In October, Jane Russell-Winiecki began her three-year term as chairperson of the Yavapai-Apache Nation’s Tribal Council.
Though Russell-Winiecki once served on the Clarkdale Town Council, she says that she never had a plan to run for a seat on the Nation’s Tribal Government.
Which is interesting, since her late-father Ned Russell served decades ago on the same council – also as chairperson.
Many families talk politics. But few follow up these discussions by running for public office. Earlier this year, Russell-Winiecki first considered serving her Yavapai-Apache people.
“It was spring 2016, I got together with my family. As many of us do, we talked about politics,” Russell-Winiecki said. “We wanted to see some changes. They encouraged me, my huge extended family. My greater Verde Valley tribal family.”
Several years ago, Russell-Winiecki started Wild Apache Internet, one of the first Internet service providers in the Verde Valley. Eventually she sold the business, and now Russell-Winiecki owns a health and wellness center.
“With my business background I have been interested in economic development,” Russell-Winiecki said.
But her goals for the Yavapai-Apache Nation are not geared solely toward cash flow.
“Not only don’t we want to depend on gaming as a main source of economic development, but we want to develop other sources,” Russell-Winiecki said. “We want to make sure we’re establishing a future. We’re interested in increasing the overall well-being of all of our members. Not only their economic well-being, but all the other issues we face in the world. It’s important to me that we have a strong spiritual base. We come from a strong spiritual foundation, Indian people do. And it’s important that we keep that, our language and our traditions, and a good, healthy lifestyle.”
Recently, the Camp Verde Bugle sat down with Russell-Winiecki to get to know the Yavapai-Apache Nation’s Tribal Council Chairwoman, as well to better understand her responsibilities.
When you were campaigning for Tribal Council chairperson, what concerns did the Nation’s people express to you? What was your platform for running?
Transparency in government. Specific issues included hirings, firings and salaries.
We have the same issues you have on the other side of the reservation boundary. Jobs. People want to work. Members worry about the condition of the Nation – and of the world. We’re not so removed to not know what’s going on around us. We are citizens of the United States. We’re hoping that this new president will be able to make the nation strong, as he’s promised.
We’re concerned that we want to see the Verde River continue to run. It’s important that we maintain a water supply.
Like all other communities, we’re concerned with alcoholism and drug use.
Because I’m the administrator of our government, those issues, running a tight ship, making sure employees are effective but also satisfied with their jobs.
How are things going in the Chairperson’s seat?
In the past two months, we’ve been very busy. And I expected it to be. There’s always a lot to do and not enough time.
We’re a small community. People basically, most people know the issues. And that’s the reason for transparency, so everybody knows what we’re dealing with.
[Former] Chairman [Thomas] Beauty was instrumental in making my transition easier. Chairman Beauty was very supportive and very helpful in making the transition possible. He’s helped consult on important issues the nation is facing.
Both you and your father have been chairperson for the Yavapai-Apache Nation. What is that like to carry on your father Ned Russell’s legacy?
It’s a delight to follow in his footsteps. Our family is proud that we’re maintaining this.
He was an architect by trade. He had a long, distinguished career with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He had an effect on all Indian people in the country through his department.
Please explain the dynamics of the YAN government. What do you do? What does your council do?
We have a constitution. The Yavapai-Apache Nation has executive, legislative and judicial departments. I’m not in charge of making the laws, and neither is the President of the United States. I run the day-to-day government issues. It’s a misconception that as chairman I have all the power. I don’t.
The council is the legislative branch. They make the laws and they do not handle the day-to-day running of the government. And neither of those branches has any authority over the judicial branch – our court system.
When a new president is elected, he or she brings in new cabinet members. As the Nation’s new chairperson, have there been any cabinet changes?
For us, it doesn’t work that way. We take over and use the staff we have. The transition is easier – and nicer – by maintaining the existing employees.
Talk about your working relationship with your fellow council members.
I very much enjoy being on the council. I have a great working relationship with our council members. We don’t always agree, but we have the same goals in mind. We are here for the betterment of our Nation.
What is your typical day like?
I start at 8 a.m. The first three months, I rarely get home before 6 or 7 p.m. There’s quite a bit of traveling; we are involved in several organizations, such as the Arizona Indian Gaming Association, the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, then I was privileged to go to the National Congress on American Indians, which was in Phoenix this year. I’m also getting to know all of our district supervisors and board supervisors, and the mayors in the towns and cities in the area.
There are three sister tribes: the Yavapai-Apache Nation, Yavapai Prescott and the Fort McDowell Yavapai. We share all kinds of projects, language, culture and customs.
We’re also involved with the Apache Alliance. All the Apache tribes in the U.S., including New Mexico and Oklahoma.
Two distinct tribes, alliances on both sides. We’re two distinct tribes with our own distinct culture. I am both Yavapai and Apache. There are very few of the Yavapai-Apache Nation people who are only Yavapai or Apache.
Looking back onto 2016 and forward to 2017, what are some of the successes that the Yavapai-Apache Nation can celebrate?
Our new hotel will be the tallest building in north central Arizona.
(The new six-story hotel will have 122 rooms, as well as a coffee shop, retail store, business center and indoor swimming pool. It will also have a three-story parking garage adjacent to hotel.)
We expect a soft opening of the bottom floor on New Year’s Eve. Our New Year’s Eve party in the conference area will be lots of fun. The rest of the hotel will be open the first of April. The hotel will be a nice place to go if you’re not interested in gaming.
Phase One of our Tunlii development [off SR 260] will have 36 new homes completed by the end of 2016. And another 35 completed in Phase Two by the end of next year.
We are the largest employer in the Verde Valley (The Yavapai-Apache Nation employs a total of 689 people, including 384 at Cliff Castle Casino Hotel). And that’s important to every town in the Verde Valley. We have such a large employee base that we have people coming from Flagstaff, Prescott, even a couple of people coming from Phoenix. That benefits everyone – and that’s a good thing.
I’m proud of the fact that we have a good working relationship with the towns in the Verde Valley. And it’s my goal to continue working on that.
Our Montessori school is wonderful. It’s a way for young children to start their education early. We’re happy that we actually have a means to start that early education. It’s such a great thing. And these kids love it. It’s a positive and stimulating environment for kids who are going into school.
Our sand and rock operation has been in existence for 20 years. The Verde Valley is rich in sand and rock. We mine sand and rock for local operations, and we use it for our own uses, too.
We also have a farm and ranch operation, we grow and sell hay. A big, organic garden, livestock. That’s a good thing.
What is your wish for the Yavapai-Apache Nation?
I want to see our people prosper. I want to see us happy and productive. And I want to see us leave a legacy for our children. And that’s the best way we can give back.
More like this story
- Yavapai-Apache Chairwoman honored by Arizona Business Magazine
- Camp Verde High School offers Yavapai language classes, as Yavapai-Apache Nation looks for Apache language instructor
- New leaders on Yavapai-Apache Nation
- Students learn Yavϸe gwaaga (Yavapai language) to abaja vak gwaage (talk to people)
- Yavapai-Apache Chairwoman elected board president of Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona