By Howard Fischer
PHOENIX - Tribal leaders
Tuesday attacked efforts by some state lawmakers
to enact English as the official language of
Vivian Juan-Saunders, chairwoman
of the Tohono O'odham Nation, told a special
joint session of the Legislature that English
will continue to be the primary language of this
"Our children learn it in our
schools and we have no desire to change that,"
said Juan-Saunders, who also is president of the
Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona. She said
American Indians want their children to learn
"However, making people use only
English in government-transacted business is
reminiscent of the boarding-school era for
American Indians, when speaking one's own
language resulted in physical and verbal abuse
administered by teachers and employees of the
school," she told lawmakers during the annual
event at the Capitol.
Kathy Kitcheyan, chairwoman of
the San Carlos Apache Tribe, was more blunt.
"In plain English … to the state
of Arizona, we don't like it and we don't want
it," she said to legislators. "We as the first
Americans never asked our visitors to speak a
But Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa,
sponsor of a constitutional measure to declare
English as the state's official language, chided
the tribal leaders for their comments.
"I'm always impressed with those
people who get up and orate on issues that they
haven't read," said Pearce, who was in the
audience when the two women spoke. "And it was
pretty apparent that they hadn't read it."
Pearce said nothing in the
proposal affects how tribes conduct their own
business. Nor, he said, does it bar state and
local officials from communicating with
constituents in any language.