The Gila River Indian Community together with the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and a host of elected officials this morning celebrated the opening of the Gila Crossing Community School, the Community’s Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) K-8 school located in District 6 of the reservation along West Pecos Road near Laveen.

The state-of-the-art facility replaces a school that is more than 100 years old. The Gila Crossing Community school is unique for multiple reasons, including its approach to educating 500 Native American students, its culturally inclusive design and for its construction-financing model: The Gila River Indian Community self-financed construction of the facility, then struck a leasing arrangement with the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Indian Education to get repaid for the construction costs.

The Gila River Indian Community broke ground on the new school less than a year ago, bringing the project in on time and on budget, said Governor Stephen Roe Lewis.

“This is truly a model,” said Governor Lewis. “Our Council and our leadership, we made sure that this was going to be a model, not just for the Community but for Indian Country and other tribes to use this model as well.” 

Governor Lewis commended the Department of Interior, members of Congress and the Gila River Tribal Council for their commitment to this project and the innovative partnership behind it. He noted that the design incorporated various tribal elements — including artwork all over the facility designed by Gila River Indian Community members. 

Said Lewis: “Walking through, you see the artwork, all done, designed by Community members. It’s a welcoming right when you walk into the gates. That’s what we wanted. We wanted our Community members … to see themselves to see their culture.” 

Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney applauded the Gila River Indian Community for coming to the table and working collaboratively with the U.S. Department of the Interior to address a pervasive problem across Indian Country — the lack of resources to build schools and a decades-long backlog in construction. 

“This is an absolutely historic arrangement between the Department of Interior and the Gila River Indian Community and it’s one that we’re extremely proud of. It’s innovative and it is precedent-setting. It is a model for the rest of Indian Country.” 

Arizona House Representative Greg Stanton congratulated Gila River for the accomplishment, which he called groundbreaking. 

“As a Congress member, it’s no surprise to me that Gila River would lead in innovation on education. They are doing unique things … to advance education for the students on the tribal community and for kids from the Laveen area who may to come to this awesome school.”

About the Gila River Indian Community

Gila River Indian Community, located on 372,000 acres in south-central Arizona and home to the indigenous people of O’Odham (Pima) and Pee Posh (Maricopa). The people are known for their farms, deep traditions, basket weaving and pottery. The Tribe’s administrative offices and departments are located in Sacaton, and serve the people throughout these seven community districts. One hundred percent of its profits from gaming and 17 other Enterprises are utilized by the community providing services and opportunities to achieve the highest quality of life.