Debbie was born in Gallup, New Mexico and has lived in the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community for 16 years with her husband and daughters. Her early years in the small community among hardworking ranchers, weavers, mill workers, teachers, attorneys, silversmiths, and veterans instilled not only a strong work ethic and identity but also the responsibility to be a leader wherever she is. She obtained a bachelor’s degree from Northern Arizona University in 2001 and a master’s degree from Arizona State University in 2003. She worked for the tribal government as a social worker for 12 years. She is a popular speaker for the AZ Speaks program of the Arizona Humanities Council.
In 2013, Debbie and several colleagues realized that many young tribal people living in urban areas had become disconnected from their home cultures and languages. Many struggled with getting jobs, more education, and finding their own pathways to adulthood. She helped start Morning Star Leaders to address those issues. Today, Morning Star is well established and a premier source of initiatives for Native youth development and support in education, employment, and other areas. The Arizona Humanities Council honored Morning Star with its Community Partner Award in 2019.
Second, during the 2019 legislative session, Debbie helped lead a grassroots effort to enact House Bill 2570. Her own story about losing her mother at the age of three encouraged others to tell their stories from around Arizona of missing and murdered Indigenous women. The bill, which passed the House unanimously and signed into law by Governor Doug Ducey, set up a legislative study committee to look closely at the prevalence and cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls (MMIWG). Data have pointed to significant problems throughout Arizona for some time but a comprehensive study with recommendations has not been done. Debbie now sits on the task force with other tribal leaders, law enforcement professionals, state legislators, and others.
Most recently, Debbie became the first indigenous woman elected as a national committee person for the Democratic Party.
Debbie enjoys connecting with her colleagues as a fellow through EmergeAZ, Flinn Brown Leadership Academy, and ASU’s Generation Next Nonprofit Leadership Academy.