Herminia Frias made history last month when she was elected to the board of the Pascua Yaqui tribe, and subsequently chosen by her 10 fellow board members to be the chairwoman. The tribe owns Casino del Sol and Casino of the Sun, among other businesses, meaning the tribe has increasing power in the community. The 31-year-old is a graduate of the UA with a bachelor's in biochemistry; she's currently working on her master's degree. She previously worked for the tribe in behavioral health before stepping down to serve as chairwoman.
What made you decide to run for the board?
I felt that I had something important to contribute; that I, along with 10 other people, could do something really positive for the tribe, and create a vision for the tribe--something long- lasting.
When you were one of 66 people running for the board, did you have any thought that you would end up as chairwoman?
No. When I ran initially, it was simply to become a tribal councilmember. I worked hard to get the word out, to meet people, to talk to people, to be accessible. I really believe in the tribe; there's so much we could do. And why not do it, with all the talent out there, and move forward? When I ran, it was full-on, knowing that I may not win; after all, there were 65 people I was competing with. But (even if I lost), I figured that I'd get to know the issues and meet people--it's a learning process. If I didn't win, I had other options. I am in school; I loved my job. It wasn't all or nothing ...
So you're getting your master's. How do you plan on balancing your duties as chairwoman with the demands of graduate school?
I have all summer off, so I haven't had to deal with it yet. There's not too much left with my master's; I only have a few classes to go. I'll have to see how it goes.
You have a four-year term; that's a fairly significant amount of time. What are your goals?
It's really about creating self-sufficiency as a government. The tribe now has tremendous resources; we've ventured into certain businesses, and we've certainly become business savvy. Now, we can provide for our communities. That's good. But also, there's the issue of individual self-sufficiency. How are we going to get there? Through education, training, skills that we need to teach people for them to become self-sufficient and get jobs. ... (The key is) taking care of ourselves, where (we) don't have that dependence on the government. We can do it. I know this. But how do we get there? That's what we'll work on as a government.
What, specifically, do you have in mind in terms of programs to get there?
We're still working that out as a council. I may have plans in mind, but I am the kind of person who says, "Let's talk about it as a council." I could say that I have ideas, but they'd be just my opinion(s). ... But education is one area in which we can pick up the ball and run. You need to get your high school degree and go from there. Then, you can decide what direction you want to go in as an individual. (Helping members do this)--that's something we can do.
Any other goals you have in mind for the board?
I think we need to look at all of the projects we're looking on and decide which ones we want to continue, and which ones we want to start. We really haven't solidified that yet. What I want to do is get it right the first time, have a clear vision and move forward.
What's the biggest issue facing the tribe?
Wow. Well, our health care is one priority, for all tribal members. Economic development is important--job opportunities. The other thing that's key to us is putting our tribal members in leadership positions, getting them into positions where they can take over. We have members who are in the attorney general's office, who are firemen, who are doctors, who are directors of finance, who are CEOs. They're in leadership positions, making decisions. I am talking self-sufficiency.
Your goal is getting them in leadership positions within the tribe, or beyond?
In and outside the tribe. One of the things we need to get across is that the buck doesn't just stop here at the Pascua Yaqui tribe. There's a lot more out there.
For the first time, women lead the two prominent area tribes (Vivian Juan-Saunders is the Tohono O'odham head). Do you think this is significant?
I think it is. A lot of it has to do with community representation, as far as women and families are involved. Like with issues of child care--if women work, what do you do with the kids? There are a lot of single mothers--fathers, too--raising families. I think people want women who know the issues, and can relate and have passion.