Celebration Connects Tribe Members With Heritage, Culture

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The Tonto Apache celebration of their 34th anniversary of tribal recognition will be capped by a fireworks program at 9 p.m. tonight, Friday.

The display, open to the public, is only part of the two-day event designed for tribal members to reconnect with their heritage and community.

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Clyde Campbell takes pride in his heritage as a Tonto Apache and hopes to teach his 2-year-old son, Darian, to do the same. "Being a Tonto Apache is supposed to be about being a part of a family," Campbell said. "It impacts everything about you -- your culture, your religion and your values."

Most of the programs are for tribal members only and employees of the Mazatzal Casino, according to Farrell Thompson, marketing director for the casino.

More than two months of work went into the celebration and its culturally significant programs. Among these are an art contest, fry bread contest, traditional dress contest and a social dance.

There will also be a private ceremony with crown dancers at Flowing Springs for members of the tribe.

Food and fun are part of the event as well, with a basketball shootout, cowboy golf, horseshoe tournament, go-cart race and archery contest.

Tribal members gathered at the Mazatzal Casino bingo hall last night for a banquet, and had a breakfast buffet there this morning. They will have a barbecue this evening.

The celebration marks the anniversary of federal recognition of the Tonto Apache as a sovereign nation.

A determined, multi-generational group of leaders of the Tonto Apache struggled for many years to obtain the recognition and be awarded land for a reservation. It took the Tonto Apache people nearly 10 years of work with the federal government to earn status as a sovereign people.

Honoring those leaders and their efforts is another important aspect of the 34th annual Tonto Apache Tribal Recognition Days.

The late Melton Campbell --known by family, friends and the community as simply "Chief" Campbell, a nickname given him in childhood -- spearheaded the campaign for federal recognition of the Tonto Apache people as a tribe, according to his nephew Nathaniel Campbell in a story published in the Roundup in 2003.

One of the things that had to be in place for the federal recognition was a constitution, which "Chief" Campbell helped draft.

Although "Chief" was not a hereditary title, but one of affection, Melton Campbell was elected as the newly recognized tribe's first chairman, his nephew said.

His leadership was recognized by others, Nathaniel said. He was president of the Indian Development District of Arizona and vice president of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, which had a 17-tribe membership, and he was also president of the Payson Sheriff's Posse for a time.

The Tonto Apache were an important part of the community long before tribal recognition. They were essential to the operation of the sawmill and quite a few of the ranches in the area.

Since recognition and entering the casino business, the tribe has helped a number of organizations, as well as the towns of Payson and Star Valley, with generous contributions.

The Mazatzal Casino, other tribal businesses and tribal administration and social services have a multimillion dollar impact on the economy of Payson and Rim Country.

Continuing the tradition of generosity, the Mazatzal Casino is the sponsor of the Oct. 28 Rim Country Challenge, a multirace event to raise funds for the Payson Area Habitat for Humanity. And as sponsor, the casino will be awarding culturally significant prizes to winners of the various contests, Thompson said. "It's a way to share the Tonto Apache traditions with the rest of Payson."

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