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Gila River Indian Community of the Gila River Indian Reservation, Arizona

BIA Logo Indian Affairs - Office of Public Affairs

Constructing new schools with state-of-the-art technology and cultural values

Media Contact:
For Immediate Release: September 25, 2018

WASHINGTON – Today, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Mac Lean Sweeney announced the Blackwater Community School, located within the Gila River Indian Community in Coolidge, Ariz., will receive $30.1 million dollars, and the Quileute Tribe will receive $44.1 million dollars for the Quileute Tribal School located on Quileute reservation in La Push, Wash., to award design-build contracts for new school buildings. In 2016, Indian Affairs selected both schools as two of 10 schools for replacement through the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) replacement school construction process.

The Blackwater Community School has elected to manage the project using a design-build contract for their new school through a Public Law 100-297 Grant and the Quileute Tribe has elected to manage the project using a design-build contract for their new school through a Public Law 93-638 Self-Determination Contract.

“Today is a great day for Native education at Indian Affairs,” said Assistant Secretary Tara Sweeney. “I am excited for the next phase of this process to initiate for these schools. I appreciate everyone involved with these projects from Indian Affairs, Bureau of Indian Education, the schools, and tribal communities for their dedication to take these schools from an idea to the world-class buildings that they will become.”

The Division of Facilities Management and Construction for Indian Affairs (DFMC) will provide oversight verification throughout the project and will be available to provide technical support to the Blackwater Community School and the Quileute Tribe. The replacement project for Quileute Tribal School authorizes a new 60,950 GSF campus supporting a projected K-12 grade enrollment of 79 students. The replacement project for the Blackwater Community School authorizes a new 88,547 GSF campus supporting a projected K-5 grade enrollment of 409 students.

“Our team at Indian Affair is proud to be a part of the process of building the modern infrastructures that reflect cultural values and tribal community input for student learning,” Director of the Office of Facilities, Property and Safety Management for Indian Affairs Darrell LaRoche said. “We’re thrilled that the new schools will be considered state of the art with their internet capabilities and classroom smart boards. With community involvement during the design process, the classrooms are tailored to support cultural specific teaching for the students.”

“A school’s environment is as important as the lessons taught in the classroom,” Bureau of Indian Education Director Tony Dearman said. “We are proud to work with Indian Affairs to build a new school where we can deliver excellent in-classroom instruction on the first day it opens its doors.”

Quileute Tribal School was the second 2016 NCLB School to complete the planning phase and first to complete a preliminary 20% design. To ensure compliance with Washington State requirements and enhanced community involvement this project provides a Language/Cultural Lab, permanent stage space, and a wood carpentry vocational shop. This project will be fully compliant with Washington Sustainable Schools Protocol and the Guiding Principles for Sustainable Federal Buildings. The current school facility is located in a designated tsunami zone near the ocean. The new school site is located at elevation safely outside the tsunami zone.

The Blackwater Community School is the third NCLB School to completed planning. To ensure compliance with Arizona State and Gila River Tribal requirements and enhanced community involvement this project provides a Language/Cultural Lab, Science Lab/Traditional Farming and Gardening classroom, Art Program Classroom and a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Classroom. This project will be fully compliant with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Protocol and the Guiding Principles for Sustainable Federal Buildings.

The Laguna Elementary School received the first award of $26.2 million to award a design-build contract on May 2, 2018. Within the next few weeks, Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle Community School in Bloomfield, N.M. will begin the preliminary design stage and will be the fourth school to be funded. The remaining six schools are expected to complete the planning phase by the end of 2018.

The Assistant Secretary–Indian Affairs advises the Secretary of the Interior on Indian Affairs policy issues, communicates policy to and oversee the programs of the BIA and the BIE, provides leadership in consultations with tribes, and serves as the DOI official for intra- and inter- departmental coordination and liaison within the Executive Branch on Indian matters.

The Office of Facilities, Property and Safety Management for Indian Affairs is responsible for policy, oversight, and technical assistance for facilities management, facilities construction, asset management, safety management, property management, and real property leasing for all of Indian Affairs, including Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Bureau of Indian Education (BIE). These responsibilities are carried out through the Division of Facilities Management and Construction, Division of Safety and Risk Management, Division of Property Management, and the Real Property Leasing Program.

The Bureau of Indian Education implements federal Indian education programs and funds 183 elementary and secondary day and boarding schools (of which two-thirds are tribally operated) located on 64 reservations in 23 states and peripheral dormitories serving over 47,000 individual students. The BIE also operates two post-secondary schools and administers grants for 29 tribally controlled colleges and universities and two tribal technical colleges.


UPDATED: The original version of this press release misstated that Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle Community School is located in Bloomington, NM. We have since corrected the mistake. Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle Community School is located in Bloomfield, NM.

Western Region


A swift overview of the Region’s tribes include the O’odham, Yaqui, Yuman and Pai Tribes of Arizona’s low and mid deserts and Grand Canyon, and the Apache of the mid-deserts and mountain forests.  The  Hopi  live on Arizona’s Colorado Plateau mesas.  Nevada has many bands and tribes of Washoe, Shoshone and Paiute people.  The many tribes and bands of Ute people are the inspiration for the name of the state of Utah.

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“Leaseback” Financing Model a First for Indian Country; Sets Precedent for Tribes Nationwide

Media Contact: Nedra Darling, OPA-IA Phone: 202-219-4152
For Immediate Release: August 1, 2019

SACATON, Ariz. – A crowd nearly 1,000 strong came out on Saturday, July 27, 2019, to help the Gila River Indian Community (the Community) and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) commemorate an important milestone for Community members, DOI and Indian Country: The ribbon-cutting and grand opening of the Gila Crossing Community School, a state-of-the-art, newly constructed Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) school meant to serve over 500 K-8 students on the Gila River Indian Reservation.

The Gila Crossing Community School replaces a century-old, crumbling and overcrowded BIE school that the Community had been working for decades to replace. The new school is notable not only for its tribal design and American Indian artwork – which align closely with the Community’s history and Akimel O’odham (Pima) culture – but also for its unique financing model, which represents a first for school construction financing in Indian Country.

The Community designed and constructed the facility, then entered into a lease agreement with DOI to cover repayment of its construction costs.

“This is truly an historic day for our Community,” said Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Roe Lewis. “The Gila Crossing Community School, like many Bureau of Indian Education schools across the country, was overcrowded, and the original building had been built in 1899. We knew that with limited federal resources the Community had to come up with a solution. Our answer was for the Community to build this school and then lease it back to the Department of the Interior. This innovative pilot sounds simple, but it had never been done before. What we accomplished here today is historic – not just for our Community, but as a model for BIE schools across the United States.”

The Community broke ground on its new school in June of 2018 and completed construction earlier this month. Students will start their first day in the new school on August 1.

Gov. Lewis commended DOI Assistant Secretary–Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney and Deputy Assistant Secretary–Indian Affairs for Policy and Economic Development Mark Cruz for their collaboration in working with the Gila River Indian Community on its innovative approach to school construction.

Assistant Secretary Sweeney, who made the trip from Washington, D.C., accompanied by Deputy Assistant Secretary Cruz, spoke at the ribbon-cutting the event. She lauded the Community, Gov. Lewis and the Gila River Tribal Council for their vision and partnership, and observed how the Community’s approach is echoed in the Gila Crossing Community School’s motto: “Believe You Can!”

“With Interior Secretary Bernhardt’s leadership, it has been a great honor to partner with the Gila River Indian Community in thinking outside the box and developing a modern solution to the construction financing problem so many tribes face when it comes to improving their BIE-funded schools and facilities,” said Assistant Secretary Sweeney. “We hope this model is one that other tribes will study and follow.”

“Thank you, everyone, for your patience, and your hard work on this historic partnership,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary Cruz. “The school environment is so important to student learning and growth. I’m very happy that this tribal-federal collaboration has resulted in such a beautiful, modern and meaningful place to educate current and future generations of Gila River children.”

Community Councilman Anthony Villareal Sr., who served as chairman of the Gila Crossing School Construction owner’s team, stated, ““The ribbon-cutting and opening of the Gila Crossing Community School was the realization of a long-term goal for the entire Gila River Indian Community and the students of Districts 6 and 7. This is the first new Bureau of Indian Education school built on the reservation in over a century, so we wanted to make sure we got it right. Seeing the finished school and all of the Community members here today, I think we succeeded.”

The celebration also included a performance by the Pee Posh Bird Singers. Afterwards, federal officials and Community members toured the new building.

Gila River Lt. Gov. Robert Stone ended the program saying, “This is a day for us to be proud. By the end of next week, our students will enter this school and they will be able to see the commitment the Community has made to their education. I wish all of the students, teachers, and administrators and parents an amazing school year, and I look forward to seeing all of the students thrive here at the new Gila Crossing Community School.”


For Immediate Release: August 1, 2019
The Gila Crossing Community School is a newly constructed state-of-the-art facility  serving over 500 Bureau of Indian Education students.
BIA Logo Indian Affairs - Office of Public Affairs

Coeur D’Alene, Umatilla and Gila River agreements will facilitate purchases to individual landowners under Buy-Back Program

Media Contact: Jessica Kershaw, 202-208-6416
For Immediate Release: May 29, 2014

WASHINGTON – Deputy Secretary of the Interior Michael Connor today announced that the Department has signed three additional agreements to facilitate the purchase of individual interests in fractionated trust lands and consolidate ownership for the tribes with jurisdiction. Agreements with the Coeur D’Alene Tribe of the Coeur D’Alene Reservation (Idaho), Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (Ore.), and the Gila River Indian Community of the Gila River Indian Reservation (Ariz.) detail what each tribal government will do to help implement the Program, such as appraisals, owner outreach, and education.

To date, the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program) has made nearly 20,000 purchase offers to owners of fractionated interests. The Program has successfully concluded transactions worth more than $62 million and has restored the equivalent of more than 177,000 acres of land to tribal governments.

“We are encouraged by the growing enthusiasm for the Buy-Back Program across Indian Country, and the increased engagement by tribal nations to participate in its implementation,” said Deputy Secretary Connor, who joined tribal leaders in a signing ceremony today. “As part of President Obama’s commitment to help strengthen Native American communities, we will continue to implement the Program as transparently and aggressively as possible, but we know that it will succeed only though nation-to-nation cooperation. Our partnerships with these tribal nations will be critical to ensuring that individuals are aware of this historic opportunity to strengthen tribal sovereignty by supporting the consolidation of tribal lands.”

Land fractionation is a serious problem across Indian Country. As lands are passed down through generations, they gain more owners. Many tracts now have hundreds and even thousands of individual owners. Because it is difficult to gain landowner consensus, the lands often lie idle and cannot be used for any beneficial purpose.

There are now more than 245,000 owners of three million fractionated interests, spanning approximately 150 Indian reservations, who are eligible to participate in the Buy-Back Program.

“Since the very beginning of the Buy-Back Program, we have said that its success on each reservation will depend on the willingness of tribal leaders to engage with us in moving this important initiative forward. In the agreements signed today, these tribal leaders are offering valuable support that will help to insure the success of the program on their reservations,” said Kevin K. Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, who also participated in today’s signing ceremony. “We thank them for their commitment to the success of the program.”

The Buy-Back Program was created to implement the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement. The Settlement provided $1.9 billion to consolidate fractional land interests across Indian Country. The Buy-Back Program allows interested individual owners to receive payments for voluntarily selling their land. Consolidated interests are immediately transferred to tribal governments and stay in trust for uses benefiting the tribes and their members.

“We are pleased that the Department of the Interior recognizes that fractionation is a problem throughout Indian Country,” said Coeur D’Alene Chairman Chief Allan. “The Coeur D’Alene Tribe has worked collaboratively with Interior from the inception of the Buy-Back Program to develop a plan to address this issue. We are proud of the plan we put together and appreciative that Interior saw that the Coeur D’Alene Tribe is well prepared and stands ready to participate. We’re anxious to get started addressing fractionated ownership of trust allotments on our reservation.”

Interior is entering into cooperative agreements that are flexible and responsive to the specific needs and unique circumstances of each tribal government and location involved. The agreements showcase the active role that tribes can have, which is intended to improve the Program’s effectiveness and efficiency while minimizing administrative costs.

“The Umatilla Tribes are looking forward to implementing the Cobell Settlement through the Department of the Interior’s Land Buy-Back Program,” said Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation Board of Trustees Chairman Gary Burke. “We are well positioned to work with owners of fractionated allotments in purchasing back our lands for the common interest of our tribal members. We have and will continue to develop land management plans that will ensure our survival now and for future generations.”

In addition, sales will result in up to $60 million in contributions to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund. This donation is in addition to the amounts paid to individual sellers, so it will not reduce the amount landowners receive for their interests.

The Gila River Indian Community has entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with the Department, rather than a cooperative agreement, because the Community is helping implement the Program using its own resources. More information on how tribal governments can participate in the Buy-Back Program is available here.

“The Gila River Indian Community is looking forward to participating in the Land Buy-Back Program,” said Governor Gregory Mendoza of the Gila River Indian Community. “Our reservation is one of the most fractionated in the country, but is uniquely positioned to use the Program to advance tribal energy and economic development opportunities that will benefit our entire Community.”

Landowners with interests at Coeur D’Alene, Umatilla or Gila River can contact the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at (888) 678-6836 to get more information about the potential to sell land so that it can be returned to the tribe or to register their information.
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Over 9,000 Fentanyl pills and hundreds of pounds of other drugs seized

Media Contact:
For Immediate Release: May 31, 2018

WASHINGTON - From May 15, 2018 through May 26, 2018, the Department of the Interior (DOI) Opioid Reduction Task Force conducted a Criminal Interdiction Operation in and around Tribal reservations in Arizona, seizing 9,050 Fentanyl pills, 48.2 pounds of methamphetamine, 1.2 pounds of heroin, 863 pounds of marijuana, one-half pound of cocaine, and $30,000 in cash. In total, the drug bust yielded a seizure of 913.5 pounds of illegal narcotics, with a street value of approximately $4,791,417.00, and led to 86 total arrests. The operation in Arizona is the second led by Interior’s Joint Task Force, which Secretary Zinke established to help achieve President Donald Trump's mission to end the opioid epidemic.

"Our task force on opioids continues to distinguish itself as one of the finest operations in law enforcement today; I could not be more proud of these professionals," said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. "It’s heartbreaking to see the scale of the problem, and rather than further stigmatizing victims, we are cracking down on the dealers who are selling out our children, selling out our communities, and selling out our nation. I thank our partners in Indian Country, along with state and local law enforcement, for their dedication to this mission. These brave men and women are keeping the opioid dealers up at night, and with good reason; if you are trafficking these drugs, we will find you, arrest you, and bring you to justice."

"A drug-free Indian Country is a healthy Indian Country. I commend the efforts of our BIA Division of Drug Enforcement agents, along with federal, tribal and state partners for successfully conducting this operation to eradicate drugs in tribal communities," said John Tahsuda, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. "Only together can we protect our loved ones from the harmful effects of these devastating substances."

Significant Seizures


33.2 pounds located in a vehicle tire with estimated street value of $1,754,212.00. (Tohono O’odham Reservation)


15 pounds located in a natural void of a Toyota Scion with a street value of $790,952.00. (Gila River Reservation)


1.2 pounds located in a natural void of a Toyota Scion with a street value of $55,501.00. (Gila River Reservation)


0.5 pounds located in a natural void of a Toyota Scion with a street value of $22,680.00. (Gila River Reservation)


863.588 pounds (four separate seizures) with an estimated street value of $1,802,072.00. (Tohono O’odham Reservation)


Approximately 9,050 pills with an estimated street value of $366,000.00. (Gila River Reservation)

Total Seizure:

913.5 pounds of illegal narcotics and approximately 9,050 fentanyl pills with a total street value of approximately $4,791,417.00.

Secretary Zinke has worked with tribes to carry out President Trump’s directive to stop the opioid crisis, conducting dozens of tribal visits to see the affected communities, while listening and learning about how to fight the crisis. In starting new initiatives to fight the epidemic, such as the creation of the Joint Task Force, the Department of the Interior is committed to giving all resources required to fight drug abuse.

The DOI Task Force for the Interdiction Operation consisted of Special Agents from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Division of Drug Enforcement (DDE) and BIA K-9 uniformed officers, along with the Tohono O’odham Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI-Sells, Arizona), US Border Patrol (USBP), Pascua Yaqui Tribal Police Department, San Carlos Apache Tribal Police Department, Gila River Tribal Police Department, Native American Targeted Investigations of Violent Enterprises (NATIVE) Task Force, and the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS). The Criminal Interdiction Operation focused on highways known for being high drug trafficking routes into and through Indian Country. This collaboration focused efforts on conducting high visibility enforcement operations with specialized drug interdiction teams.

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