Years of debate over the Loop 202 extension has caused some confusion over where members of the Gila River Indian Community stand on the issue, but now 20 GRIC residents are taking a stand to allow the freeway and save the mountain.
Devin Redbird, formerly the youngest Gila River Indian Community councilman serving District 7/Maricopa Colony, and now a chairman for District 7 and the founder of REZiSTANCE, is on a mission to give Gila River residents a voice.
Redbird said over the years he's noticed the formation of a group against the Loop 202. Though the group has a few Gila River Indian Community members, most of the group comes from other tribes or communities. Redbird said the way they present themselves is not the Gila River way. Seeing their negativity inspired Redbird to create his own group of all Gila River members to encourage and empower the community to save the mountain and their culture.
REZiSTANCE now has 20 core members who travel door-to-door, something unheard of in the Gila River Indian Community. They share their goal to save the mountain, and Redbird says they've been amazed at the response they've gotten.
"A cultural difference between our elders and seniors in the Phoenix metro area is they are not really vocal at all," Redbird said. "They're very humble and they don't really engage, but when they speak you have to sit down and listen because they'll probably only say it once and that's your one opportunity to hear what they have to say to you. When we go door-to-door it's amazing to see them ask if we have a few minutes for them to tell us something. That means a lot. I may hear the same story over 10 to 15 times a day, but that just reaffirms my job and that those stories have been passed down among the older generation and it just got lost between the elders and my generation. We're bridging that gap. This whole issue has brought a revitalization of our culture. It's like we trigger something in their hearts that they forgot about themselves. They're willing to share that now."
Redbird says only certain families closest to the mountain know the stories of the sacred sites in South Mountain. The tribal government also knows but it's not something they publish for fear of people taking advantage of it.
REZiSTANCE has been able to hear many of those stories as they've spoken with tribe members and it's a major part of their culture Redbird says they cannot afford to lose.
He says that when they went door-to-door across the entire community they found that 75 percent of people wanted the freeway to be built through the Gila River Indian Community to save the mountain.
Redbird says there are other benefits to the freeway other than just saving the mountain, though that is their main focus. He also believes it will give economic benefits to the land owners and it will give the Gila River Indian Community more of a voice.
If the freeway is built on GRIC land their leaders will be able to negotiate the way the freeway is built, and its impact on the environment.
"The engineers can dictate the way the freeway is built," Redbird said. "We can sit at the table and see how we can help this. Gila River has always helped... We always had that working relationship. With the centennial coming up, this is an opportune time this year for the state and Gila River to have to work together again. We don't get anywhere by fighting against each other. We have an abundance of land, but we only have one South Mountain. It only makes sense."
Redbird said the group against Loop 202 has heard somewhere along the way there is a "no build" option where community members could decide they don't want the freeway at all. Redbird says negotiations with the tribe have revealed that is not an option, but because the group has been so vocal they've caused some confusion. He wants to clarify what the options are and encourage residents to make the right decision. He believes they will vote "yes" on Feb. 7.
"Lots of people have only seen the bad trying to represent the tribe," Redbird said. "The Tribal Council has been non-biased. They are leaving it up to the people. As humans we share the same concepts about doing what's right, saving the mountain. We do not want to see a church leveled. Ahwatukee residents can know they do have friends to the south, and we are listening. We've always worked together and we'll continue working together."
REZiSTANCE is willing to answers any questions the community may have about their group. Redbird can be reached at (602) 531-4212 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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