Reservation Politics

A petition citing numerous allegations including gambling irregularities is circulating to recall the leader of the Gila River Indian Community.

The petition surfaced earlier this week, although it is unclear who is organizing the recall effort. The petition, which had not been filed with the tribal secretary for legal approval as of January 13, seeks to remove Governor Mary V. Thomas from office.

Thomas is one of the most prominent Indian leaders in the Phoenix area. She appears in radio, television and billboard advertisements promoting a casino located on the reservation.

The petition lists 14 grievances, including an allegation that Thomas "misused the tribe's credit card by purchasing gambling chips in Nevada."

In an interview Tuesday, Thomas said she is not concerned about the petition drive and directly addressed each grievance.

The 53-year-old Thomas, in her second three-year term as governor, says the gambling allegation was a "misunderstanding" that was investigated by the tribal council, which found no wrongdoing.

"They tried to research it and it couldn't be proven," Thomas says.
The petition also alleges that Thomas' "lack of leadership ruined the tribe's credit for non-payment of bills." Thomas acknowledges the tribe has a history of slow payments and blames the problem on rapid growth. The tribe has addressed the problem, Thomas says, and is currently paying its bills within 10 days of receipt.

Davis Pecusa, acting superintendent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, says he is not aware of any problems with the tribe paying its bills for services contracted with the BIA. The BIA provides police protection in addition to a number of other services for the sprawling community bisected by Interstate 10 about 15 miles south of Phoenix.

"We haven't had any problems as far as the bureau is concerned," Pecusa says.

Thomas says the petition is the work of a group of about eight tribal members unhappy with her leadership. She declined to provide names. The petition does not identify the organizers of the recall effort.

Longtime council member Harry Cruye says he is opposed to the recall petition because many of the charges are old and not based on fact.

"If somebody asked me to sign it, I would not," says Cruye, a council member for more than 15 years. "They are just allegations."

Cruye says the tribe investigated the allegations that Thomas misused the tribal credit card to purchase gambling chips three years ago and found no evidence to support the charge. The tribal council also held a special meeting to discuss the allegations and cleared Thomas.

The council concluded a secretary had failed to turn in hotel credit-card receipts. "There was really nothing there," Cruye says.

Thomas says she expects the recall petition to be filed with the tribal secretary in the next few days, but is unfazed by the opposition.

"Whatever the outcomes are, I don't question it," she says. "If it is going to proceed, let it proceed. If it is going to be successful, let it be.

"Because, you know, I have other things in my destiny in life, and I'm sure that's the direction it is going to go. I have no fear."

Contact John Dougherty at his online address: [email protected]

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty