Tonto Apache Tribe Makes Several Advancements

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Progress for the Tonto Apache Tribe has far-reaching benefits for all of the Rim Country.

When the tribe completed its remodel and expansion of its recreation center in 2005, residents from Payson and around the Rim Country flocked to purchase memberships.

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Ressa Johnson, 7, and Andrea Hinton, 9, enjoy the race cars built for children on the Tonto Apache Reservation by Eric Pendleton, Wally Davis and Joe Dean. The crew built several racers and plan to build more in the future.

The facility features an enclosed, nearly Olympic-size swimming pool, with two saunas and a Jacuzzi. The expanded weight room includes exercise bikes along with traditional weight equipment.

The TAT recreation center is so popular, it has a waiting list for membership with more than 100 names on it, said Sabrina Campbell, executive secretary to the tribal council.

Adjacent to the recreation center is the new youth activities building. The structure once served Mazatzal Casino patrons as a non-smoking gaming area.

The new youth center has been remodeled to incorporate separate spaces for a variety of activities: traditional and electronic games; crafts and study materials.

Progress in another area will pay dividends for other Native American nations throughout the Southwest. In January, the Tonto Apache Tribe installed three noted judges to serve on its newly created appellate court.

Chief Judge Thomas Zlaket, the retired chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, and Associate Judges Kevin Gover and Jesse Filkins were installed in the Tonto Apache Tribal Appellate Court in ceremonies Jan. 21, conducted by Sen. Albert Hale, District 2, and Senior Judge William C. Canby Jr. of the United State Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit.

Gover is a former assistant secretary for the Department of the Interior and is a professor of law at Arizona State University. Filkins is a former Maricopa County Superior Court Judge, a former judge for both the Ak-Chin Indian Community and Fort McDowell Indian Community, and serves as judge for the Yavapai Apache Tribe in Camp Verde.

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Lori Morris, 12, and Nichole Rardon, 15, enjoy a laugh at the Tonto Apache recreation center pool.

The court will not only hear appeals from the tribe's lower court, but can also hear appeals from the courts of other Native American nations.

During the balance of the year, the rules of procedure for the new appellate court were developed, Campbell said.

Progress was also made on the Tonto Apache Tribe's land acquisition from the U.S. Forest Service. The tribe is in need of additional land for member housing. Currently, several families must reside under one roof and half-a-dozen homes have been purchased in Payson for tribal members.

Tribal controller Jerry Holland said the council had been notified that the deal was to be completed in early March 2006, but it has since been pushed back to June.

To accommodate the new casino and hotel, the event center planned for the existing casino and the hoped-for new homes, the Tonto Apache Tribe and Payson Town Council renewed a water agreement that expired in 1999. The document assures the tribe the town will continue to supply its water needs, including those generated by the planned growth.

"We're really advancing (in several directions)," said Campbell.

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