Trekking the Journey Part Two: Kwatsan Radio’s Interview with Vice President Aguerro and Councilman Smith

Warm Holiday Greetings Kwatsan Radio Fans!! Allow me to start off this part two article with a huge I’M SORRY FOR THE DELAY 😀

As I explained on our Facebook Fan site, I guess that’s the beauty of Kwatsan Radio. We are strictly volunteered based. We provide as much content as we can to you our faithful Kwatsan Radio fans because we have a passion to do so. But like most of you we get caught up in our daily Kwatsan life’s especially during the holidays with work, holiday school recitals, and community events. Needless to say I have pushed through all my commitments and have finally wrapped this interview up…..enjoy!!

Kwatsan Radio: We have never heard our Tribal government support or endorse anyone politically when it comes to US politics. Now we have heard other tribes, they do it every election term; they have a stance whether it is democrat, republican or indifferent. Where do you guys stand on helping to either motivate the tribal membership or the council in general to say we back President Obama or don’t back President Obama? We know Tribes have already endorsed him and will continue to endorse him but I have never heard our Tribe ever do such a thing. What are your thoughts?

Vice President Aguerro: I was telling Virgil that in the Daily Sun that Amanda Aguirre is going to be in the hunt for Congressman Grijalva’s seat and so Virgil and I were talking informally, of course, and he goes should we come out publicly and say we support Amanda?


Councilman Smith: I believe we had a tribal member tell us that one of our tribal member’s was going to do an internship with Grijalva, so you know everybody was like “cool, wow” and we would have a tribal member interning with him and so its kind of the same thing. I think I did ask that, having these tribal leadership meetings that he was the only President (Obama) that has incorporated it and because of him it’s still going. If he goes away, does that mean it stops? And the next person doesn’t even care to have us Tribal leaders come over to Washington and have that communication. So with that part, that’s a big positive for him that he has made the effort to recognize the tribes. We can’t speak for the whole council but for myself I support him. It is a big plus for me, for him.


Vice President Aguerro: And I think it is something that we need to start developing that report and again that is all about building relationships. Actually in our case, rebuilding relationships. So you know we are trying to move in that direction. So we just need to continue, we are slowly putting our foot back into California and we are doing that with Councilwoman Miller who is going to be representing our interests in California right now which is education because she is the education liaison. Just this Tuesday, or Wednesday, she travelled to the Morongo Tribe where they were talking about developing within the state of California their own college, their own Indian college. The steps to take that and what can be done, and how can they fund this and what is possible. So she seemed really enthused about it and there was a secondary meeting sometime next week I believe on the 14 in that was in San Francisco, it’s all about rebuilding bridges. We know, we have been told bluntly that prior administrations have just burned us. Burned off every relationship we have had. Yeah and so when we talked to ITCA that first time to John Lewis and when he asked us that question, we are just starting from scratch. Quechan is rebuilding from the ground up on every avenue, I said we’re subterranean. You know we are clawing our way through here and hopefully within time we will be at ground level and hopefully we can build from there.


Kwatsan Radio: In the six months that you have been in office, what changes have been implemented that have been beneficial to the tribe and what key problem needs to be fixed and addressed other than the casinos?


Vice President Aguerro: The one thing I think that we have seen our shift and we have been vocal about it, our need to have open communication. To not be afraid of those questions that are being asked to us and I know that in the past as a tribal member attending the meetings the response that you always got to a question was “we will look into it” and “we will get back to you” and nobody ever got back to you. So you went to the next meeting, and you asked your question and then you went to the next meeting and you asked your question without ever getting an answer. I’m going to say that the change that we have seen is when we say we are going to get back to you; we are going to do our best to get back to you.


Besides changes that have been implemented in the last 6 months within this council, one thing that VP Aguerro hopes for the future is to renew a policy on Social Service.
Vice President Aguerro: We need to make it not as easy for an individual to come in and tap into tribal Social Services. Month, after month, after month. Normally my answer to them is what are you going to do about next month or the month after that? You’re coming to me today asking about assistance with rent, electrical services, food, clothing, hygiene products. What’s going to happen next month? We need to create a rule, a policy that is equal to every tribal member. Because we have tribal members who are here every month and we have tribal members who never come for help. Never, they simply do without. They find another way but we have some tribal members who have been, for lack of a better word, “trained” to come up here and expect to be helped. When we move into 2012, we will readdress that policy again and we are going to make it more cohesive so that when we have tribal members who are in Boston and are struggling and need our help, they should be able to come to us and get our help. Just like everyone else on the reservation does, just because they are living off reservation does not make them any less special and it doesn’t make them any less of a tribal member.


Kwatsan Radio: How do you as a council “retrain” or “provide” financial literacy?


Councilman Smith: In instances where they have come to council, I think one of our directions that kind of fell through the wayside was that ok we’re going to help them, give them that assistance but they need to go to a budgeting class. Learn how to budget, learn how to do this stuff. Learn how to budget and not just for the month, for the whole year. For some of them that have big families, how do you maintain yourself? How do you maintain that you’re able to make it to the next month, and the next month after that? There’s budgeting classes, using the programs that are available and parenting classes, whatever there is available out there for them. We can use them to implements those programs to help them to kind of give them some education. To give them that piece of mind that the world is not going to end. They will be able to move on; they need to make some concessions here and there.


Councilman Smith then put his perspective on the need of the people and their regard to social service.

Councilman Smith: The situation that we are in, I was kind of looking for a silver lining in the whole thing and to me maybe these things happen for a reason. That all of us, in our own way became so greedy and its all about me, me, me and what I get that we forgot who we are as a people and when this happened to us and it’s going to be back to basics for a lot of us. We are going to look at one day; we are going to have to remember when we didn’t have what we have. When the casinos weren’t here and we were a poor nation. We’re kind of coming back to that full circle and its going to take the memberships to take care of each other. And in a way, maybe that’s what we needed. Maybe that is why this happened to us. Looking at it in a bigger picture, a bigger scale, maybe we need to go back to the basics and remember who we are as a people. So that way when we do get on our feet again and times are good, we will remember these times. Remember that it can go away just like that.


Vice President Aguerro: When we were successful and had money in the bank and there was just money here and money there. We were spending without thought. There was no plan for the future, there was nothing. We were just living in that moment and now we are suffering from that hangover. We are going to struggle through this affect. Answering, how can we help you? What can we do for you? And how can you help us? You know there has to be some return here. I would hope for that return cause it’s been too much of we have it, let’s spend it. And I think that we are looking at a different council and we are looking at a different way of thinking. We are actually trying to shift into that position and let’s start planning for the 5, the 10, the 15, the 20 years from now because you know we are here today and gone tomorrow. And we have to leave something behind, something positive. So when the next council comes in its not that empty warehouse with papers just kind of floating around, we will have begun that foundation and the rebuilding of that foundation and the next group will come in and keep building on that foundation until we are successful.


Kwatsan Radio: When you guys did transition and you came on council, was there any type of learning or communication with the exiting council?


ALL: NO, NO… VP Aguerro and Councilman Smith: NO!


Councilman Smith: Councilman Felix Montaque did ask, “can we call them in and have them give us a where they left off kind of thing and what was pending?” and I think President Escalanti said that was never really done before and I don’t think it would happen. We just kind of all said well ok. We didn’t push the issue, we didn’t ask why; we all in our own minds had a general idea why.


Kwatsan Radio: Did it feel like you were starting at an abandoned building that was built on a cliff?


Vice President Aguerro: Like the roof was crumbling, waves were hitting it and it was ruining the foundation? Yes, in a quick response to that we had a former council member say to us that we should have known the issues, we should have attended all of these meetings, we should have been aware, we should have known what we were getting into. And that upset me. I was mad and I do my best to contain myself, and they are the tribal membership and they are entitled to say what they need to say and how they want to say it regardless if it is hurtful or if it is not the other shoe dropping or whatever cliché you want to throw in there. But it really pissed me off. And it was like, no, I don’t think we could have known what was going on as a membership because that control was so tight that nothing flowed and we were being told this by different groups that came to see us that all information flowed through one person and that one person was the former president.


Councilman Smith: And it was not to go through anyone else. And we were getting emails saying for instance, from our new historic preservation officer, was working with BLM and trying to get information and he forwarded us an email from BLM saying ok we can give you information but prior council goes through one person and one person only. So your new council has to write a letter stating we can release the information to you. And that wasn’t just the first case. Also with our bonds for the casino we faced the same situation. They asked, how is this going to work now, we only dealt with one person? Our answer was “no, you’re going to release it to all council and to the CEO that was President Escalanti’s directive to them.” And the bond holders said, “thank you we are so relieved to hear that. It is very hard to deal with one person and just one person only and we don’t know if the information is getting to where it needs to get to.”


VP Aguerro then made mention to our tribal debt which is still coming to light even six months into her term.
Vice President Aguerro: Right now Rich Williamson is our acting comptroller as Mr. Espino resigned and he’s looking at our tribal budget and he’s just shaking his head because he is seeing all the areas already as he flips through the budget where we can start cutting costs and start reducing our tribal budget and still meet the needs of the community membership but start reducing those costs because any savings that we have goes to our debt. And I think a lot of the tribal membership has been told that this money is ours. It should be given to us in the form of per capita, but I don’t think the membership was fully aware of the magnitude of the debt that we carry and I think that slowly and surely as we reinforce that message to them that the debt is for real. We can’t pretend it doesn’t exist and that we cannot pay it. Monumental things will happen if we take that head in the sand perspective and say it’s not there, it’s not the monkey on our back. We need to continue to speak to the membership and let them know that it is there. We can’t run away from it.


Kwatsan Radio: Had the change in council not occurred would the prior administration have been able to maintain the path that they created?


Vice President Aguerro: No, I honestly and wholeheartedly believe it would have caught up to them eventually. If not in six months, a year, there’s no way the way the tribe was spending money and distributing it in the forms of per capita and assistance, there’s no way they would have made it. I firmly and truly believe that now that we have sat down and looked at the picture with Sovereign Finance and Matt Eden, looking at everything that has been done with Brian Parish and Rich Williamson from the Q having the input from Keeny Jr. and Charles from Paradise and then looking overall about what we are doing here, tribal budget, I mean… everything you had, you had a house of cards. And you had somebody who was doing this shell game with our money and told us, “Don’t worry, it’s all in my head, I know what I’m doing, I know what I’m doing,” And so if the new council had not been sworn into their office, I firmly and honestly believe 6 months to a year we would have defaulted… I don’t know if the whole council has that opinion and I told the tribal audience constantly and tell your listeners that too, I am one person on this council and I don’t speak for the entire council.


Kwatsan Radio: How is this council trying to save money to pay off these future balloon payments that we owe toward our casino?


Councilman Smith: Put money aside and restrict it, and restructure our accounts just so that it is a piece of mind for us. He (Comptroller Espino) kind of was wish washed around it so when we did talk to Sovereign Finance and they did come down and we did have them in the side chamber. We did talk to President Escalanti about this and we told him we want to get a second opinion about this, we are going to go ahead and ask him and he said “yeah go for it, see what you guys get” and we did. And they (Sovereign Finance) looked at each other and they smiled at each other and they said “that would probably be the best thing that you guys could ever do. It could even change some of the outlook of what would happen because it shows to them (bond holders) that you are serious and that you are well aware of your debt.”


Vice President Aguerro: And when we talk about restricted accounts we aren’t talking about just an ordinary account, it would be a high yield savings account to where we hope to put in at least $7.5 million and every quarter, every six months, every year, where the interest builds. And we did get the second almost third opinion and it was this will help you so much, because again the bond holders to this council saying they want to be responsible, they are aware of their obligations and they are taking the steps necessary to insure they do not default cause that was something we kept hearing from Fitch “our worry is that you are going to default.”


Currently our Tribe is at “Stable” in regards to the Fitch Rating.


Kwatsan Radio: What are your thoughts on the Kwatsan Youth and the rise of drug use within the Youth of Indian Country?


Councilman Smith: Unfortunately we have been caught up with these financial issues we haven’t been able to address the Youth more. I know Darnella has a major interest in the youth and we hope to do more for them in 2012. Like mentoring programs or workshops ran by us. For myself I am out of touch with the youth but committed in wanting to do more.


Vice President Aguerro: We do have a problem. We do have drug trafficking coming through our borders and being used and sold right here on our reservation and we as a Tribal Government must ask ourselves what can we do to stop this. We can’t just say we have ADAPP and move one. We need to find ways to meet the need of the youth. We need to solve our community struggle and every family is affected by it. For instance we need to stop the growing Meth use we have within our community…It has to start with the family…then the schools. There are no easy solutions, it’s very difficult.


Councilman Smith: Parks and Rec needs to get more involved and not just with sports but find others interest within the entire community. Also Park and Rec has a committee and if there aren’t doing anything they need to start or find new members to help reactivate that committee. Don’t get me wrong they are doing a lot but more is needed.


Vice President Aguerro: We need to be more proactive with Parks and Rec and to let them know we do support them and find ways to improve it.


Kwatsan Radio: Where does this council sit when it comes to Culture? Not just Preservation but Practice?


Councilman Smith: Being the cultural liaison I sit on the Cultural Committee and I attend Mr. John Norton’s group as well. From the Cultural Committee stand point I feel confident in working with that group on the upcoming issue when it comes to projects within our ancestral lands. And for Mr. Norton’s group they discuss what they feel we are losing and want to help bring back like Respect, the Singing, Language, and the Language was a big thing for me and Dan Golding who was present as well. We both feel like a lost generation because we are old enough where we should know the language but we don’t. We understand something’s but don’t speak it…what might turn off a lot of youth and young adults from learning the language is having older people telling them that what they are learning is wrong. And if we can’t get the elders to agree than what chance do we have? But we need to and it’s very important. And I am thankful to see there are still people trying to caring on traditions like our songs and beliefs but we need more.


Vice President Aguerro: We all have the potential to learn but I don’t know why we don’t. We all can say we don’t have time, or I have children that take up all our time…but our children are learning. Slowly, but they are learning. But we all have the potential to find one family member who can help teach us. We have to learn it’s our responsibility because when the time comes for us to have to know our culture (Like in the funerals) our parents or older relatives who know might not be there.


Kwatsan Radio: Last question, if you had to give Kwatsan Radio a grade what would it be?


Vice President Aguerro: I don’t know about that DJ BGS guy?? He seems pretty radical (said with laughter)… No really, the only time I have ever been disappointed with Kwatsan Radio was when a question was asked that felt it just stirred the pot when the pot didn’t need it. I was like “why did they ask this question? This wasn’t needed” but on the other side we want to see those questions. We want to see the reactions.


Councilman Smith: Seeing those questions and answers helps gain perspective. I do think you do a good service to our membership by informing them. I know we have our newsletter but Kwatsan Radio is made by natives for natives and I think they trust you more. You guys ask questions that we feel the people want to ask. So for me I would give you a B+ and I know I read your posts and love seeing the reactions from the membership.


Vice President Aguerro: My grade is an A, I am happy with Kwatsan Radio. Because I remember when you guys put on that festival for hope and even when the powers that be didn’t want it you did it. And it was fun to see one cohesive group putting an event that stuck its thumb to the established government and said we don’t care what you think and you did it and it was great. Then it continued and progressed and became more but it was something that was done together not just one person did it a group did it and its still there. For instance we have heard the negative words when it came to Pipa a’Koots but I feel Kwatsan Radio helped possibly change that perception by showing who they really are. A group who wanted to share their views on our culture. You helped show that they weren’t one family against another it was one Quechan group who wanted to help educate out tribal culture. Because at the end of the day We Are All Quechan and you can’t take that away. Kwatsan Radio has help show that by saying no matter who you are and what you do You Will Always Be Quechan…so I am happy for that.


Councilman Smith: I felt it was history in the making when you guys asked to stream the inaugurations and that was the first time through technology we as Nation were able to that. That was one of the coolest moments for me that I got to be a part of that history! And allowing that to happen has a council I feel that was our way of saying we support Kwatsan Radio.


Vice President Aguerro: I like that you stand by what you post. And you don’t hide and you mean what you say…there’s no foolery, no slant in either direction it is what it is and I like it.


So with all that being said we Thank Vice President Aguerro and Councilman Smith for their time and their words. Usually this would be the time for us to give are parting thoughts on the interview but we feel the words speak for themselves and we hope we can continue to provide our fans more content like this in the future and to continue the conversation here on our website or on our fan page on Facebook because Together We Connect!! – Nyuunthxa!!

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Comments

  1. Danny Sheffield says:

    Great job Kwatsan Radio and the council members that participated in this interview. It is great to see the comments and openness from the council. By the way, would we ever see this if there was no Kwatsan Radio? A+ in my book…

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