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Gila River Indian Community got a big shout-out at the White House Tribal Nations Summit

By Gabriel Pietrorazio
Published: Saturday, December 9, 2023 - 10:39am
Updated: Saturday, December 9, 2023 - 8:37pm

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Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

The Casa Blanca Canal flows across both sides of Interstate 10 and through the Gila River Indian Reservation.
Gabriel Pietrorazio/KJZZ
The Casa Blanca Canal flows across both sides of Interstate 10 and through the Gila River Indian Reservation.

“Earlier this year, I made a visit to the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona … Hi chairman, it’s good to see you,” says Vice President Kamala Harris, who stops her speech mid-sentence when seeing Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis in a crowd at this week’s third annual White House Tribal Nations Summit.

She spotlighted his community from the stage in the nation’s capital while talking about “one of the most existential threats facing Native communities,” the climate crisis, as she put it, after recently traveling to see them in July.

“It was a wonderful visit. You convened a group of young leaders who are doing extraordinary work, and they’re leading on climate. And they were brilliant,” Harris added. “We had conversations that in fact, were similar to conversations that I just had this last weekend when I was in the United Arab Emirates for the COP28.”

Harris even shared that these Indigenous youth she met this summer shared the same thoughts as some global leaders who attended the U.N. climate summit.

“What the young leaders were saying is exactly what these global leaders are talking about, which is in the face of this crisis, we must all be clear, we cannot continue to allow large corporations and short-sighted leaders to deny climate science — to delay climate justice — and to greenwash climate inaction,” says Harris. “So, we must meet this moment with more action, and frankly, more ambition. And to do so, we need your help. And we need your partnership.”

Lewis later left the summit. He returned to the Southwest on Friday for the groundbreaking of a historic solar project along the Casa Blanca Canal, months following the vice president’s first trip to Indian Country.

“She came out. It was like 118 degrees. Kudos and much respect to Vice President Harris,” says Lewis. “She understands the significance of tribes leading the effort. This is what we’re celebrating. When we have a seat at the table, we can bring innovation.”

Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Roe Lewis speaks at the groundbreaking for a historic solar project along the Casa Blanca Canal in December 2023.
Gabriel Pietrorazio/KJZZ
Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Roe Lewis speaks at the groundbreaking for a historic solar project along the Casa Blanca Canal in December 2023.