testament to the investment in both the building and guest service levels. Casino Arizona is no different. The variety of games, dining options and live entertainment make it a true one-stop destination for fun.”

The 15-story Talking Stick Resort houses 497 rooms, a 240,000-square foot casino, spa, 650-seat showroom, conference center, grand ballroom, six entertainment lounges and five eateries. Its sister property, Casino Arizona at Salt River provides 100,000 square feet of gaming and entertainment. It also offers table games, slots, a showroom and restaurants such as the Cholla Prime Steakhouse and Lounge.

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August 18, 2011

Glendale Mayor Opposes Tohono O’odham Nation Operating Casino

At an August 10 panel discussion, the mayor of Glendale, Arizona, said she supports the Tohono O’odham Nation developing the 134 acres its owns outside Phoenix, if the tribe does not build a casino on the land, reported The Glendale Star.

The tribe wants to annex the unincorporated land to make it a sovereign nation for its planned $300 million hotel-casino.

“We respect the right of the Tohono O’odham nation to develop the 134-acres of land they own if done as every other land owner and developer has done and will do in the future,” Mayor Elaine Scruggs said at a forum, in which the tribe was not invited to speak, The Glendale Star reported. “The land does not need to be removed from state and local jurisdiction and converted into an Indian reservation for the nation to build the office buildings, hotels and resorts and shopping centers and residents that they speak of.”

The panel included other opponents of the tribe’s proposed casino: President Diane Enos of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (the tribe views the Tohono O’odham’s proposal to establish trust lands in the Phoenix suburbs to build its Las Vegas-style resort casino as an invasion on their ancestral territory), Glendale City Attorney Craig Tindall, Chief Deputy Arizona Attorney General’s Office Rick Bistrow, and U.S. Representative Trent Franks.

Scruggs told attendees that 500 commercial and retail jobs and 5,000 office jobs would be possible if the land was developed by the city—not by the tribe on annexed Indian land.

“This will only happen if the parcel is developed in the city of Glendale and not as a sovereign nation,” Scruggs said, reported The Glendale Star.

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August 28, 2011

World Indigenous Business Forum to Feature Val Kilmer, Opportunities to Build Networks

A leadership building group based in Canada aims to connect indigenous peoples and businesses worldwide at its latest conference. The Indigenous Leadership Development Institute, a 12-year-old nonprofit leadership organization, will hold its fifth annual World Indigenous Business Forum on October 4 and 5 in New York City. And just to create greater value for attendees, the forum will feature actor Val Kilmer as a keynote speaker. It will also facilitate networking so, “people can just meet,” suggested a Native businessman at the kickoff reception for the conference at Talking Stick Resort in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Arizona, on August 22.

The kick-off event was held to stimulate interest in the forum from local tribes. Rosa Walker, Peguis First Nation, ILDI’s president and chief executive officer, said during the reception, “ILDI sets out to help bring people together and to engage on a global level.” In addition to the annual forum, ILDI works with 60 universities in the United States and Canada to conduct executive and leadership training, including a youth leadership forum.

The business forums arose from what Walker noted is the need to “bring in corporate people to engage with indigenous governments and businesses.” After an Australian Aborigine delegation began attending the forums, Walker said ILDI realized that opening the forum to worldwide indigenous nations not only helps build capacity but also sets off her conference from forums like the annual Reservation Economic Summit (RES) conference (held February 27 through March 1 at Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada), which is mainly aimed toward U.S. tribal communities.

“We can’t do it alone—as indigenous people, we’re not on the map. We’re always the last to know anything,” Walker said.  So ILDI set out to help bring people together and to engage on a global level. “We all have the same issues,” Walker added; “we need governments and corporations that really do care about these issues, otherwise we’ll all be at the end of the priority list.”

To emphasize the global reach of ILDI’s initiatives, this year’s forum will feature Nontombi Naomi Tutu, a race and gender justice activist and the daughter of Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Dr. Jeff McMullen, Australian journalist and author. Other speakers include National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel, Chief Robert Louis, chair of the First Nation Land Advisory Board and Ivan Makil, former president of the Salt River community and principal of Generation Seven Strategic Partners.

Makil said, “Indigenous groups are more tribal then we realize; it makes sense that all indigenous nations can do business together. The indigenous business model is different than the United States’ model; when tribal people sit together, it’s all good.”

Makil and Walker both stressed that they see themselves as “social entrepreneurs” who are working for more than just financial rewards. “There’s a greater good in how you deal with opportunities when indigenous communities’ values can connect, there’s value in it for everybody,” said Makil.

“Business is only one small aspect of what creates a society and our way of life,” he added. “It’s about so much more than money.”

If we don’t do it, nobody will.

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August 22, 2012

Cooking Channel’s ‘Eden Eats’ Visits a Family-Run Food Stand and a Home Kitchen on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Reservation

EdenEats3 270x180 Cooking Channels Eden Eats Visits a Family Run Food Stand and a Home Kitchen on the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Reservation

Food Stand vendor Cindy Washington (left) watches while Cher Thomas (center) and Eden Grinshpan (right) make chumuth. (Courtesy Cooking Channel)

You don’t have to leave America to eat foods from around the world.

That’s the premise of a Cooking Channel TV show in which a crew of hard-core New York foodies were introduced to traditional native cooking by Arizona’s Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SPRMIC).

SRPMIC is made up of desert peoples with two distinct backgrounds and cultures—the Pima (Akimel O’odham or River People) and the Maricopa (Xalychidom Piipaash or People Who Live Toward the Water ). Current tribal members are believed to be related to the Hohokam (Those Who Have Gone), an ancient civilization that farmed the Salt River Valley as early as 300 B.C. These were farmers who could make the desert bloom, providing grain for the military and immigrants in the mid-1800s. And today, despite on-going water rights disputes, their descendants lead a farming economy responsible for a variety of crops from melons and onions to potatoes, broccoli, carrots and cotton.

What tribal farmers grew was what they ate and partly for that reason, Cher Thomas (Pima, Cocopah) was asked by The Cooking Channel to serve as Culinary Cultural Ambassador for an episode of a new show called Eden Eats, where hostess Eden Grinshpan—a Grande Diploma graduate of London’s Le Cordon Bleu—uses her TV time to explore international cuisines found in America’s backyard. The show is based on how communities reclaim their culture and customs through food.

Enter the 28-year-old Thomas who describes herself as “an everyday person who loves restaurants” and “the only Native American Yelp-er [Yelp.com user] in the Phoenix area to provide online restaurant reviews.” Her so-called Yelp-ing garnered her the attention of scouts for the TV show who wanted to film a Native American segment.

A recent visit brought them to the Phoenix Valley where Thomas provided guidance in filming a local family-run food stand as well as kitchen time in her mother’s house in the Gila River community where they made the traditional bread (chumuth) to go with red chile stew.

“I was very young when I started cooking on the reservation and Mom taught me how to make the bread—an Indian version of a large tortilla—where pieces of flour dough are flattened and cooked by hand,” Thomas said.

“We picked bread and stew because of my memories of feast day where the village gathered and with a sense of community made enough to feed the entire village. My people live in the desert where everybody looked after each other and food was the fuel for survival. My best memories are when food is a shared experience involving friends and family.”

The production crew visited (but did not film at) the James Beard award-winning Fry Bread House and the tribe’s 5-star Kai Restaurant located in the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa. Instead, they recorded happenings at a simple family-run ramada called The Food Stand operated by a tribal family serving fry bread, beans and traditional Pima foodstuffs.  On-camera discussion involved survival methods during desert droughts and how the Pima/Maricopa peoples have fed themselves by living off the land for centuries.

A second filming location was at Thomas’ mother’s house in the Gila River Indian Community and included a cultural discussion of traditional Pima foods while preparing red chile stew.  “We talked about traditions within our culture and shared ideologies as well as cooking tips,” said Thomas. “When Grinshpan tasted the stew and said it reminded her of chile con carne, I had to remind her that chile con carne tasted like our stew because we came first.”

When the players were both cooked-out and fooded-out, they decided to work off the calories with a social dance, one that Thomas has been doing since she was a teenager. “Chef Eden took off her cooking apron and joined in, a bit lost at times, but all of us, locals and out-of-towners, had fun.”

The visit was a learning experience for the Big Apple attendees who were awed and enamored with their introduction to Native American culture. “How do you share a centuries-old experience?” Thomas asked.  “All I could do was present some elements of who we are—a hospitable people who have stuck together to persevere and survive, doing it together and always feeding one another.”

Thomas’ episode will air on August 31 with a repeat showing on September 2. For more information, visit the Cooking Chanel website at www.cookingchanneltv.com.

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October 17, 2012

Native Water Rights to Play Big Part in Arizona Elections

As politicians jockey for position in upcoming Arizona elections, some Arizona tribes are still reeling from a thorny battle over water rights – and they’re hoping the candidates will keep their water future in mind.

Navajo and Hopi tribal leaders are still working on various fronts to salvage pieces of the Navajo Hopi Little Colorado River Water Right Settlement Act of 2012, with no clear path in sight. The proposal touched off reservation-wide protests at both tribes last spring, when it was introduced as Senate Bill 2109 and sponsored by senators Jon Kyl and John McCain. In the end, the Navajo Tribal Council voted it down.

Based on that decision, the Navajo and Hopi interests in the Little Colorado River, for now, fall back into the realm of Arizona tribal water claims likely to be decided in court. According to information provided by the Arizona Department of Water Resources, water settlements have been reached in the past in Arizona for the Ak Chin Indian Community, the Tohono O’odham Nation, the Salt River-Pima Maricopa Indian Community, Fort McDowell Indian Community, the San Carlos Apache Tribe, the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe, the Zuni Tribe and the Gila River Indian Community, although the Gila settlement has met with friction in the Gila River Adjudication Court, which has the final say. Pending settlement negotiations involve claims by the White Mountain Apache, the Yavapai Apache, the Havasupai, Hualapai, Kaibab Paiute, one district at Tohono O’odham – and the Hopi and Navajo. Still more tribes have various water claims that aren’t yet in negotiation, including the Pascua Yaqui, San Carlos Apache, San Juan Southern Paiute and Tonto Apache.

Erny Zah, spokesman for Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly who openly supported the failed settlement on the Little Colorado, said he’d like to see a political landscape that will continue to prioritize Indian water settlements.

“I hope that if Barack Obama gets re-elected that there will be a representative that’s in favor of Indian water settlements,” he said. “We have a president in place who’s willing to sign anything we agree to, and that hasn’t always been the case in the past.

“He’s already signed off on more Indian water settlements than any other president.”

Micah Loma’omvaya, chief of staff for Hopi Tribal Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa, agreed: “The Obama Administration has been very open and engaged in consulting with tribes,” he said. “The atmosphere has been a little more friendly toward trying to get a settlement.”

After months of wrangling between the Navajo and Hopi leadership and the grassroots groups that opposed SB 2109, they may finally agree on something there.

“Mr. Obama … has been one of few presidents that have really had the best interests of Natives at heart,” said Elsa Johnson, a Navajo grassroots activist with Diné Water Rights, one of seven activist groups that led the charge against SB 2109.

Johnson is also rooting for Richard Carmona, the Democratic former U.S. Surgeon who is running for Arizona’s open seat in the U.S. Senate, partly because she’s genuinely impressed with him as a person and a candidate. But it’s also because she believes “Mr. Flake has been ordained by Jon Kyl to maintain the Republican rhetoric.” Johnson feels certain that any Republican will automatically want to continue the status quo by, for example, helping the Navajo Generating Station avoid costly upgrades to rein in its pollution.

“It’s like, ok, never mind that we’re sick. Never mind all this environmental impact,” she says. “If all the Natives in Arizona could vote for Carmona, my goodness, I think that would really, really help us in every aspect, not just the environment: health, social programs, anything and everything having to do with the youth.”

Johnson said besides the unsavory concessions to Peabody Coal and the Navajo Generating Station that were included in the failed settlement, she and other activists were suspicious of the infrastructure promises by the Republican senators. “It’s the pipelines that they keep luring us with,” she said. “Kyl was the one who said it would cost $300 million for three pipelines, two for the Navajo and one for the Hopi. One pipeline’s going to cost over $300 million.”

Johnson maintains that it “just didn’t even make sense for us to waive our aboriginal water rights forever.”

“We’re not just looking at today, we’re looking seven generations ahead,” she said. “We always have to think in that term, I think. I hope we get a Democrat in the Senate; I think we would have much better results in anything we attempt.”

Numerous e-mails and phone calls went out to the Carmona and Flake campaigns seeking comments for this story; none were returned. Ann Kirkpatrick is the House of Representatives candidate in Congressional District 1, which includes constituents from 12 Arizona tribes. Her staffers said she was also too busy to comment, but campaign spokesperson Jennifer Johnson e-mailed a brief statement about SB 2109:

“It seems that one of the reasons SB2109 failed is that it lacked grassroots support across the Nation. For a settlement to be successful, it needs grassroots support. And that requires an intensive outreach and information-sharing effort.”

Kirkpatrick is also widely recognized as the national candidate who has spent the most time visiting Arizona tribes in her district.

Zah, Shelly’s spokesman, said it may well be that candidates don’t want to talk about water settlements, at least on the campaign trail.

“It’s just a sensitive, controversial subject that wouldn’t lend itself to much discussion,” he said. “It’s a subject where people have planted their feet and it’s one way or the other. It’s going to need a lot of tact and understanding from all the parties involved. One little wrong move, and you’ve got somebody not coming to the table.”

He said sooner or later, someone will have to rise to the challenge.

“Arizona is pushing the point of needing water like nobody else,” he said. “Give it five or 10 years and I guarantee it’s going to be a hotter topic than it is now. When people’s grass dries up and people can’t fill up their swimming pools in Phoenix, that’s when the topic of water rights will go to the forefront.”

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