It is with great sadness that I share this story with you. When you are child growing up and your parents are not together, there are people who come into your lives that make an impression upon you. Somewhere along the way in your life, they help you learn or understand some part of life that you didn’t know before.
It was quite some time ago that I met this particular individual through our dear and beloved friend, the late Ola Cassadore Davis. Her and her late husband, Mike Davis, had made the introduction. I remember thinking how bright and keen this individual was and he had earned a Doctorate Degree in the medical field!
He worked in the various hospitals in the metropolitan Phoenix area until he retired. His wife had also been a registered nurse and worked along with him until she retired. He had one of the biggest hearts that a person could have. He had the gift of being patient and he was a brilliant man.
I distinctly remember at one time we were working on making telephone calls to our Senators and members of the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C. He had asked me what I said and I told him that I asked for our U.S. Representative and I was told by the staff that they were in a meeting and to call back and I said okay and hung up the telephone. Boy! Did he ever teach me that was not the thing to do! He kindly asked me to telephone them again and make the staff members take down my telephone number and postal address and email address, if necessary to get a response back from our U.S. Representatives. And to this day, that is exactly what I do, thanks to our dear and beloved friend, Dr. Bob Witzeman who just passed away during the Labor Day weekend.
When I received the telephone call about what had happened to him, I sat at my house at home alone in the Bylas community and as I started working on my beads, I began crying. I remember how much of an impact he had made in my life. How much he had taught me without realizing how much he was helping our Apache people. I used to tease him and tell him, “You were supposed to be born an Apache!”
Only because his heart was with our Apache people. He was a white man, but he was no traitor to our Apache people. He truly loved to help however he could, and he was always kind to our tribal elders. He definitely knew what the word, “respect,” meant because he was so respectful in many ways.
After his retirement, he would go and visit the children within the Salt River and Gila River Indian Communities and took them bird watching and also to take photos of birds. He helped us in our fight to save the Bald Eagle. I had told him we come from the White Water People of the Eagle Clan and had many relatives in Peridot, San Carlos and even in the White Mountains.
He helped the Fort McDowell Indian Community fight against the construction of the proposed Orme Dam, and to this day, this prestigious group of Native American Indians come together during their annual festivities and honor Dr. Bob, along with Carolina Butler and others for all their help in preventing the Orme Dam from being built on their native land. He made a great impact upon these people, and they are forever grateful to him. He enjoyed walking in the parade each year and we would yell to him, “Dr. Bob!” He would smile and wave back, and his wife, Janet Witzeman, was always by his side.
Many times, we don’t take the time to tell people that help us, “thank you.” Sometimes, we are too busy, and we just either forget or we just don’t make that extra time to do it.
There are words that I cannot find that would describe how much Dr. Bob meant to us, especially our tribal elders. He was always trying to keep up with what was happening within our tribal government and he would encourage us to do what is right and to always stand up for the rights of our Apache people. He encouraged us, just like our tribal elders do, to fight for our natural resources, our land, our properties, our identities as Apaches and especially for our water.
It was through his help and research that 25 million gallons of water would be used daily to pump that proposed mine at Oak Flat if that were to ever happen—Resolution Copper is definitely lobbying with our U.S. Representatives to approve the copper mine and guess where they will get the water? Obviously from our San Carlos Apache Reservation! Because there is not enough water in Arizona to help them! This is why that copper mine should never be built! In the past 8 years they have been trying to get this bill passed, they have spent maybe close to $10 million trying to bribe elected officials.
Shame on those of you who are trying to say that it’s okay to build the copper mine at Oak Flat! And for as long as I am here and am able to speak out about and write about it through my right to free speech, I will keep doing this. I might sound like a broken record, but someone has to remind you how wrong it is for these white people that come from a foreign country (Australia) to build a mine here in the United States just 13 miles away from our reservation, and attempt to take our water from us to run that mine!
The size of the copper mine when it is dug out will be the size of Mt. Turnbull in the Bylas community. As I look out my yard, I see Mt. Turnbull and I am reminded of how these white people are trying to poison the minds of our own Apache people and then trying to get to our tribal leaders!
These are some of the things that Dr. Bob had opened my eyes to see. He always told me to write, write, write. He told me never to give up writing. He said, if it’s on the radio or television, people forget because it’s played one time on the air or on television. But, he said, if you write, it’s a piece of history that will be read over and over again by future generations and even when you are not here someday, your words will still ring in the ears of the Apaches from the future generation.
Thank you, Dr. Bob Witzeman and to your wife, Janet Witzeman for sharing you with our Apache people and for always being there to help in any way that you could through telephone calls, emails and letters. We will never forget you and may you rest in peace. May our Creator bless your family for all that you have done for our Apache people and for all the history you have documented about our struggles beginning at Dzil Ncha Si An (Mount Graham) and especially at Chi’Chil’Bagoteel (Oak Flat). You have earned our respect and made your mark in our Apache history. Ahi’yihe! Ashoong!