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White Mountain Apache Tribe, Arizona

On the surface, you might think that our Community Elevator Speech for the White Mountain Apache Tribe would focus on the trials and tribulations of a people experiencing an 80% unemployment rate—or perhaps a per capita income of under $5,000. Maybe you would expect our story to be about poverty so extensive that it permeates every census tract throughout our land.

Maybe you would focus on our life expectancy of
only 28 years. Maybe you would simply think that we have no story to tell, except for a bygone era where once there was hope.

Well, think again.

Twenty years from now our people will be the envy of the region. We already are blessed with a beautiful and productive land. Our forested hills and mountains are special to us. We draw our purpose and meaning from our sense of place, and we are building a future that will make us all proud to be called Apache.

Over the past few years, we have focused on improving and streamlining our government so that it is more responsive, manages our money responsibly and sets the stage for investing in the future. We will be current on all of our audits and be ready to move forward in a businesslike fashion.

Our greatest opportunities lie with the magnificence of our land—its resources and topography.

First, we have 770,000 acres of timberland. We have the management authority to harvest our timber in a responsible, sustainable fashion. We are not encumbered by the deadlock of national political debate that remains so hot today that the heat is only matched by the temperature of the forest fires that have surrounded us…but have largely missed our land. We will manage our forests so that our hallmark is healthy forests, not charred remains. In doing so, we will rebuild a sustainable forest products industry that gives meaningful employment to current and future generations. We envision an immediate investment of $10 million in plant and equipment and the re-establishment of 150 jobs for our people.

Second, our topography sets the stage for the Southwest’s best ski resort. Skiing in Arizona—and skiing at its best. Although we have a great place, we plan to invest in a new lodge, new snowmaking equipment and a marketing campaign that establishes us as the region’s winter sports capital. In order to succeed, we will become better team players with the cities and counties that are our neighbors and capitalize on innovative government programs that create investment in remote areas. We will invest $30 million to accomplish this.

Third, we will build a large new reservoir that will help bring much needed water to seven downstream cities, create abundant and clean hydropower and establish a new recreation center for the people of the region. We have plans to build a new destination hotel associated with the reservoir that will serve as a basecamp to the White Mountains. $202 million is appropriated and on deposit with the US Department of the Interior. The money will not only be used to build the reservoir, but will provide $50 million for the first three years of operations and maintenance. We expect 300-500 construction jobs to last for five years.

Fourth, our natural resources make possible the establishment of a biomass energy plant that can provide renewable energy to support our residential and commercial sectors.

Fifth, we will set aside 100,000 acres of our land to capitalize on emerging carbon credit programs that reward people for setting aside natural resources for long-term environmental benefit. Our plans do not, however, all relate to the land. We also have plans for our people—starting with our next generation.

We know that Whiteriver today does not physically show the inner pride of our people. This is why we have a vision to transform our town with a new marketplace, investments in our hospital, the construction of a Head Start facility, all integrated with the development of a new Bureau of Indian Affairs building.

We also see a new transit service that will tie these things together and help mobilize our people to seek better education, better health and better days.

Yes, 80% of our people are unemployed. Yes, many Americans make more in a month than we earn in a year. Yes, drugs and alcohol are a scourge on many of our people. But those will become yesterday’s headlines.

Our tomorrow is bright. This plan sets the stage for a new generation of White Mountain Apache civilization.

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