By Brian Powell
Candida Hunter remembers, when she was a young mother, meeting a First Things First representative during a visit to the Hualapai community in northwestern Arizona. The staffer’s personal interest, so genuine that she asked to take a photograph of Hunter’s 2-year-old daughter, caught Hunter’s attention.
The positive experience remained with Hunter, who went on to serve on a First Things First Hualapai Tribe Regional Partnership Council and in 2014 was named the senior director of tribal affairs for the statewide system. First Things First was created by Arizona voters in 2006 to partner with families and communities to promote the healthy development and learning of the state’s young children.
The Flinn-Brown Fellow has her office in Kingman but travels the state visiting Arizona’s different tribes and keeps a Phoenix office.
“My role is to make sure First Things First has effective government-to-government relationship with the tribes, honoring sovereignty and looking at how we can enhance or build on our relationships,” Hunter says.
In addition, Hunter is responsible for implementing First Thing First’s tribal consultation policy, building awareness of tribal considerations and the importance of early childhood in tribal communities among tribal and state policymakers, providing staff training to build their self-awareness and skills related to cultural responsivity in tribal communities, and facilitating the Tribal Technical Advisory Group, comprised of the First Things First regional directors working with tribal communities.
Over the past 10 years, Hunter has served as an elected official, an appointed board member, and a volunteer on issues ranging from justice reform, development at Grand Canyon West and water rights. She also has dedicated herself to learning more about Arizona’s state government— as she did through the Arizona Center for Civic Leadership’s Flinn-Brown Academy—to assist with her current job and lay the foundation for a possible return to politics.
Before joining First Things First, Hunter’s career and service were centered in her local community. She served as Hualapai Education Coordinator, as well as on the Hualapai Higher Education Committee, Peach Springs Boys and Girls Club Advisory Board, and the Hualapai Youth Services Coalition. She also recently completed a two-year stint on the Grand Canyon Resort Corp. board of directors—an economic-development arm of the Hualapai government that works to bring jobs to the area.
Hunter was elected to the Hualapai Tribal Council in 2008 in a race with 31 candidates. After being re-elected to the council in 2010, she was recalled in 2013. But she takes that setback in stride, saying it hasn’t changed how she feels about serving her community. The recall helped Hunter realize that this was an opportunity to leave, take some time to reflect and return with new knowledge and experiences to better serve her community and others.
Hualapai, People of the Tall Pines
Hunter grew up in Peach Springs, Ariz., and attended Kingman High School, about 50 miles to the southwest. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Chapman University of Orange, Calif.
Peach Springs is on the Hualapai—or People of the Tall Pines—reservation, which encompasses about one million acres. Hualapai is perhaps best known for its Skywalk above Grand Canyon West, a horseshoe-shaped glass bridge that extends 70 feet out over the canyon.
She remains very connected to her roots.
Each year, many Hualapai members participate in the La Paz Run. Every fourth year, it’s a 200-mile relay run from Ehrenberg to Peach Springs—with a shorter run from Kingman to Peach Springs the other three years—to remember and honor Hualapai ancestors who were imprisoned but escaped and returned home.
“It’s a part of teaching our children not to forget that,” Hunter says. “That’s really important to me and no matter where I’m at I’ve made it back home.”
Hunter has participated in the run 13 consecutive years, including her first run in 2006 when she was pregnant with her daughter.
Hunter was the first Flinn-Brown Fellow from Mohave County. After becoming involved in Flinn-Brown in 2017, Hunter recommended the program to another Kingman resident, Erin Cochran, who was selected for the 2018 cohort. Like all Fellows, the two are members of the statewide Flinn-Brown Network, which now includes more than 325 members from rural and urban areas of Arizona, all perspectives, and all walks of life.
Hunter, who sees herself as a messenger who builds bridges between diverse populations, said she applied for Flinn-Brown because she saw it as an opportunity to become more involved with state-level leadership.
“I have interest in returning to public office, so I thought Flinn-Brown could help me have a better understanding of Arizona and to learn from others from different walks of life,” Hunter says.
And Hunter said that’s exactly what happened, as she learned from many of the state’s decision-makers and increased her knowledge about issues ranging from water management to education.