Tonto Apache Tribe Celebrates Victory

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Today, the Tonto Apache Tribe will celebrate a rare victory in a long struggle — the addition of nearly 300 acres to its reservation on the southeast side of Payson. The moment represents a triumph of human spirit. We celebrate as well, to honor persistence and courage.

This community is blessed by the presence of the Tonto Apache Tribe.

Not only because its casino and hotel is a major local employer.

Not only because the tribe has contributed so much to the community.

But mostly because they connect us to the history we treasure — the triumphs as well as the tragedies.

The Tonto Apache Tribe has a proud history — laced with tragedy.

They lived scattered throughout this region for a great stretch of time, mostly in small bands that made expert use of the same marvelous diversity of climate and habitat that still draws people here.

But when the settlers began to arrive in the 1800s, they clashed with the Tonto Apache, for they wanted the same water and the same game and the same fertile land. Sometimes warriors struck back, in the eye-for-eye cycle of violence that left everyone blind.

Eventually, the Army launched a terrible war of attrition — enlisting starvation as its ally to force the capitulation of the free-ranging bands.

At first, the Army settled the Tonto Apache on a productive reservation in the Verde Valley. But when the settlers wanted that land as well, the government disgraced itself by marching the Tonto Apache in the dead of winter through the mountains to a pestilent piece of scrub alongside the fetid Gila River then abandoned them to malaria, enemy bands and starvation.

After a century of hope, defiance, struggle and dreams, the Tonto Apache finally won their own reservation — 85 acres of forest outside Payson.

And after 15 years of patient effort, the Tribe has now increased the size of that reservation four-fold.

The tribal elders hope that the land will provide space so their children and grandchildren will live on the reservation with their elders — preserving their culture and their spirit.

We hope so too. For we all have need for one another and for our children’s children, on this land we all love.

Got to hang on a little longer

Payson’s April sales tax figures brought some unwelcome news: sales tax receipts dropped a daunting 29 percent in April from the not all that great previous year.

The bleak numbers dashed hopes raised by the March tally in which sales had nearly returned to the modest levels of the year before.

So for the moment, it looks like Rim Country’s fragile, on-again-off-again economic recovery has fallen off again.

Of course, maybe it’s a fluke. Maybe the state delayed some chunk of the payments. Maybe the cool spring in the Valley delayed the start of the get-out-of-town summer travel season.

So, no point in reading too much into any one month’s figures. We’ll have to calm ourselves and wait for the May figures to see whether it was a bad month or a scary portent.

But in the meantime, the volatile figures underscore the merit in Payson’s and Star Valley’s conservative approaches to their budgets and the careful tracking of the trends. The Payson Town Council made the tough decision to impose furloughs, free overtime, delay construction and hold the line financially back in December at the first sign the recession might actually linger like an Alaskan winter.

So it seems we must keep our snowshoes strapped on a little longer. It’s maddening, frustrating, frightening — with so many glimmering possibilities and so many of our fellow Rim Country residents hanging on by their chipped and bleeding fingernails.

So make sure that you continue to shop locally — so that the businesses that make these towns such a great place to live will still be there when the worm finally turns.

Make sure that you continue to help where you can — whether it’s a neighbor struggling through a bad patch or one of the many hard-pressed community organizations seeking your help in helping your neighbors.

For we’re blessed in our neighbors who always come through.

And we’re blessed in our public officials who have made tough decisions with a foresight that state and federal officials ought to imitate.

And we’re blessed by our history. After all, this place was settled by scrappers and visionaries and folks too stubborn to know when to quit.

We’ve been through worse. We’ll get through this.

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