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Racial taunts spark debate

SHOW LOW, Ariz. - Show Low high school students attempting to ignite school spirit instead blared racist remarks during a basketball game against visiting Alchesay High School from the Fort Apache Reservation on Feb. 4.

In what was to be a well-known chant during a timeout huddle, the students substituted their own malicious words directed at Alchesay fans, "We pay taxes, yes we do, We pay taxes, how about you!"

Alchesay fans were stunned. The students then wanted a prompt response, frantically waving their hands for attention.

Show Low's athletic director managed to halt the remarks after a Whiteriver school board member condemned the incident.

According to Show Low school superintendent Norlis McKay, the students told the athletic director that it was meant to be "funny" and a "joke."

The remarks ensued after a player/parent altercation occurred at the freshman boy's game when an Alchesay player fired a corner shot to the net. There was a brief contact with Show Low team members in which a Show Low adult fan became entangled.

Observing the heightening emotions, the player's mother collected her son and left the gymnasium. It may have appeared on videotape that they were followed to the parking lot by several other Show Low fans.

Superintendent McKay referred the incident to the Show Low Police Department along with the taped incident. Currently, it is under investigation by the police.

The Whiteriver school district referred both incidents to the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) that governs high school sporting events throughout the state and enforces regulations. The district's requests to the AIA to pursue sanctions against Show Low, include a reprimand and a conference league change.

The Whiteriver school district stated they will pursue charges against the Show Low spectator, pending the investigation.

In a press statement released Feb. 11 to area newspapers, Show Low High School Administration prepares to be "? in the process of taking corrective action to repair this inappropriate activity and appropriate proactive action?"

In lieu of this incident, the freshman girl's basketball game was cancelled and the varsity boy's game was rescheduled to a neutral location at Round Valley High School, some 50 miles away from each town.

Reasons for remarks

The students' "tax statement" is indicative to the fact that Native American tribes are relinquished from paying taxes on federal trust lands. This is related to the federal government's ongoing trust commitments to honor treaties from centuries past.

The White Mountain Apache Tribe is among the 562 federally recognized Native Americans and Alaska Native tribal governments located throughout the nation.

It was also an indirect attack on last summer's horrific Rodeo-Chediski Wildfire, allegedly started by an Apache man and anticipated national monetary aid to filter into the tribe's recovery, mainly, shedding critical light on Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding, a taxpayer-based subsidy.

Due to the President's proclamation, federal financial assistance became available for Apache county, the White Mountain Apache Tribe and Navajo county that includes Show Low.

Other charitable donations and organized monies are funneling to other off-reservation northern recovery areas that sustained lost homes such as Linden, Heber-Overgaard and Pinedale.

The Chairman and tribal council members have been conducting consecutive meetings to pinpoint decisions relating to the tribes' current economic state.

At this time, FEMA funds for the tribe have gone undistributed due to review of environmental documents and other unresolved issues.

The incident comes at the heels of Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano's hand delivery of a $412,640 check to the area's Trees for Rim Project that will help a local area nursery grow seedlings to plant within the burned areas. The check represents a grant provided by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

Mother of player and firefighter flustered

Esther Sprengeler, a single parent of four boys, attended the rival regional basketball game and witnessed the incident. Like many Alchesay fans, she was astonished at the remarks.

"I knew that this game was going to get pretty rowdy. When our team entered the gym court for pre-game warm ups that entire section stood to yell and scream in an angered way," said Sprengler. Her son, Justin Lupe is one of Alchesay's prominent players who is being heavily recruited by numerous colleges for his basketball talents.

"It's sad to see that they (the students) carried on like that, especially after they don't understand our firefighters worked so hard to save their town."

Sprengeler recollects her thoughts of the arduous and stringent physical struggle her two older sons endured during the Rodeo-Chediski complex fire.

Brandt Lupe, a member of the prominent Fort Apache Hotshots, fought against the fiery blaze alongside his crew by conducting burnout strategies and hand-built miles of fireline. Loren Lupe was employed with the Tribe's Watershed Program. He posted cautionary signs within Cibecue to warn of wildfire hazards and continued to check on vital water supply. He recently enlisted in the United States Air Force.

The youngest, Blain Lupe, is successfully pursuing his love of basketball at the junior high level, but in the future, firefighting is on his mind.

Within any Indian reservation in the country, wildland firefighting continues to be a strong passion for Native Americans. It promises incoming currency and a life of adventure. The White Mountain Tribe is no different.

"We support our firefighters," said an affirmed Sprengeler, referring to the Southwest Firefighters (SWFF) tradition and prideful history at the Fort Apache Agency. "I remember having to drive Brandt to work at 4 a.m. and then pick him up late at night. He'd maybe get 3-4 hours of sleep. He was tired, but he got up every day to get the job done."

Preface to Rodeo-Chediski wildfire

In July, as the Rodeo-Chediski wildfire approached Show Low's city limits, the Incident Command teams, stationed near Show Low high school, began reporting a worst-case scenario, predicting the fire may enter and destroy the town.

Thousands of residents evacuated. The Red Cross provided evacuee assistance, grass-root organizations sprung into action, surrounding area churches set up make-shift shelters, state-wide businesses donated food, clothing, equipment, etc., and a national call of firefighters were arriving in hoards to battle the growing wildfire. The fire-scarred area was visited by the U.S. President and declared a national disaster.

At the same time, the Fort Apache Hotshots and other fire crews under direction of a tribal member and experienced firefighter Rick Lupe, entered into Mogollan Rim - a modern last stand at the bottom of the canyon.

The Incident Action Plan (IAP) listed their assignments to burn existing fuels ahead of the wildfire's path that would enforce the constructed bulldozer and firelines.

The wildfire made hard running advances toward the crews, but they chased down spot fires and spitting embers, dousing flames with water bags and using various hand tools.

Their determination and quick ground-pounding efforts paid-off, the wildfire never made it pass their fireline. The city of Show Low was saved.

An uncertain future

Amid the turmoil, Alchesay, named after the tribe's once-proud Apache chief, rallied to eliminate Show Low from the state basketball playoffs.

Today, Chief Alchesay's gravesite lies within the ravaged lands.

Show Low, a town of 9,000 residents, boasts economic principles of government and trade services with booming tourism and recreation.

The city's name was derived from two disputing ranch settlers who thought a card game would choose the landowner. The winner held a deuce of clubs and replied, "Show Low it is."

Unfortunately, the recent incident cannot be as easily rectified.

"I guess it takes something like this to make us all aware that everyone should be supporting all the athletic teams on the Mountain (area communities)," reiterates Sprengeler. "We continue to take our money up there to shop, maybe I'll be like my dad who remains loyal to our stores here and eventually, we'll all keep our money at Whiteriver."

The Show Low and Whiteriver school districts will continue to work through this incident while the White Mountain Apache Tribe remains steadfast in their quest of maintaining tribal sovereignty and dignity.

At the start of another wildfire season, the Apache People prepare to answer national fire calls to do battle with fiery blazes.

Eventually, their journeys will lead them far from the ugliness of unwelcome remarks.