Tonto Apaches Make Great Strides In Economic Development

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Surprisingly, it is not the passage of Proposition 202, allowing gaming to continue that Tonto Apache Tribal Chairperson Vivian Burdette points to as the best example of progress for her people.

Instead, she says the construction of the tribe's new administration building is the biggest thing that happened in 2002.

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As a result of the new 2002 gaming compact for the Tonto Apache Tribe, live blackjack has come to the Mazatzal Casino. Dealers like Alice Ellis (right) had extensive and intensive training before the tables opened at the end of February 2003. Helping with Ellis' training were fellow casino employees (from left) Wally Rudd, Walt Wright and Beka Williams.

Construction started in the summer of 2002 and the tribe was able to move into the building in September. The new facility has room for administration offices and the tribal council chambers; the court and its offices; the day care center; a kitchen and dining room; meeting rooms; a library; and facilities to provide all the tribe's other services.

With the day care center in the new building, its old facility is being remodeled for the tribal police office.

Jerry Holland, tribal controller, said the Tonto Apaches also built a new maintenance building, one that is big enough to drive a semi into.

Holland said with the move into the new building, the tribe was able to hire a few new people, but no new services were added. The tribe has about 49 people employed providing services, including six policemen, up from two, plus 20 other people working at its Marble Slab ice cream shop and the PaysonGlo Motel, which it owns.

The casino employs more than 300 people, according a representative from its human resources office.

New road for gaming

Passage of Prop. 202 is next on the list of the most important changes seen by the Tonto Apaches in 2002.

"That is something I participated in for almost three years," Burdette said.

The first meetings among the tribes with gaming compacts was in late 1999 or early 2000, she said. It ended with putting the gaming issue on the Nov. 2002 election ballot.

Promoting the fairness initiative, Burdette said they did not talk about the economic projections.

"We were geared to getting it passed. We did not want to count our chickens before they hatched. We didn't want to make any huge plans and projections, although we were confident we would be successful," Burdette said.

Passage of 202 opened the doors for the new live blackjack tables at the casino.

Other economic development opportunities are now being discussed. Burdette said the tribal council has looked at presentations from three architects for a new hotel.

"We're not pushing for that at this moment. If we do, it will not be anything outrageous, we're limited to the number of rooms we can have. If that decision is made, we will probably meet with the town. Like everyone else, we're looking for water," Burdette said.

The future could hold a swimming pool by the TAT gymnasium, Holland said. It would primarily be to benefit the health of tribal members with diabetes, and provide year-round recreation for tribal members and enterprise employees.

To have the liquid assets to fill the pool, the tribe is having a well on its land checked to see about the quality and quantity of water it will produce.

Burdette said members of the tribe are working to bring a Boys and Girls Club to the reservation. They have developed a youth center at the old administration building.

"Because we are so small, we would not be able to qualify for any grants (for the youth project), so we may do a joint venture with the Yavapai Prescott or Yavapai Apache. It's one of things we are really working on," Burdette said.

Holland said the priorities for the coming year will be to continue to work on the land exchange, a project the tribal leadership has struggled with for eight years already; more economic development efforts; and water research.

The three are closely tied. The land exchange would bring slightly more than 250 acres into tribal hands and square off the Tonto Apache reservation lands. The majority of the land, 240 acres, is to the east of the present reservation, with about seven acres to the south and 15 acres on the other side of Highway 87.

"The intention of the land exchange is to have space for new homes for the younger generation. We need homes for our youth; we have tribal members buying homes in town because there is no place to go here. A majority of our residents have a multiple number of adults in their households," Burdette said.

The TAT built its first 20 homes in 1980, five more were built in 1985, then in 1995 the tribe constructed a fourplex.

"(1995) was the last time we did any (home) building. (Since then) some others bought manufactured housing. A lot of the homes need to be renovated now.

"One of the things I'd like to see done, instead of doing all the other activities we do, I'd rather see us build houses for the young people. That should be a priority, hopefully the council and community will agree to that. The tribe itself is trying and hoping that we can assist our younger generation, because we were assisted 22 years ago," Burdette said.

Having more land for homes could free up the reservation land best suited for more commercial ventures, if residents could be persuaded to leave their homes for new places.

More homes and more commercial ventures create a need for more water as well.

The future is full of possibilities though; the Tonto Apache Tribe has at least 20 years of certain revenue from its gaming activities.

"As a young member of the tribe, I look at it as where are we going to go now that 202 has passed," Nathanial Campbell said. "We know that we can go somewhere because we have the financial means to do it for the next 20 years."

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