Tonto Apaches Celebrate Tribal Recognition Days

Festivities mark 40th anniversary of the tribe’s struggle for a reservation


Leading the celebration of the 40th Annual Tonto Apache Tribal Recognition Days are the members of the new Tribal Council, installed in ceremonies July 14, 2012. The council members are (from left) Donovan Waterman, Junior Tinnin, Council Chair Louise Lopez, Michelle Dean and Vice Chair Wally Davis Jr.

Leading the celebration of the 40th Annual Tonto Apache Tribal Recognition Days are the members of the new Tribal Council, installed in ceremonies July 14, 2012. The council members are (from left) Donovan Waterman, Junior Tinnin, Council Chair Louise Lopez, Michelle Dean and Vice Chair Wally Davis Jr. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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The Tonto Apache Tribe is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its tribal recognition by the federal government with four days of festivities, Wednesday, Oct. 3 through Saturday, Oct. 6.

The event marks federal recognition of the tribe on Oct. 6, 1972, after years of effort, heartache and exile.

On May 31, 1974, President Nixon signed legislation creating the 85-acre reservation for the use and benefit of the Tonto Apache Tribe. The reservation sits on land that Apache groups had traditionally used, although they wandered across a vast landscape. The Tonto Apache had fought in vain a long war of attrition with the U.S. Army and settled first on a reservation in the Verde Valley. But the federal government revoked its agreement and forced the Tonto Apache and other groups to undertake a grueling march in winter to the to the newly created San Carlos Reservation, near the site of a fort the army had abandoned because of rampant malaria. Surrounded by rival tribes, the tribe dwindled from hunger and disease until many families started simply slipping away and living quietly where ever they could find a place.

Many ended up in Rim Country, where they worked on ranches and in the sawmill when the region consisted mostly of scattered ranches and homesteads.

Even after the creation of the reservation, many families struggled to make ends meet.

Then in 1993, the Tonto Apache Tribe signed a compact with the state of Arizona to conduct gaming activities. Revenues from Mazatzal Hotel and Casino are helping with housing, scholarships and social programs within the reservation. Mazatzal Hotel and Casino is now the largest employer in Rim Country.

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Tonto Apache Logo

The festivities

The celebration starts with an opening run at 6 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 3 from Home Depot to the Tonto Apache Recreation Center gym. Events include a balloon release followed by breakfast in the gym at 8 a.m. and a punt, pass and kick competition at Rumsey Park at 10 a.m. For the children too young to take part in the run or contest, the event features pony rides, a bounce house and arts and crafts table.

On the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 3 the tribe will host a Tonto Apache Royalty Pageant at 6:30 p.m. in the Mazatzal Hotel & Casino Event Center. Doors will open at 5 p.m. for dinner, with the pageant to follow.

Thursday, Oct. 4 is a day of contests. Rez Youth Games will start at noon in the gym and include “Fear Factor,” pie eating, basketball shoot-out, scavenger hunt and a volleyball game. At 2 p.m. there will be a fry bread contest outside the log cabin.

Contests continue Friday, Oct. 5 with a horseshoe tournament at 9 a.m. at the ramada and cowboy golf at noon.

Friday, Oct. 5, features a barbecue beef potluck and gospel concert at 4:30 p.m. at the gym. A “Creedence Relived” (a Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute band) concert will perform at 6:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 5 in the Mazatzal Hotel & Casino Event Center. Get tickets in the hotel/casino gift shop or by phone reservation at 1-800-777-7529, extension 6200.

A traditional social dance is planned for 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 5 in front of the log cabin.

The bulk of the festivities will fill Saturday, Oct. 6. Things get started at 7 a.m. with a march from the rodeo grounds to the tribal administration building. There will be a crown dancing competition at 8 a.m. at the north end of the rodeo grounds. Also starting at 8 a.m. is another run, a 4-mile race from The Home Depot to the rodeo grounds, a Kids 1-mile run is planned for 8:15 a.m. The public is invited to participate in these two races.

Doors will open for a 4:30 dinner in the casino bingo hall at 4 p.m. The elders of the tribe will receive gifts at 5 p.m. At 6:30 p.m., a comedian will perform.

A free, public fireworks show starts at 8 p.m., followed by the Creedence Relived band concert at 8:30 p.m.

For more information, call (928) 472-1170, extension 5405.

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