Understanding the history of the Yavapai and Apache people makes it easier to understand why the Yavapai-Apache Nation wants to expand its reservation today.
The Yavapai people called more than 9 million acres of Arizona their home for hundreds of years before white people ever knew the land existed. The Apache also claimed a vast territory.
When white men found gold in the Prescott area in 1863, others hungry for riches started pouring in. For the next decade, whites and Indians were at constant war.
The Yavapai and Apache Indians at the time were "destitute and in a starving condition, having no boundaries defining their homes, their country overrun by hunters who kill their game, and not infrequently kill the Indians." Those were the words written in 1871 by Indian Commissioner Vincent Colyer, in an executive order creating a reservation for the Indian people.
The Rio Verde Reservation stretched 45 miles along the Verde River, 10 miles on each side, to total 576,000 acres. Within a few years, the government had placed approximately 1,500 Yavapai and 750 Apache on that reservation.
At first, conditions were so harsh that half of them died their first summer. But the Indian people soon became more self-sufficient through farming, including building a dam with sticks, spoons and shovels.
It wasn't long before traders in the Tucson area who profited from providing goods for the reservations became nervous about this situation. They were instrumental in convincing the government to move the Yavapai and Apache from the Verde Valley southeast to the San Carlos Apache Reservation, where their enemies lived.
On Feb. 18, 1875, the military suddenly herded the Verde Valley to Fort Verde to begin a forced 180-mile march to San Carlos. More than 100 died along the harsh, mountainous route undertaken during the flood season.
The government quickly abolished the Rio Verde Reservation. The Indians had no legal recourse, since the Arizona Territorial Legislature had made it illegal for Indians to testify against whites in court. The U.S. government wouldn't enforce the tribe's treaty.
Twenty-five years later, some Yavapai and Apache received permission to return to their Verde Valley homelands. But when they arrived, they found white people living there. They were forced to retreat to a harsh existence, homeless in the nearby mountains.
The government set aside 30 acres for the Yavapai and Apache people in 1909. They acquired other small parcels throughout the years.
In 1934, Congress enacted the Indian Reorganization Act that allowed the U.S. government to hold land in trust for American Indian tribes, so individual tribal members couldn't sell off the land.
In 1935, the Yavapai band that traditionally called the Prescott area its home convinced the government to set aside a 75-acre reservation there. Today, the Yavapai-Prescott Reservation includes 1,395 acres next to Prescott, on land which once was the Ft. Whipple Barracks Military Reserve. The Yavapai-Apache Reservation includes 636 acres on five parcels in the Verde Valley, much of it purchased by the Indians themselves.
Barry Goldwater and John McCain both tried to get Congress to enact bills giving the Yavapai-Apache Nation some of the surrounding Prescott National Forest, but were unsuccessful. The Forest Service is now giving the Yavapai Ranch priority over the tribe in acquiring part of those forestlands through a land exchange.
The Yavapai-Apache Nation's goal to expand its reservation is not a new one; the preamble to the constitution of the Yavapai-Apache Nation explicitly declares that the people of the Nation adopted the constitution to "acquire additional lands for the benefit of the Tribe."
But it was decades before the tribe had the money to help its goal become reality. Industries such as the Cliff Castle Casino have enabled it to start working on its goal today.
"You may have the deed to that land you're living on, but in our hearts, it's still ours," Yavapai-Apache Nation Chairman Vincent Randall said..
The tribe spent approximately $3.5 million to buy 1,211 acres next to its existing reservation parcels in the Verde Valley. Part of the land is inside the town limits of Camp Verde and Clarkdale.
To ensure that it will remain part of the tribal lands forever – without the possibility of any future generations selling it – the tribe has asked the U.S. government to make the property part of its reservation, property that the U.S. government holds in trust for the tribe.
That application also costs the tribe plenty of money, for work such as an environmental assessment, archaeological survey, cultural resources report, hazardous materials survey and proof of ownership information, noted Bob McNichols, field office superintendent for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.
McNichols will recommend whether the government should accept the lands into trust. The final decision rests with BIA Western Regional Director Wayne Nordwall, acting for the Secretary of the Interior. The decision-making process could take three to six months, McNichols estimated.
"The Nation desperately needs to re-establish an adequate permanent homeland to survive as an Indian nation," the Yavapai-Apache Tribal Council wrote in its application for additional trust lands. "The Nation is, and will always, persist to regain the homeland that has been lost, because it is a matter of survival as a Nation."
The reservation has no room for two-thirds of the tribal members, leaders said. At least 150 families are on a list of those waiting for homes on the Yavapai-Apache Reservation, which has no place to build them, said Randall and Vice Chair Fred Sanchez.
The tribe also plans to build retail stores, parks, community buildings and ball parks on the land. Its long-term goals include a Camp Verde shopping center, akin to the highly successful one the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe has built in Prescott.
The tribe would use the vast majority of the land, about 95 percent, for housing and agriculture, tribal leaders said. The tribe already uses part of its reservation for farming, allowing tribal members and employees to harvest fruits and vegetables, Randall said.
But of course, there is a deeper reason the tribe wants more reservation land.
"You look across the vast territory of these lands ... we're a clannish people, and all our clan names pertain to where we came from," Randall said. "It's a sanctified land that was sanctified by the deities when the almighty put us in this place, so we have a very strong stewardship."
The county and towns will no longer be able to levy property taxes on the lands once they gain reservation status, and the tribe now pays a total of approximately $50,000 annually in property taxes on the parcels, officials estimated.
However, businesses on reservation lands still charge state sales tax that comes back to the communities in the form of state-shared revenues. McNichols notes that the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe collects hundreds of thousands of dollars in state sales tax at its shopping center, but unlike the county and its cities and towns, the tribe gets nothing in return.
The public has until Thursday to comment on the trust application. The Camp Verde Town Council already has decided to oppose it, after not being able to negotiate an agreement with the tribe about the land.
"They talk about losing revenues, but then the concept of taxes is to provide services," Randall said. "And we don't get any services. We'll take care of ourselves."
And as the tribe's population increases, it may seek more trust lands in the future, Randall said.
"We're not a threat," he said. "All we're doing is ensuring our culture and nation will continue to survive into the 22nd Century – ensuring our way of life and a place to be together for future generations."