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White Mountain Apache Tribe re-emerging from tough times

Filed Under: Law | National
More on: arizona, economic development, elections, employment, tribal courts, wmat

Four years ago, the White Mountain Apache Tribe of Arizona was broke and its political and legal systems were in turmoil.

To avoid a complete collapse, Chairman Ronnie Lupe fired about 40 percent of the workforce. Critics -- some of whom were later indicted for stealing from the tribe -- tried to oust him so he removed the judge who ordered him arrested.

Lupe, 84, then brought in a new planner to look for development opportunities. After years of dormancy, the White Mountain Apache Timber Co. reopened its doors last fall and hired more than 140 people, most of them Apaches.

Further down the line, the tribe stands to reap an estimated $65 million from the leasing of its Congressionally-confirmed water rights. And there's another $20 million expected from the sale of carbon credits in California.

“I think we’ve got it turned around now financially; we’re on the upswing,” Joe Waters, the tribe's planner, told The Arizona Republic. “There’s been an emerging voice that says, ‘Hey, guys, we’re on the right path.’”

But dissent festers. Lupe, 84, remains in office after a primary election scheduled for this month was canceled when several candidates for chairman were disqualified.

The candidates -- including that judge who was removed -- are appealing in tribal court. Their supporters say it's time for Lupe to step aside.

“We respect the chairman (Lupe) and his accomplishments,” Derreck Wheeler, the tribe's energy efficiency coordinator, told the paper. “But it’s time for the baton to be passed, and that’s how we see it.”

Get the Story:
White Mountain Apaches approach crossroads (The Arizona Republic 2/2)

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