TOPEKA, Kan. — Ponka-We Victors, the only American Indian member of the Kansas Legislature, lived on the Tohono O'odham reservation in Arizona several years ago during college.
She remembers when farmers and residents of a nearby town diverted too much of the area's water for irrigation, leaving the tribe parched.
"I'm telling you, that is the most horrible thing to wake up to," Victors said recently. "You can't bathe, you can't cook, you can't really do anything. I felt bad for the elders and the children."
Victors, D-Wichita, said water policy is something that is on the minds of the state's Indian tribes going into the upcoming session.
The Kickapoo nation in Horton has been embroiled in a federal lawsuit for almost five years over the right to build a reservoir that tribal Chairman Steve Cadue said is sorely needed.
"We're in desperate need of water," Cadue said. "Of course, safe drinking water is the main purpose, but it affects our growth and economic development as well. We can't build new houses — we have a waiting list for people to get into the Kickapoo reservation."
Gov. Sam Brownback has said he will push a four-point plan to address water conservation this session, with an emphasis on renewing the Ogallala Aquifer.
Steve Ortiz (Mon-Wah), tribal chairman of the Prairie Band Potawatomi in Mayetta, said water isn't an issue for his tribe, but draining of aquifers is becoming a problem nationally.
Ortiz was one of about a dozen tribal leaders who met with President Barack Obama earlier this month. One of the issues he said they discussed was water rights.
Cadue, Ortiz and Victors all said Brownback has been receptive to the concerns of the state's tribes since he became governor. They said they appreciated a proclamation he issued in November apologizing to the state's five main tribes for the "spirit of deception" that too often marked dealings with them in the past.
Brownback has also said he doesn't want to discuss expanding state gambling during the coming session, while the state's Democratic leaders have made gaming the funding centerpiece of their jobs proposal.
That doesn't sit well with Ortiz, who said the state shouldn't expand gaming while restricting the tribes to one casino per reservation.
"We're opposed to it, mainly because of the fact that this now would give the state not only four casinos, but they're also talking about two racetracks," Ortiz said. "So that really gives them six gaming operations, which really in return they should allow us to have more gaming operations as tribes without having to pay the state any fee."
Ortiz said he met with Kansas Democratic Party chairwoman Joan Wagnon two months before the jobs proposal was presented and she didn't mention more state gaming as a possibility.
"She just said she could make no commitment about Indian gaming," Ortiz said. "We had no idea this was going in their plan."
Wagnon, via email, said she wasn't aware of the gaming aspect of the proposal at the time she met with Ortiz.
Victors said she didn't have any input on the jobs proposal and hadn't had a chance to talk to the leaders of her party about it.
"But, you know, the No. 1 thing is jobs," Victors said. "Unfortunately, I didn't see a lot of opportunities for making jobs a priority this past session. I was kind of shocked by that, coming in as a freshman. I thought that all we would talk about was the jobs issue."
Ortiz said there also was some concern among the tribes about the voter identification law the state passed. Ortiz said he was disappointed that tribal identification cards aren't included on the list of approved IDs.
- Calliop, Jag and Tintin: Here's a look at 20...
- Walmart, Kmart 'Layaway Angels' spreading...
- Little difference between PG-13 and R-rated...
- Many Mormon missionaries who return home...
- What you think of welfare program depends on...
- WestJet airline video goes viral as Santa...
- Putin defends Russian conservative values
- Better than a raise: The smallest thing you...
- Can Mandela's legacy revive the GOP? 32
- India government likely to review... 25
- What you think of welfare program... 25
- Health care debate about presidential... 24
- Health care signups increase to... 23
- Putin defends Russian conservative values 17
- Looking beyond the premium is a... 17
- Little difference between PG-13 and... 13