Monday, March 19, 2007

Persistence pays off for the White Mountain Apache Tribe

[Source: Lee Allen, Today] -- Remember the old refrain, ''If at first you don't succeed, try, try again''? That kind of thinking has paid off for Arizona's White Mountain Apache Tribe. The actual fort, nestled in stands of high country pine forest outside tribal headquarters in Whitewater, the reservation capital, has been here since early 1870. The U.S. Army gave up its claim to the buildings and property in 1922 and abandoned the site. The two dozen-plus historic structures and a companion cultural center/museum south of the tribe's popular Hon-Dah Casino occupy between 250 and 300 acres of the reservation's 2,600 square miles. Despite being only a small percentage of Apache country, this icon is now a focal point for tribal heritage through Nohwike' Bagowa (''House of our Footprints''), the Apache Cultural Center and Museum.

It was almost a story that never got written, only coming about through persistency. Seeking a way to rehabilitate the crumbling facilities, attorneys for the White Mountain Apache Tribe brought a lawsuit alleging that the U.S. government had ''breached its trust with respect to certain properties and improvements,'' ergo, the fort buildings themselves. In a 2006 judicial update of federal case law involving American Indians, a small footnote details the rejection of that suit: ''The Court of Federal Claims held that legislation did not impose a fiduciary obligation on the government to maintain, protect, repair, and preserve Fort Apache for the benefit of the tribe.'' That adjudication didn't sit well with those who had filed it and, not willing to accept that interpretation and quietly go away, an appeal was filed that resulted in a reversal of that ruling and a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court in which the highest court affirmed the Appeals Court ruling in favor of the tribe.

[Note: To read the full article, click here. Photo by Lee Allen.]