Sun, Feb. 23

Smith's heroism a saving grace for Yavapai-Apaches

Heroes come in two categories.

Some are thrust into the role by choice when a life crisis forces them to rise to the occasion. They enjoy their 15 minutes of fame and then life goes on.

And then there is that rare breed that when you analyze their life, you have to conclude that heroism was the common denominator of their existence.

Such has been the life of Theodore Smith Sr., whom we profiled in our Sunday Memorial Day tribute "Remembering Heroes." Those who have followed Mr. Smith's dogged persistence on behalf of his people, the Yavapai-Apache, probably were not surprised to read that he earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star while serving under legendary Gen. George S. Patton in World War II.

For most of us, that would be enough heroism to last a lifetime, but for Smith it has been his advocacy for and leadership of the Yavapai-Apache Nation that really separates him into a rare and elite category of hero.

See, the Yavapai-Apache Nation of today is a far cry to the tribal government Smith was chairman of for 20 years. Today, the Yavapai-Apaches are economic powerhouses in the Verde Valley and considered among the most prosperous and progressive Indian tribes in the United States.

That's remarkable considering that the Yavapai-Apaches were set up to fail more so than perhaps any Indian tribe in American history. Their reservation was established during the early 1900s following the savage forced exodus from their homeland in 1875. The reservation lands consist of a scant 600 acres of non-contiguous land in Camp Verde, Middle Verde, Clarkdale and Rimrock.

As a result, the Yavapai-Apaches became perhaps the most economically beleaguered, disadvantaged, and disenfranchised Indian tribe in the United States.

If not for Smith and leaders such as Ned Russell and David Kwail, the Yavapai-Apaches easily could have ceased to exist as an organized and recognized Indian tribe.

For years, Smith lobbied government officials at every level to support the Yavapai-Apaches in consolidating and expanding their reservation holdings, their rightful land. He was on the ground floor of the effort to bring casino gaming to the reservation.

Certainly, Mr. Smith did not win all the battles he waged on behalf of his people. Who could expect such when he was often the lone voice championing the cause of the Yavapai-Apaches? They were, after all, a tribe set up to fail.

But it's equally certain that the Yavapai-Apaches would not be the example to which other Indian nations throughout the United States aspire had it not been for Ted Smith's tireless efforts.

Every single member of the Yavapai-Apache Nation should say a short prayer of thanks every day for Mr. Smith.

His indeed has been a life of heroism.

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