Diane Enos: Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Economic Development

Native Nations Institute

Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC) President Diane Enos provides an overview of SRPMIC's effortto build a diversified economy, the institutional keys to make that effort a success, and the cultural principles SRPMIC abides by as it engages in economic development.

Resource Type

Enos, Diane. "Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Economic Development." Building and Sustaining Tribal Enterprises seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 29, 2007. Presentation. 

"Thank you for inviting me, Joan [Timeche]. I'm really honored to be here to be able to talk to your conference or seminar. By way of background, a little bit of what Ms. Timeche just said that I am an attorney. And sometimes that's a blessing and sometimes it's a curse, because today it's a blessing, because as you all know attorneys never lack for anything to say. I have a lot to say, but I'm not so sure that I've got it in order so please bear with me. What I like to do when I speak to groups such as this and actually any group and even to myself is sometimes I have to say a prayer and I ask for help that I may say something that's relevant, something that's helpful, and certainly most of all something that you can remember and take home and use. Joan had asked me... before I get started I've got to mind my manners here. I would like to acknowledge some of our staff that are here today and some of our community people.

Ruben Guerrero is seated at the table. Mr. Guerrero is a young community member. He works with [Congressional] Representative Raul Grijalva's office here in Tucson and he is going to be a future leader of our community and he's been a friend of mine for years and a vital part of the community and a good example of what our youth is. Next to him is Michelle Clark. Ms. Clark is also a community member. She works with our Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs for the community. She also works with the Community Manager, she also works with me, the president, and the vice president. She is new back to the community. While an enrolled member of the community, also seated next to her left is her sister Cindy Clark; they did not grow up in the community. But like a lot of people did not have the opportunity to do that, but are coming back to the community and offering themselves to help us out. And we anxiously look forward to having membership like the Clark sisters. We're anxious to have them come back to where they came from and help us out and become part of us again. So again I wanted to acknowledge them. We also have some staff people here today. Ms. LaFrance is with the Salt River Financial Services Institution. It's our ninth enterprise and what they do is they're in the business of loaning money to membership in terms of small business loans, home loans, and we're working on developing all the loan possibilities. With her are her staff members. I know Ms. Deer is here and I forgot your other name. Mauri, how could I forget? Are there any other staff people with you? That's it. We're well represented here today. I also wanted to acknowledge Cecil Antone who is a brother, he's related to us. He's from the Gila River Indian Community, a fellow O'odham, as well as Mary Thomas, who is also a fellow O'odham from Gila River.

Joan had asked me to talk about basically about the idea, the concept of keeping politics out of enterprises and in order to even begin to address that question what I wanted to do is tell you a little bit about our enterprises. As Joan mentioned, we are close to the City of Scottsdale. We're also a door to the City of Mesa and the town of Fountain Hills. So we're very surrounded -- in fact we're landlocked -- but what that has done is, it has it's challenges, but what it has done is offered us significant, a very, very significant development opportunities. And what Salt River has had to do over the years is attune itself to our location, and again that's another example of a blessing and a curse, because while we've had to endure the problems of the metropolitan area such as the drugs, the crime, the traffic, the smog, all the negative things, we've also had a blessing to be in a most, most opportune place for economic development, which is we're next to the City of Scottsdale. There's a nine-mile corridor which the community has termed the economic development corridor, and we've done that because the community has wanted to not let development encroach in the interior of the community. We're rural, we have a rural lifestyle, we live in the open area where there are a lot of fields or desert, and so people have decided that they wanted to keep it that way, and in doing so we've dedicated the western portion of the reservation, which is again the nine-mile strip to economic development. But also in doing economic development, what we have done is had to create enterprises which are tribally run businesses. We have nine of them today, the SRSFI is the ninth one, and we started diversifying a long time ago.

Before I get further into my discussion about what we've done in terms of economic development, I want to tell you a little bit about Salt River, about who we are as a people, because that's really important and those of you that come from tribal communities know that we cannot be anything but tribal people if we intend to survive as sovereign nations. A little bit about the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community: we have been here since time immemorial. The O'odham people -- as Cecil and Mary know -- have lived here, we have mountains that we have songs about, we have origin stories, we have migration stories that play into the location that you are in right now because this is all our territory. The four southern tribes of today the Tohono O'odham, and the lady sitting at the table here is from Tohono O'odham, I forgot your name already, but you're our relative as well. Gila River Indian Community, Ak-Chin Indian Community as well as Salt River today comprise the four tribes and we've lived here forever in our history. And what we have done in terms of dealing with the Europeans is we've never fought a war with the white man, we've never fought a war with the invaders. And some people can look at that and not think well of that, but for us what it basically says about us as a people is that we have learned over the centuries that one of our methodologies to survival is negotiation. That's a value to us, it's a value in our way of living, which is referred to as the Himdag. And I know we have two tribes, now we are Maricopa and Pima, O'odham and Peeposh. And the Peeposh people came and joined the Pima people both at Gila River and Salt River around 1800. They migrated here because they too wanted to be peaceful and they wanted to avoid warfare and those sorts of activities. But we never fought a war with the United States. What we did instead was sell them...here you go, economic development way back then. We sold wheat to the army, we sold wheat to the Mormon battalion, we traded with the Spanish people when they came through to set up the missions and we got some of our most prized food from them like peaches, figs, pomegranates, those sorts of things, but we also helped them survive. So our opportunities and our taking advantage of economic opportunities began historically a long time ago and it began with the Europeans coming here. But again, it's in keeping with what we value as a people in terms of our survival. But it's more than it, it's how we not only survive but thrive, and that's to take advantage of an opportunity for the people.

Now getting back to keeping politics out of our enterprises, as I indicated, way back when before gaming even came up. We have to acknowledge gaming because it's a reality for a lot of our tribes and again it's a blessing and a curse, because right now it affords us the opportunity to do things that we only even could even dream about years ago. I've been in tribal government for 16 years. I was part of tribal government before gaming came into the picture and as all of you know, those of you that are gaming tribes, know that it has changed our communities sometimes for the better, sometimes for not so good. But back then what we had to do before gaming was we had to diversify. Salt River knew that it had to diversify if it was going to continue to provide services to its membership. And I'm talking about services like police protection, fire department, sanitation, tribal government itself, housing needs -- all kinds of normal services that tribal governments provide to its membership. And the only way we're going to do that was to make money. We knew that we could not rely on the government or the Bureau [of Indian Affairs] or anybody for our livelihood and being in the location that we are we again took opportunity of it, we created enterprises. And what we did way back then, and I think it was fairly new at the time, one of the first things that we did was set up what's called the Salt River Sand and Rock and the Phoenix Cement Company today. Back then it was Phoenix Cement Company and I would say back in 1987 the community bought Phoenix Cement. We took out a huge loan. For us it was breathtakingly huge, today it isn't. It was $78 million to purchase the Phoenix Cement Company. Today that is one of our most successful enterprises. And just because we've gotten into gaming we haven't ignored the need to maintain those enterprises and to keep them flourishing. The main reason for that is because we know that gaming is not guaranteed forever. It's just an opportunity and it's a sure opportunity for us to continue to diversify as I'm indicating here.

We have several enterprises, and I will say right now that you cannot keep politics out of enterprises. You cannot keep politics out of anything and I say that from experience having been in tribal government for 16 years. But I'm not so sure that that's a bad thing. Politics, if you really think about it in terms of well, what does politics mean? Politics really means a personal desire to see something done your way and that's not anything new to human nature, but it's how you go about achieving that. How do I go about getting what I want to have happen? Am I going to step on people to get there? Am I going to hurt somebody to get there? Those are challenges that leadership always has and I think that the membership of any tribal government, any tribal entity in itself has to think about that. But we're coming into a time -- at least at Salt River I believe -- we're coming into a time where we're starting to say, "˜Why am I voting for this person? Why am I voting for that person?' and it's something that leadership has to remember and it has to stay focused on because when you talk about politics, politics as I'm saying today is never going to go away, it's never ever going to go away, so the best thing that we can do again is to negotiate with the situation, take the best that we can from it because...And I was talking to some of the membership this morning, you're always going to have that, you're always going to have somebody opposing your ideas but that's a good thing. That's only a positive thing if you can eventually be able to work it out with them and come up with the best solution.

I think that's what really Joan was asking, how do you keep things legal and keep things working well? So what we have done for our enterprises, we've done several things and I wanted to show you just as a matter of demonstration what I brought today. I'm not going to go into this book; I'm not going to read it. This is called Our Enterprise Ordinances. This book is full of all the ordinances that Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community had to create in order to monitor, in order to manage, in order to help all of our enterprises grow and flourish, and this book is tabulated, full of the rules. I just want to tell you some of the rules that we've had to adopt and to establish and further to keep things legal, to keep things moving along, to help things flourish. Some of the things that our enterprises have been enabled to do are limited waivers of sovereign immunity, and those of you that are in tribal governments understand that the waiver of sovereign immunity is something that tribal councils themselves only have for the most part, I'm sure there are exceptions, but for the most part, Salt River tribal council is the only one that can waive sovereign immunity even on a limited basis. But what we've started to do for our enterprises is allow them to contract. The only thing that they cannot do is encumber land. They can encumber property, they can encumber equipment, and they can take out all these loans and to that degree they have the opportunity to do a limited waiver of sovereign immunity. And that's a scary thing because what you're doing as a tribal government is you're giving up some of your power and some of your authority. But you have to monitor those enterprises. You have to make sure that what they're doing is in compliance with your ordinances and you have to be really critical and careful when you create those ordinances to begin with. So if you want to keep things legal, you've got to keep an eye on it. The other thing that our enterprises are able to do is that they can, they have the authority to...the boards have the...I've written down some things here and I can't even read it 'cause it's dark over here. The council doesn't micromanage, but the boards do have autonomy for the most part, and again that's the giving up of some of your power as a tribal government. For instance, they can contract, technically speaking, the enterprises are able to contract. They have disclosure requirements. If I have a contract or if I have a relationship with a provider, I must disclose that and I must sign a form if I'm on a board. We have all these boards that disclose any potential conflict that I might have. The other unique thing about our boards is what we've done is we've made them up of not only professional membership. For instance, Salt River Sand and Rock we have people that are in the industry that know something about the cement business or the sand and gravel business, about commerce, people that are generally for the most part non-Indian because they have that expertise. But the other part of that is we also have to make sure the boards are made up of the membership, and these may be people who have no business experience, but they've got a desire to serve the community and they've got a track record or they've got an experience where people understand who they are, people understand that they will do the best that they can, and that doesn't always work out well. Sometimes you can have the nicest people, the most honest people, and they're totally ineffective as board members. So again, you have to go back as a tribal government and monitor what they're doing, make sure that they are performing and doing things to the best of their ability to serve not only government but the board. And the other thing that the community has done is it's unleashed these enterprises to some degree and their sole reason for being is to make profit, their sole reason for existence and doing what they do and for us having some degree of arm's length from them is so they can make a profit for the community. Again, because we understand that in the future we may not have gaming to rely on, we may not have that huge cushion that we have. So while we're socking away the money and putting it into investments and other safekeeping, taking other safekeeping measures, we still know that we have to make money in the future. So setting up these enterprises is one way to do that.

Now again, back to Joan's question, how do we keep politics out? How do we keep things legal? And I mentioned a little bit ago, like if I wanted to appoint...as tribal council they select the board members. If there was an individual that I wanted to put on that board just because I was friends with that person or I had business dealings with them or they're my second cousin, you know, all the wrong reasons, well, let me say maybe not the best reasons, that can still happen because if you're able to convince other people to vote for this person you can put somebody on there. But the proof is, how are they going to perform as a board member? And that's the responsibility that tribal governments have not only to make sure things are legal but to make sure that they're performing. And if we don't monitor these board members and make sure that what they're doing is what they're supposed to be doing then we're going to lose as a government and again that goes to responsibility of leadership.

What I'm describing to you, there is a lot, a lot of concepts that go with being in office, with being in tribal leadership. But I also wanted to tell you that one of the best things that I find now as being the president and supposed to be a council member, and I was mentioning this to Mary just a little bit ago, is that you can do a lot more now. You have a lot more flexibility, like coming here today and being with you and being with some of the membership of my community and spending time with Dr. [Joseph] Kalt and talking to him is an opportunity that I might not have had if I were a council person. I could have chosen to do something else. Today I could be sitting at my desk or I could be doing something else. But leadership really has the opportunity to do what you think you need to do. And one of our young attorneys with our Office of General Counsel, who gave me some of these notes to keep in mind when I talked to you today, said that it's important and I want to say that it really is important, what we've done as a community is establish what's called a vision statement for our community.

Years and years ago, I would say probably about 15 years ago, we started having meetings with our membership and we started asking them, 'What do you want to see for the future?' Now remember, this is all pre-gaming, there's no big money in the picture. We simply said, 'What do you want as people that live in the community, as people that are membership have rights to vote, people that have membership rights to have a say in tribal government, people whose children will inherit land in the community, people whose children and grandchildren will continue to be part of our community forever, hopefully?' We asked them, "˜What do you want to see? What do you want your community to look like?' And we had a series of meetings with all the districts and this went on for probably about maybe a year and a half or so. And what came out of those meetings and those discussions is what's called a vision statement. And they told tribal government, I'd say we told tribal government, we all sat down and talked and came up with the vision of what we want for the future. And what I talked about a little bit earlier in terms of the economic corridor was one of those concepts that came out. We said, the people said to tribal government, we do not want development in the interior part of the community. We want tribal government to make them money but we want to have a say in it. And that's one of the reasons that our enterprises have developed the way that they have because the people told us that that's what they wanted us to do. You cannot have a government, you cannot, we cannot continue to exist and flourish as a government unless we communicate with our membership, unless we take into consideration what our membership says and why they say it. We at Salt River hopefully in the future for the most part the tribe, at least I tried, my administration to work like that, to listen to the people and to try to take into consideration what they have to say. Not only is it very smart politically, but it's very smart in terms of the long-range view for our people.

I also wanted to leave with you today, and I touched a little bit on it, in talking about a visionary type of leadership that one of our attorneys reminded me that I should talk about. I wanted to say to you also that it's really important for us at Salt River -- and I think those of you that are tribal leaders -- to remember that we have to be who we are not just in a business sense, not just in a government sense but as far as a cultural sense. And I hate to use, I kind of squirm every time I have to use that word cultural. I was talking to Dr. Kalt this morning just a little bit. What I mean is who are we? Who are we as O'odham people? Who are we as Peeposh people? And that goes again to what I started out when I started talking to you when I mentioned about remembering who we are. Why are we here in this particular location at this particular point in time? And it goes back to where did we come from? Who came before us? And when you start thinking about that, you've got to think about who's coming ahead of us. And that's what makes us separate, that's what makes us separate from other governments, and what we were talking about was the concept of separation between church and state and state government and county government, city governments, you have that clear division that you do not respect any particular established religion and I think for the most part they're talking about established religions. We don't have that concept in tribes. How come we don't have it? Because who we are is very tied into what we believe in and once we get away from that, we're not going to be a people anymore, we're not going to be a tribe anymore, we're not going to be a viable reservation anymore because the federal government in my opinion -- and here I am talking as a lawyer again -- is going to say, 'What right do you have to have this land? What right do you base your claim on to have sovereignty? What right do you claim to have to have courts if you're just brown people living there?' The only way that we're going to continue as Native people, as tribal people, is to remember who we are and why we are what we are.

And I'm going to leave you with a little quote today. It goes to the concept of really what I'm talking about when I say, "˜Who are we?' It goes again to why do we do what we do? Why do we run for office? Why do we set up these enterprises? Why do we have all these employees? Why did we get into gaming? Why am I here today? Why, why, why? Unless we go back to who we are. A thing that I want to say, too, is not only who are we, but why do we further that, why do we want to keep being tribal people? Isn't it easier to just go out somewhere and maybe make a nice living and hang out in resorts like this and have all the things that America has to offer if you're successful economic-wise? Why do we want to even be tribal people? Why do we want to stay who we are? I will tell you that we can't do it unless we love who we are, we cannot do it unless we love the land that we live on, and we cannot continue to do this unless we truly love our people. And unless your tribal government comes from that angle, it's not going to be really helpful to you in the future, so we must demand that of leadership.

The quote that I wanted to leave you with here, and it goes to again economic development; it also goes to what I've been talking to you about today. And it's a quote we have...it's a hero, it's almost a mythological hero, but this was a man that lived who knows when. His name was [O'odham language], and he's part of what I'm wearing today. He's part of what Mary Thomas and Cecil know about, and it's this maze here that is our tribal seal. He was a magician so to speak. He did a lot of things for the people, he was a hero and saved the people at various times and a lot of times was himself criticized, people tried to kill him, very much like a human being, very much like the lives of some politicians. Anyway, he was going away and he was going away and the thing that he said -- it's a prophecy -- he said to the people was, and I'm going to quote from him, he says, "˜And they will kill the staying earth. You will see it but you must not do it and you will be feeling just fine.' Now what that says to me as a tribal leader and as somebody that's involved in economic development, it says that we should never do anything to harm the earth because it's our sustenance, it's our substance, it's where we came from. And we're going to see it, we're going to see it happening, we're seeing it happening with global warming, we're seeing it happening with all the pollution that's occurring in this world. But we're not supposed to participate in it if we're going to survive and he says that you will see it and you will be feeling just fine. In other words, this is coming and it's already here, but if we're going to continue to love ourselves and love each other as tribal people, we're going to survive it, but the thing we have to remember is not to kill the staying earth. So all of our economic development ventures that we go into we must keep that concept in mind. Thank you. That's all I have today."

Related Resources


In this informative interview with NNI's Ian Record, Diane Enos, President of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, discusses some of the many significant steps that Salt River has taken over the past few decades to systematically build a self-sufficient, sustainable economy.


Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development Co-Director Stephen Cornell discusses the two basic approaches Native nations typically take as they work to build and sustain nation-owned enterprises, and shares a number of examples from across Indian Country.


Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Vice President Martin Harvier offers a brief history of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa's efforts to cultivate citizen-owned businesses and then do business with those companies.