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Ronnie Lupe, WMAT icon, passes at 89

WHITERIVER — Ronnie Lupe, who served as the chairman of the White Mountain Apache Tribe for nine terms — 36 years — has died. He was 89.

Lupe served his country as a Marine during the Korean War, and then went on to serve the tribe as a tribal councilman and as tribal chairman.

Lupe was born Jan. 1, 1930, in a traditional Apache Wickiup in Cibecue. He was fluent in the ancient ways of Apache prayers and songs.

He served with the First Marine Division, 3rd Battalion, Ida Company, First Marine Regiment in Korea.

Since 1964, Mr. Lupe served the people of the White Mountain Apache Tribe as an elected leader. He was first elected as District III Tribal Councilman in 1964 and served on the Tribal Council with his father, the late Nelson Lupe. In 1966 he become the youngest elected chairman of the White Mountain Apache Tribe at the age of 36. Chairman Lupe was elected to nine terms as tribal chairman and also served on the tribal council for for 10 years, serving two and four-year terms.

Anthony Cooley, who helped operate tribal elections for 24 years, noted that Lupe was gracious whether he won or lost an election.

“He always came and thanked us,” he noted.

He served the White Mountain Apache people for a total of 54 years.

Lupe was given special recognition by Governor Jack Williams who appointed him to the Arizona Commission of Indian Affairs in 1968, and was elected as the first vice president of the National Congress of American Indians in 1969 and 1970.

Lupe is credited with developing the concepts for Hon-Dah Resort Casino and Sunrise Park Resort — major drivers of the tribe’s and region’s economy — among other things.

As chairman of WMAT, Lupe was well-known among local, state and national elected leaders, especially those in the halls of Congress.

Lupe is credited with helping the tribe retain its sovereignty and rights to its land and resources. He helped testify for the passage of legislation such as the White Mountain Apache Tribe Water Rights Quantification Act of 2009, which helped establish a reservation-wide plan for clean drinking water. He also signed and helped put together the “Statement of Relationship” policy in 1994, between the tribe and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which recognized “the tribe’s aboriginal rights, sovereign authority and institutional capacity to self-manage its lands.”

This event also led to the passage of the Joint Secretarial Order 3206, known as the American Indian Tribal Rights, Federal-Tribal Trust Responsibilities, and the Endangered Species Act in 1997, which concluded that “the federal government’s responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act, recognizes the exercise of tribal rights, and ensures that Indian tribes do not bear a disproportionate burden for the conservation of listed species.”

“I was able to meet some of the top leaders in the nation due to the (representation) of my people back home,” Lupe said. “The joy that I have had, the energy that everybody has. This country has given me a lot,” Lupe said in a 2017 interview with the Independent.

In a press release, former Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah said "I have always admired him. He was one of my mentors and heroes. I will always remember and cherish our friendship. Chairman Lupe was a great leader of the White Mountain Apache Tribe, especially in legal cases brought before the judiciary. He won major cases and established a precedent for Indian Country."

WMAT Chairwoman Gwendena Lee-Gatewood announced Lupe’s passing on Facebook in the early morning hours on Monday. She served as his executive assistant from 2006-2018. He endorsed her candidacy for the seat of tribal chair.

“The White Mountain Apache Tribe has lost one of its greatest leaders this morning. Former Chairman Ronnie Lupe had an illustrious career in the development of the Tribe and Indian Country,” she wrote.

“Today he’s gone home and we’ve lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us; he belongs to the ages. Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Ronnie Lupe transformed The Tribe and moved all of us,” she added.

Lee-Gatewood expressed sympathies to the family, ordered all flags on the reservation to fly at half-staff, cancelled the Supervisor’s meeting, and declared a day of administrative leave in honor of Lupe’s passing.

“For now, let us pause and give thanks for the fact that Ronnie Lupe lived, a man who took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice. May God bless his memory and keep him in peace. It has been an honor and privilege to work for him. I remain forever grateful for his teachings, vision and philosophy. He will be missed,” she wrote.

Just two years ago, Lupe was honored for his long career in public service by Navajo County, as he announced his intention to retire and not seek a tenth term in office.

He told the Navajo County Supervisors, “I am still young yet.”

“He was an illustrious leader,” she said. “I know the people love him very much," Lee-Gatewood said.

Former SL school aide guilty of child sex crimes

HOLBROOK—Judy Marie Fabok, formerly of Pinedale and a former teacher’s aide in the Show Low School District, pleaded guilty on July 25 in the Navajo County Superior Court to one count of sexual conduct with a minor and a second count of attempted sexual conduct with a minor, Class 2 and 3 felonies, respectively

Navajo County authorities allege that Fabok, 47, engaged in various child sex crimes with a boy between the age of 15 and 17, including sexual intercourse. The crimes which she pleaded guilty to occurred on or about March 6, 2018. She reportedly sent nude pictures of herself to the boy as well. Fabok also faces child sex crime charges in Apache County for acts alleged to have happened there with the same boy.

Under the terms of her plea agreement, she will serve five years in prison on the first count, could be fined up to $150,000, will pay $250 as a sex offender assessment and other various fees. She also must pay restitution for any economic loss she caused to the victim, in an amount yet to be determined

On the second Navajo County charge, she could receive probation for a time period between five years and up to the rest of her life when she gets out of prison on the first charge. Terms of probation are up to the judge, but must include her registering as a sex offender.

But under the terms of the plea agreement, the judge doesn’t have to put her on probation for the second count and could instead impose more prison time from between 2 and 8.75 years. That will be decided at her sentencing. Either way, she will still have to register as a sex offender. Not only that, but Arizona Department of Corrections will put out a bulletin about her sex offender status when she is released from prison

As part of the deal, the other eight charges in Navajo County will be dismissed and related charges in Apache County Superior Court will be dismissed as well once that county receives the “sentencing document” from Navajo County. Further, the state has agreed not to file any additional charges “relating to information from computers, phone records or images obtained during this investigation,” says the agreement.

Meantime, her husband David Fabok divorced her. The decree of dissolution of marriage was signed by the court on April 26. He was awarded sole custody of their child whom she may not visit unless the visitation is supervised and only after she completes sex offender treatment.

Sentencing on the criminal charges is set for September 19.

Apache Alliance summit held at Hon-Dah

PINETOP — The gathering of the tribes of the Apache Alliance was held last week on the Fort Apache Reservation and hosted by the White Mountain Apache Tribe (WMAT).

WMAT Chariwoman Gwendena-Lee Gatewood was selected last year as the chair of the Apache Alliance, on organization that focuses on broad issues faced by all of the Apache people.

The Apache Alliance is comprised of nine Apache tribes from the states of Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma. The other tribes are the San Carlos Apache Tribe, Yavapai-Apache Nation, Ft. Sill Apache Tribe, Jicarilla Apache Tribe, Mescalero Apache Tribe, Apache Tribe of Oklahoma, Tonto Apache Tribe and Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation.

“This alliance works together to get one voice of the Apache people to be heard by the government on legislation that will help our tribes become sustainable,” Lee-Gatewood in a told the Independent last year. “I am extremely honored and humbled the tribes voted me in. My colleagues are esteemed leaders and have already done a lot of ground work to help us meet our goals.”

The two-day Apache Alliance summit was held at Hon-Dah Resort and Casino and featured many speakers. The event closed out with the passing of the rifle ceremony. The rifle is given to the next tribe that will host the event. Lori Gooday Ware of the Ft. Sill Apache Tribe in Oklahoma received the symbolic rifle in a ceremony that included singing and dancing.

Concho community plan plays up needs, contradictions

CONCHO — The 3,500 residents of the impoverished community of Concho face big problems – and have desperate needs.

But they also want government to mind its own business, while protecting the freedom and property rights of residents.

That’s the contradictory message that emerged from a two-year, community-led process to come up with a plan for the unincorporated rural community, located 40 miles south of Interstate 40 in a 190,000-acre area bounded by Highways 180, 180A and 61. Only about 65,000 acres are privately owned, with the rest mostly owned by the federal government.

The plan includes a heartfelt plea for the county to improve policing, take action against drug trafficking, provide a “desperately” needed medical clinic, seize and auction-off many abandoned parcels, provide at least minimal animal control services, tackle pervasive blight, provide a job center and apprenticeships, systematize and improve road maintenance and put up street signs so police and ambulances and residents alike can find an address now and then.

But despite that long list of critical needs, the plan adopted by the Apache County Board of Supervisors last week also struck a defiant note when it comes to government meddling with the day-to-day lives of its citizens.

Ironically, the plan opted to leave land use issues to the county although, “the land use portion clearly reflects the overwhelming majority of the community and their desire to limit government restrictions, intrusion of personal property rights and regulation in the area.”

The adopted vision statement said, “The residents of greater Concho see their independence, liberty, and rights of property as citizens under the United States Constitution, as God-given, and those rights are not subject to any governmental incursion into them. We hold to one of the original mottos proposed by our Founders on the first coin of America: “Mind Your Own Business.”

The plan urges government to focus on providing “for the safety and security of its citizens or residents and to allow them the greatest freedom and liberty to pursue and direct their own, individual best interests.”

That said, the rest of the plan details the serious social and public safety problems faced by the community with the lowest average income in Apache County, which itself has the lowest average income in Arizona.

The plan set ambitious goals to address the identified problems, but offers few financial resources beyond applying for grants or establishing volunteer committees and nonprofit organizations.

So here are the key elements of the plan:

Law Enforcement

Sheriff’s patrols are “severely limited and less than sufficient.” The sheriff’s office in recent years has dropped vacant house patrols, school liaison officers, drug surveillance operations and many other previously offered services. As a result, the community is plagued by more drug trafficking and dangerous drug houses, said the report.

“We need a coordinated effort to root it out of our community,” said the plan.

The committee appealed to the county to establish a sheriff’s substation, develop a community watch crime prevention program and crack down on drug trafficking.

Animal Welfare

The county provides almost no animal welfare services, whether it’s picking up stray dogs or dealing with rabid and diseased animals.

Residents have established the non-profit Concho Animal Advocates, which has provided limited services, including picking up stray pets and neutering feral strays. But the community still urgently needs help from an at least occasional animal control officer to deal with “vicious domestic pets and rabid and diseased animals.”

Non-taxpaying properties

Back in the 1970s, developers with big plans bought up many empty lots – including the proposed Concho Valley Country Club Golf Course. The developments went belly up, owners abandoned the lots and the unpaid back taxes now far exceed the value of the land.

The committee that prepared the Concho plan urged the county to take action to seize the parcels and auction them off for whatever back taxes they can bring. Not only would that generate revenue, but it would get the properties back onto the tax rolls and open the door to future development.

Community appearance

The report acknowledges that the community is blighted by many lots piled with trash, abandoned buildings, old cars and assorted junk. However, the committee urged the county to rely more on community efforts to nudge owners to clean up, rather than heavy-handed government action – unless conditions actually pose a danger to public health.

On the other hand, “the committee realizes that there are significant health and safety risks in some areas where support from Government resources may be essential,” including, “infestations of unmanaged vermin potentially spreading disease or unmanaged fuel loads creating significant fire safety concerns.”

The plan calls for establishment of community groups working hand-in-hand with the county to get lots cleaned up, which could provide a model for other communities as well.


The community faces a crisis when it comes to finding jobs for its residents, with 100 percent of the students in the Concho Elementary School qualifying for free and reduced lunches based on family income.

The plan calls for the establishment of a jobs center in the community, along with apprenticeship programs to train people for blue collar jobs, including electrical, ranching, fencing, biomass production, heavy equipment operations and other fields. The state and federal e-rate program will bring high-speed Internet access to the elementary school, which could therefore give a big boost to such apprenticeship and training programs.

Road Maintenance

The plan urges the county to maintain easements along roads throughout the community, including weed control to limit the odds a wildfire sparked by a tossed cigarette. Many of the roads are only fitfully and unpredictably maintained. Moreover, so many roads do not have street signs that ambulances and emergency service providers can’t find individual homes. The community adopted a detailed road signage plan back in 2005, but the county never implemented that plan.

Medical Services

The community has almost no medical services, despite the “desperate” need — especially for the many elderly and disabled residents, including many retired veterans.

“While providing basic medical care is costly, the population of the elderly veterans, retired military and low-income families does provide for a financial support for providing a medical clinic in Concho proper, it has been proven by study after study that preventative medical care is the most cost-effective way to reduce major catastrophic health care costs. A basic medical clinic is the answer to providing the desperately needed services.”

The committee urged the county to work with the federal Veterans Administration, Summit Healthcare and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System to establish at least a part-time medical clinic to provide primary care services to the community.

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at paleshire@payson.com