American Culture (BD Shadow)

American Culture written with pictures from 'Red Rock'

Two articles about the Arizona Fire and White Mountain Apache
July 2: article added
July 4: Donation information and LA Times article added

Away From the TV Cameras, Fire Consumes Apache Land
By Charlie LeDuff

New York Times
Wednesday, 26 June, 2002

CIBECUE, Ariz., June 26 -- "Pray for rain," say the signs posted along the Fort Apache Indian Reservation roads. The springs are drying up here, and the forest is an angry inferno.
The monsoons are supposed to arrive next week but there are no signs that they will get here soon. The medicine man has called for a rain ceremony tonight, the first in years.

While national attention is focused on the threat Arizona's wildfires pose to Show Low, the resort town 40 miles northeast of here, the blaze has already brought widespread and lasting economic damage to Apache country.
Questions over the origin of the fire have also rekindled longstanding tensions between the white and the Indian communities.
Consider that both the Rodeo and Chediski fires started here last week on the White Mountain Apache territory, home to 13,500 people. The fires have merged, sending anvil-like clouds high into the sky and casting flames across the vista. Sixty percent of the fire is on Indian land.
Of the 350,000 acres of timber already destroyed, more than 200,000 are here on this 1.6 million-acre reservation.
The tribal economy is devastated. This is the time when the trees are supposed to be harvested but that will not happen. More than $300 million worth of timber has been turned to ash.
The sawmills have shut down and 300 people are out of work.
"No water and it hurts," said Johnny Endfield, vice chairman of the White Mountain Apache, who had just toured the southern flank of the Chediski fire, which was caused by a hiker lost in the woods.
"That timber has been here since before our time," Mr. Endfield said. "And in less than 30 minutes it's all gone. Gone for us and gone for our unborn."
While 5 percent of the fire is under control, officials said, it seems to be sprawling in every direction. "It's still going to be a long time -- several days -- before we get the upper hand on this fire," Jim Paxon, a spokesman for the United States Forest Service, said.
Flames spun by the wind continued to move northwest near Heber-Overgaard, where 10 homes were destroyed on Monday.
"It's nothing but a wall of smoke and we can't see nothing," said Richardson Antonio, an Apache firefighter and division supervisor in the area, speaking by cellphone from near Heber-Overgaard. "We got to get the hell out of here," he said. "It looks like it took out houses down by the stand of ponderosa trees."
To the south, spot fires regained momentum as the winds continued to gust at 20 miles per hour. The area is covered in a thick, white ash, making it look like an Ansel Adams winterscape.
Normally nocturnal coyote, elk and rabbits skittered across the bulldozed roads in the middle of the day, a bad sign, the Apaches said.
About 1,500 firefighters are battling the blaze on the southern and western flanks, about 2,500 north and east around the towns of Show Low, Heber-Overgaard and Pinedale, officials said. They are Indians and white people, college students and full-time, professional firefighters.
Linton Ethelbah, a firefighter with Fort Apache Engine 407, and his four-man crew were battling the flames with a pumper truck on Tuesday. Life here cannot exist without trees, he explained. Without their shade, people are naked and exposed. A fire-starting thunderbolt, a camp fire, a flare can be a cataclysm because a man cannot survive longer than his shadow.
"This is the strangest fire I ever seen," said Mr. Ethelbah, who explained how the Chediski fire had chased him and his crew up a bluff last week. "It's just tremendous; half the size of Rhode Island they tell me."
Tim Rash, a white man and a firefighter with the Bureau of Land Management, was clearing underbrush near the Apache crew as trees exploded like popcorn kernels. He does the job for thrills. "I saw a fire like this once in 1988 in Yosemite," Mr. Rash said. "You know what we did? We let it burn until the snows came."
Although the Yosemite decision proved wise, as the national park is green and thriving again, letting their forests burn is not an option for the Apache people. To let the forest burn will mean economic ruin. The Hon Dah Resort and Casino, the second-largest employer in the White Mountain region after the county government, brings in more than $130 million a year, and is now closed for what is normally its busiest season. The tribe also operates Sun Rise Ski Resort. "We sell our beautiful lakes and streams to tourists," Roger Leslie, the general manager of the resort, said. "We don't know what we'll have until the smoke clears."
Other potential losses of income come from the damage to wildlife. The tribe sold about 65 permits to hunt elk on the reservation last year at an average price of $15,000. There are also bear and mountain lion hunts. The hunting grounds are in the area of the Chediski fire, along with a sacred lake, burial grounds and archeological sites.
There is an undertone of ill will running throughout the region. Indians feel sorry about the fire, the bigger one started north of the Red Dust Rodeo Grounds here, and word on the reservation is that it was set by a teenager from the Cibecue community.
While authorities continue to investigate the fire's origin, resentment is growing among white people in some northern towns. Threatening messages have been left on the answering machine of Dallas Massey, the tribal chairman, laying blame for the fire at the feet of the Apache. Off-handed racial slurs have been tossed at the Indians shopping in the discount stores in the area, accusing them of intellectual inferiority. These people seem to forget that the Chediski fire was started by a white woman, lost in the wilderness, who lighted an illegal fire to attract the attention of a news helicopter.
Few reporters have come to the reservation. Little emergency aid has been sent to White River, the seat of tribal government, though 1,500 Apaches have been evacuated from their homes. Some are staying at the Chief Alchesay Activity Center, some with relatives on the reservation, some in tent cities near the trickling rivers.
President Bush did not set foot here on his visit on Tuesday although dozens of Indians stood in the afternoon sun along Highway 60 at the rumor that he might drive through.
"We've done all we could," said Herbert Tate, a board member of the Fort Apache Timber Company, explaining that the Apache forests are not clearcut, but are thinned and managed year round.
"We were burning out underbrush last year until residents of Phoenix complained that the smoke was drifting into the city and making their air quality poor," Mr. Tate said. "The problem is not management. The problem is a lack of water."
So now the region's air is thick with smoke from the early summer's fires. Despite the drought, sprinklers continued to feed the suburban lawns in Phoenix last night.
Meanwhile back at the fire camp, the men stretched out on the roofs of their trucks, staring at the 300-foot flames devouring the timber line along the ridges. Lightning was predicted for the morning, they were told.

Arizona Burns
By Jennifer Van Bergen
Saturday, 29 June, 2002

My readers know I am a critic of the Bush Administration. (I must say that my opposition to Bush began with the United States Supreme Court decision that put him into office.)

However, I am not one to connect all bad news to Bush. He does a good enough job of that, himself. He has done it again with the Arizona fires.

How? Bush visited the area Tuesday, but did not set foot on the White Mountain Apache territory where sixty percent of the fires burn. Little emergency aid has been sent to White River, the seat of the tribal government.

In addition to this, while the Apaches lose their forests, the homes, their timber industry, their tourism, their entire economy, Bush astoundingly blamed environmental groups for contributing to the fires.

Bush could have been a hero and done something to help these people. Instead, he has used the event to make a nasty political slur. Sierra Club Director Carl Pope noted that this was "a disturbing display of cynical politics."

Bush's Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman told CNN that efforts to manage forests by selective burning have been stopped by environmentalists in courts.

Veneman should have checked her facts. According to one local Apache man, "We were burning out underbrush last year until residents of Phoenix complained that the smoke was drifting into the city."

Thus, it was well-off Phoenix residents (who continue to water their lawns during the drought), not environmental groups, who stopped the controlled burning.

Furthermore, Sierra Club Director Carl Pope stated that these fires are the result of "nearly a century of fire suppression that removed the natural role fire plays in healthy forests, and extreme multi-year drought and decades of commercial logging that removed large, fire-resistant trees."

Arizona is not the only state in danger. Colorado and California are burning, too. Extreme fire conditions exist in Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah, as well. There were fires last year in the Everglades in Florida. New York is also suffering from a drought.

A CNN video news report stated that the FBI is investigating the Arizona fires. While the Chediski area fire is known to have been started by a white woman who, lost in the wilderness, lighted an illegal fire to attract attention, and the Colorado fire is known to have been started by a white government employee, local Native Americans have been the brunt of racial slurs and threats by local whites, apparently on the basis of a rumor that a Cibecue teenager started the Red Dust Rodeo Grounds fire.

However, these fires mean economic ruin to the Apache people. The Hon Dah Resort and Casino, which brings in more than $130 million a year, is now closed during its busiest season. The Sun Rise Ski Resort, which attracts tourists year round, is also endangered. Another source of income is hunting permits valued at approximately $15,000 each. About 30,000 people have been evacuated and over 400 homes destroyed.

Has anyone noticed how many disasters have occurred since Bush came to power?

If that is a coincidence, it is a mighty big one. Many Native Americans, who often prefer to be called First Peoples, feel that these disasters are signs. First Peoples believe that if you care for the Earth, it will care for you.

It is high time that America stop bombing overseas, stop drilling at home, and pay attention to the ground burning under our feet.

This Opinion from P A Y S O N, Ariz., July 1 A part-time firefighter has been charged with starting one of the two Arizona wildfires that combined to form the largest wildfire in state history. . . . . . . . . . "We're shocked at the arrest of a Native American," said Dallas Massey, chairman of the White Mountain Apache Tribe. "I am relieved that we found who the person was it really don't matter if it is a tribal member, or not member. We just found who it was today like everybody else."
This story was featured on ABC Nightline on Monday, July 1st. Click on Nightline Tapes and Transcripts for the video (when it becomes available).

DONATIONS: The White Mountain Apache Tribe now has an account at Wells Fargo Bank for donations---the name of the account is "White Mountain Apache Tribe Rodeo/Chedeski Disaster Relief Fund" This account number is # 1004051817 Financial Donations can be made at ANY Wells Fargo Branch.

Other items needed and donations are being requested for are--- clothes for all ages; food staples such as flour, shortening, beans, sugar and coffee. Much needed also for the kids is TOYS to occupy the kids in the shelter and the toys will help till the time the families can return to their homes perhaps as early as next week for those from Hondah and McNary. For these donations please contact Debra Sanchez who is the tribal coordinator; she can be reached at 928-338- 3905.


(The following article gives a detailed picture of the situation.)

Jun 30, 2002

Wildfire Leaves Apaches With Misery--and Pain

By TOM GORMAN and STEVE BERRY , LA Times Staff Writers

WHITERIVER, Ariz. -- Even in good times, this Apache Indian reservation community struggles from paycheck to paycheck. The 60- year-old homes need paint and screens, fences miss slats, hulks of old cars sit abandoned in backyards.

For hundreds of Apaches, Wednesday's paychecks will be the last for months because their forest has burned. Fire robbed the town of its main livelihood: ponderosa pines to be milled at the tribe's Fort Apache Timber Co.

"We will go broke by the end of the month," said Cindy Bennett as her husband picked up his last paycheck Wednesday at the mill.

About 70% of the 330 employees at the tribal company's two mills were laid off Monday as the Rodeo-Chediski fire, the nation's largest, raged through the White Mountains of northeastern Arizona. The remaining employees will be out of work in two weeks.

The fire's devastation is being felt throughout Navajo County at least 339 homes destroyed, 410,000 acres of forest charred.

But perhaps nowhere is the economic fallout of the fire felt more immediately than by the White Mountain Apache Tribe.

In coming days, hundreds of Apaches will run out of money to buy food and medicine. The tribe already has lost millions of dollars in revenue that goes toward a variety of social services and the cost of running its government. There are no trees to cut for the mills, no elk to attract hunters, no tourists to gamble in its casino or fill its motels and restaurants all revenue that feeds the tribe's general coffers.

The pain is felt in other ways too: Apaches are frequently targeted with icy stares when they shop off the reservation, blamed for the fire because it started on their reservation. There is resentment, too, that the Apaches' suffering is going unnoticed, with so much attention being paid to the plight of the other mountain residents.

"It was all Show Low this and Show Low that," said Sandra DeClay, referring to the city north of here that was besieged by the blaze.

"We are suffering," said Dallas Massey Sr., chairman of the tribe, which has 12,000 adult members. "Even before this, we had so many unmet needs, in infrastructure, in housing."

Indeed, this tribe was already in a world of hurt. Before this week's layoffs, unemployment stood at a staggering 60%. Household income for a full half of the families is below poverty level.

The reservation's beauty belies the economic hardships of those living here; most of its 1.6 million acres are carpeted in ponderosa pines; streams and lakes attract anglers, elk attract the hunters.

But in Whiteriver, where tribal government is headquartered in two, one-story brick buildings, there are only a handful of businesses a band, a gas station, a restaurant and small motel among others.

For the last seven years, Nelson Bennett Jr., 37, made a living sorting and stacking freshly cut lumber. He earned about $800 a month; most of it went for groceries and the $235 car payment for his '93 Chevrolet, chronically in need of repair.

And then there's the utilities, and medicine, and the occasional toys and clothes for the children. Payday is normally a fun shopping day for the kids maybe new shirts, new toys but that is ending.

Bennett's words Wednesday were pointed. "I'm angry," he said. "This is the first time I've been laid off."

He's hoping for $300 a month in unemployment, and food assistance from the tribe.

But the tribe is in little position to help.

It lost $4 million in pending wood sales and $237 million in future revenue because the fire destroyed more than 700 million board feet of timber. U.S. Forest Service officials say it will be more than 100 years before that part of the tribe's forest recovers.

In coming months, mill workers will lose a total of $500,000 in wages with the end of milling and logging operations.

The tribe's hotel, convention and casino in nearby Hon Dah also have closed, costing the Apaches $3.3 million in expected revenue over the next three months.

And one of the tribe's outdoor recreation business has evaporated too, including $20,000 elk hunts and income from daily fishing and camping fees.

Altogether, tribal businesses are braced to lose $8.4 million over the next three months, and untold millions in the future, money to fund housing and other unmet needs.

All because a small fire began on the reservation June 18, north of Cibecue. The fire burned for about 24 hours on the reservation and firefighters from the tribe and the Bureau of Indian Affairs thought they had it almost contained when it exploded beyond their reach, said Robert Lacapa, the BIA's local forest manager.

At that point, outside help was requested. After devouring tribal woodlands, the fire stretched north into the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

The blaze and a companion fire, which started June 20 when a lost hiker shot off a flare, merged on Sunday, threatening the evacuated city of Show Low, population 7,700. By Wednesday, the fire's perimeter stretched 400 miles and was only 5% contained. The fire glanced along Show Low's western edge.

Tribal members say they've felt the anger of the neighboring communities.

As residents fleeing their homes drove through the reservation, signs were taped to car windows: "Thank you Apaches for burning our houses."

Sympathy was extended by President Bush, who met with Massey and Gov. Jane Dee Hull on Tuesday after freeing up federal money to help fire victims, the tribal chairman said.

But the misery grows.

Rudell Baha, 41, was depressed that unemployment benefits will fall short in paying mounting bills. Even after working the mill's saws for 22 years, he said he and his wife have less than $200 at the end of the month to meet the needs of their seven children. And that was before this week's layoffs.

His brother-in-law may be able to help, Baha said, but now he has another mouth to feed his father's, because he was laid off too.

Sandra DeClay figured she had enough savings to last about a month. A mill office worker and single mother of three, she figured she has enough savings to last about a month.

"I just pray," she said, "we all can go back to work soon."

Massey said the tribe hunters and gatherers before learning the cattle business was proud of its economic development over the last 20 years. The tribe launched commercial lumbering as its first venture.

As the tribe sorts out its financial future, Massey said he's embracing the Indian's long view of dealing with adversity.

"Apaches take care of the land, and it takes care of us," he said. "The land will recover and become stronger, and provide even more nuts and trees.

"We as a tribe will suffer for now. We may have to tap other resources, explore other economic development," he said. "This fire will open the door for new diversity and growth."

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