One of the biggest advances for the Tonto Apaches in 2004 is the final phase of a 10-year journey. The tribe expects its bid for 272 acres in a land exchange to be completed in 2005.
"The re-appraisal is the final phase," said Sabrina Campbell, executive secretary and enrollment clerk for the Tonto Apache Tribe or TAT.
Most of the acreage is to the east and south of the current reservation, with a small portion south of the Payson Event Center.
"We need the land for tribal housing," Campbell said.
Following the exchange, the Tonto Apaches will begin the process to make the land part of its reservation, or trust land. Until that time, regular property taxes must be paid on it and the homes that will be built, and any construction must meet the codes of the local jurisdiction -- either the town of Payson or Gila County, Tribal Comptroller Jerry Holland said.
Housing is so limited for the TAT that in several cases, multiple families are living under one roof, Campbell said. The tribe has also bought a half dozen homes off the reservation to accommodate the growing membership, Holland said.
A possible tie for first place among the TAT's advancements in 2004 is the creation of an appellate court panel.
The decision to create an appeals court was made shortly after the new tribal council, with Chairman Ivan Smith, was seated. The TAT seated the appeals panel in January. Serving the TAT are retired Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court Thomas Zlaket; Kevin Gover, former Assistant Secretary for the Department of Interior and currently a professor of law at Arizona State University; and Jesse Filkins, a former judge with the Maricopa Superior Court, a former judge for the Ak-Chin Indian Community and Fort McDowell Indian Community, and he currently serves as judge for the Yavapai Apache Tribe of Camp Verde.
The TAT is the only Southwestern tribe to have its own appeals court, Campbell said. The panel will be hearing both TAT cases and those from other tribes, she said.
Another example of progress was the expansion of the TAT Community Recreation Center. A covered pool, with a spa, whirlpool and sauna, along with shower facilities have been added to the gymnasium. Three certified lifeguards have been hired and other personnel are being trained as lifeguards, Campbell said.
The weight room has been expanded as well, Holland said.
Modular buildings that were previously on the north side of the commercial area of the reservation were relocated to the south side, near the recreation facility and house the human resources and youth center facilities.
Prior to construction of the new casino and hotel, the building housing the non-smoking area of the casino will be attached to the recreation center and become the new youth center. The space currently occupied by the center will be used for either offices or storage, Holland said.
Other changes in 2004:
- The council has hired Jeri Johnson DeCola to develop a bioterrorism plan, using a grant from the Arizona Department of Health Services.
- Former Chairwoman Vivian Burdette was hired at the TAT youth and education liaison.
"She is working with Gila Community College to create local training opportunities for our administrative staff," Campbell said. "But her main goal is to start an Apache Culture and History program."
Through the program, Campbell said they hope to bring the language back for those of the TAT who no longer know it. There will also be classes to teach traditional arts and crafts, such as making camp dresses, she said.