/ Modified jul 3, 2024 3:57 p.m.

Pascua Yaqui Tribe welcomes new council members

The tribe celebrated the newly elected officials during an inauguration Saturday evening.

Pascua Yaqui administration VIEW LARGER The administration building of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe.
Emma Gibson/AZPM

The Pascua Yaqui tribe celebrated their newly elected officials during its inauguration on Saturday.

Seven new leaders will join four incumbents on the Tribe’s Council. Newly elected officials from all ages and backgrounds include Thomas J. Cupis, Rosa Soto Alvarez, Jose-Enrique Saldana, Julian Hernandez, Gloria Alvarez Gomez, Irene R. Sanchez, and Rolando Flores. Others who will continue their roles are Andrea L. Gonzales, Herminia “Minnie” Frias, Francisco Munoz, and Peter S. Yucupicio.

The new administration was sworn in earlier this month. Shortly after, the council elected Hernandez as its Chairman and Yucupicio as its Vice-Chairman.

“I'm feeling very humble to be given this opportunity,” Hernandez said. “The power of the people spoke. They want to change, and we're here to do that, and hopefully, we do a good job in doing that.”

The eleventh seat on the Tribal Council was decided via a game of chance after two candidates tied with 639 votes. According to the Pascua Yaqui Tribal Code, “If there is still a tie after the automatic recount, the tie will be determined by a game of chance. The game of chance will be determined by the Board of Election Supervisors with input from the tied candidates. The Chairperson of the Board of Election Supervisors shall supervise the game of chance.”

A coin flip decided who took that seat after a recount of the vote. Francisco Munoz won after winning a best two out of three coin flip against Elvia Bustamante.

“No matter what you think, what you feel, every count matters,” Munoz said during the inauguration.”Because either way if I would’ve gotten one or she would’ve gotten one, we wouldn't have been sitting there as a tie.”

Some tribal members are now calling for a change to their code saying that a runoff vote should have taken place. According to Attorney General Alfred Urbina, that is already an issue the new council is looking to address.

“The new council is already talking about potentially amending the election ordinance to have a runoff election so that we don't have to go through that again,” Urbina said. “It would likely never happen again anyway but you never know.”

Dignitaries and representatives from state, city, and neighboring tribal governments attended Saturday’s event. Tohono O’odham Chairman Verlon Jose and Vice Chairwoman gave the new council several gifts, including seashell necklaces for each member.

“Some people wear gold. Some people wear silver. Some people wear turquoise,” Verlon said. “But the shell necklace is very sacred to us.”

The new officials, like Saldana from Guadalupe, said they are eager to begin their work.

“The one thing that I've always lived by is definitely honoring what our elders built,” Saldana said. “We don't want to erase everything that they built. But we also want to introduce a new perspective.”

Many of the council members, like Flores, are most interested in tackling the construction of the tribe’s new casino.

“My top issue at this point, at this very moment is economic development,” Flores said. “We do have casino revenue, but we will develop additional revenue streams. We're not sure what that looks like yet, but we do want to diversify and just bring some more money in so we can do more programs, provide more services and do more for the people.”

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