New GRIC police chief, Miss Indian ASU and CGUHS retiree introduced before Community Council

GRIC police chief, Derek Arnson addresses Council after being introduced by Community Manager Alex Yazza.

GRIC police chief, Derek Arnson addresses Council after being introduced by Community Manager Alex Yazza.

SACATON-Gila River Indian Community’s (GRIC) new Chief of Police, Derek Arnson was introduced before Community Council during the regularly scheduled meeting on Wed, May 5. Arnson was introduced by GRIC Community Manager, Alex Yazza who oversees the Public Safety Division.


Arnson attended Northern Arizona University to pursue a football scholarship. He holds a Master’s Degree in Education and a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice. In 1992, Arnson attended the Arizona Law Office Enforcement Training Academy in Tucson, Ariz. He comes to the Community with background in patrol, SWAT, narcotics, intelligence, Governor’s security, detail, K-9, internal affairs, recruiting/hiring and gang enforcement.

Before becoming GRIC Chief of Police, Arnson has served as an officer, sergeant, lieutenant and commander.

Newly reelected District 5 Councilwoman, Brenda Robertson told Arnson that in serving the Community he should try and gain an understanding of the culture and offered her services in cultural sensitivity training. District 6 Councilman, Albert Pablo echoed Robertson’s sentiment in telling Arnson that he should indeed go out and familiarize himself with the Community.

In welcoming Arnson, GRIC Lt. Governor, Joseph Manuel stressed the protection of the Community. “In protecting the Community we need to protect the elements,” he said. “Law enforcement has to be cognizant of our Community to protect our children as well.”

Also introduced before Council was the new Miss Indian Arizona State University 2010-2011, Cheryl Thomas. Thomas, a resident of District 6, had also recently competed in the Miss Indian World competition held in Albuquerque, NM where she was awarded the title of Miss Congeniality and placed sixth out of 26 contestants.

Her father is the late Bentley Thomas and her mother is Juanita Williams-Lopez both from District 6. She was raised by Karen Thomas. Her paternal grandparents are Frank Thomas and the late Eugenie Pefif-Thomas from District 6. Frank Thomas is originally from Cocopah. Her maternal grandparents are the late Harry Williams Sr., of the Prescott Yavapai Nation and the late Euretta Williams originally from District 4, Stotonic.

Thomas is a former Miss Gila River 2004 who has participated in many pageants throughout Arizona and beyond. She said that she hopes to set an example to the youth of the Community by emphasizing that education is empowerment. Her platform in being Miss Indian ASU is ‘Education is the key to preserving, protecting and perpetuating indigenous culture.

As part of her course work at ASU, Thomas has gotten involved in an oral history project called Beyond the Barbed Wire. The project revolves around the Japanese internment camp located in District 5 and gathering information through interviews with Community members who have had experience with the camp.

Beyond the Barbed Wires is headed up by four main groups. They are the Pacific Asian American Studies Program and American Indian Studies Program at ASU and also the Tribal History Preservation Office and Cultural Resources based here in the Community. Thomas said that approximately a dozen elders have come forth so far to be interviewed.

Members of Community Council commended her for gaining the title of Miss Indian ASU and also for setting an example for the youth of GRIC to follow.

GRIC Governor William R. Rhodes thanked her and said, “I’m proud of you.”

The final introduction made was in recognition of D5 Community member, William ‘Billy’ Allen who retired from teaching at Casa Grande Union High School (CGUHS) after 33 years of service. Allen was introduced by his former student Chris Banham who currently works with GRIC’s Off Reservation Boarding School program.

Banham told the Council that as a teacher at CGUHS, Allen has literally raised thousands of students and also children from the Community. In addition to teaching classes like world history, he also taught American Indian history.

Allen said he always told his students that they needed to pursue higher education. “If you can make it here at CGUHS, you can make it anywhere,” he said.

District 3 Councilman, Myron Schurz presented William ‘Billy’ Allen with a Lifetime Achievement award on behalf of GRIC.

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