Road improvement projects on the Pascua Yaqui Reservation are being completed by tribal members as part of a new partnership with the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Through a construction academy, 27 tribal members were recently certified to work as flaggers and general laborers on reservation street projects.

“The Pascua Yaqui Tribe is expanding its horizons by offering increased opportunity for learning, particularly with our youth,” Tribal Chairman Robert Valencia said. “We are very interested in developing additional programs similar to the construction academy in the very near future.”

Through its On-The-Job-Training Supportive Services Program, ADOT offers the construction academy as part of its goal to encourage women and minorities to consider the trade, said Corey Foster, the project’s development program manager. The Yaqui project is the third initiative with Arizona tribes and the first in Southern Arizona.

ADOT covers training costs and fees for participants and provides support including transportation and child care assistance, job-readiness training and safety gear such as hard hats and protective eyewear. The academy is free for members thanks to $112,000 in funding from the Federal Highway Administration.

Participants are selected and paid by the Tribal Employment Rights Office (TERO). The flaggers and laborers earn $14 an hour after being certified in roadway safety, how to identify potential hazards on job sites and keeping the traveling public safe during roadwork.

The reservation has road projects scheduled over the next three years, said Raymond Buelna, the TERO manager.

“We want to use this as the jumping off point to get people excited about building again,” he said. During the economic downturn, construction projects were stalled and many tribal members took jobs in other industries.

“Now that things are looking up, we want to make sure we have our people trained and ready to go,” Buelna said. “The tribes and community members are appreciative of the opportunity.”

The longterm goal is to create its own construction company and populate it with tribal members who have reached journeyman status through the program, Buelna said.

ADOT sees diversifying the construction trade as a public service, said Vivien Lattibeaudiere, the agency’s business engagement and compliance manager.

“We want them to have a living wage and stay on the reservation,” she said. “We are a state agency and we really believe in making things better for all citizens of Arizona.”

The Pascua Yaqui Tribe’s main reservation is southwest of Tucson, in the area of Valencia Road and Camino de Oeste. Four other recognized settlements are Old Pascua Village, near Grant Road and Interstate 10, Barrio Libre in South Tucson, Yoem Pueblo near Marana and in Guadalupe, near Phoenix.

Contact reporter Gabriela Rico at grico@tucson.com.

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Gabriela's newspaper career began at the Tucson Citizen in '86 as the "movie-times girl" where she'd call local theaters for showtimes. Since then, she's written about crime, education, immigration, trade and business. She's been with the Star since 2007.