Difficult race relations continue between Apaches and Whites
By Mark Shaffer
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 3, 2003
WHITERIVER - The words seared like a branding iron in the minds of Apache Kathy
Antonio and her friends at a basketball game in Show Low last month.
Show Low's high school students had just completed their now-infamous We pay
taxes, yes we do, we pay taxes, how about you? chant, which school officials
said they later determined to be a hand-me-down from parents of the teens, who
had attended Blue Ridge High School in neighboring Pinetop-Lakeside.
"We were thinking that they (firefighters) might as well have let the town burn
if that's the way they feel about us," said Antonio, a Whiteriver School Board
member, referring to last summer's "Rodeo-Chediski" fire and efforts that saved
That school incident, coupled with an explosion of ill will by Whites toward
Apaches after the arrest of an Apache firefighter suspected of starting the
"Rodeo" fire, has many area people wondering where the next shoe will drop in
the long, difficult history of race relations between the two groups.
On Wednesday, Show Low High School officials will travel to Whiteriver to
formally apologize to the White Mountain Apache Tribal Council for the Feb. 4
incident at the game between Show Low and Alchesay high schools.
But because of the volatile situation, school officials decided not to take the
student chanters because of safety fears, Show Low High Principal Ken Van Winkle
That's a good thing, says Naveen Dazen, a t ribal member who has lived in Show
Low for 30 years.
"Every little thing now is like a bomb going off," Dazen said. "My own feeling
is that an apology isn't going to change anything. Once something is said, we
always remember it."
David Osterfeld, an attorney for the White Mountain Apache Tribe, is more
hopeful. He said the Apache people are open to accepting an apology.
"But what entails from there is going to be up to Show Low. The telltale sign
will be the long-term interaction," Osterfeld said.
Meanwhile, the tribe is paying close attention to how its members are being
treated when they go to shop.
Osterfeld said the tribe is continuing a "racial hotline," which was set up
after numerous Apaches complained of bad treatment by merchants and others in
Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside in the aftermath of the fire.
The most serious complaints have been directed against a Denny's restaurant in
Show Low and an Ace Hardware in Pinetop-Lakeside, Osterfeld said, adding that
the tribe contacted the chambers of commerce in the two towns for assistance
with the problems.
"The Department of Justice has offered its services but none of the referrals as
yet has risen to the level of requiring a criminal investigation," Osterfeld
The tribe also is closely following an Arizona Interscholastic Association
investigation into the chanting, which could result in Show Low High being
placed on probation. The AIA is scheduled to discuss the matter at a March 17
Another matter of great interest in Whiteriver is the case of a Show Low junior
high coach, who is suspected of grabbing an Alchesay player by the arm after a
freshman game in Show Low the same night as the chanting incident.
Ronald M. Capito, 44, was cited for misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct.
Tim Slade, Show Low High athletic director, said disciplinary action could be
taken against Capito if he is convicted.
Plus, Pinetop-Lakeside police are continuing their investigation into a
telephoned threat on a message machine to blow up Blue Ridge Junior High on Feb.
3, resulting in the evacuation of the school.
That call was made after a heated game between Alchesay and Blue Ridge.
Antonio said there are a wide array of problems when Apaches go into the nearby
"You can tell that people don't trust you when you go into the stores," said
Antonio, adding that many tribal members traveled 90 miles to shop in Globe
because of the hostility immediately after the fire. "Plus, the cops target
natives and look for any excuse to stop us when we are in town."
Show Low Mayor Gene Kelley said his town is getting a bad rap and that "for
every single complaint you'll find many Apaches who have come here for years and
have had pleasant experiences. No one wants to defend rude, crude and
unthoughtful behavior like at the basketball game but every culture has that in
Sgt. Brad Provost, a Show Low police spokesman, said the agency has a strict
policy that bans racial profiling in traffic stops.
Ill will is nothing new
Antagonism between Apaches and Whites is as old as migration to the West.
Eastern Arizona Apache bands were shipped to Florida in the late 1880s after
Geronimo's surrender to the Army. When the Apaches were allowed to return a few
years later, they weren't welcomed with open arms in nearby towns.
Relations hit bottom in the 1980s.
Conservative non-Indians in the southern Apache and Navajo county areas, who
also complained that Native Americans don't pay their fair share of taxes,
launched a movement to create an all-Indian county.
A bill to create the new county was passed by the Arizona House and Senate in
1981 before being vetoed by then-Gov. Bruce Babbitt, who placed a five-year
moratorium on its consideration. Efforts to revive the measure failed.
Also in the early 1980s, the White Mountain Apache Tribe decided not to renew
more than 400 home site leases by non-Indians at Hawley Lake on the tribe's Fort
Apache Reservation. The non-Indian vacationers were forced to either move their
homes or give them to the tribe.
Dale Miles, an Apache historian and Native American student adviser in Globe's
schools, said tensions also have been exacerbated in more recent years by
non-Indian jealousy of the tribe's Hon-Dah Casino, its ski area, its lakes and
other tourism enterprises.
"General (George) Crook needed the friendship of the White Mountain Apaches to
remain peaceful and he rewarded us with the good land," Miles said. "But that's
also led to a lot of friction in the surrounding areas."