WHITERIVER — The word that was used most frequently by speakers offering tribute to longtime former White Mountain Apache Tribal Chairman Ronnie Lupe was “compassion.”
Hundreds filled the Chief Alchesay Activity Center in Whiteriver Saturday morning for the funeral. Local residents and their families, including many military veterans in uniform, women wearing traditional camp dresses and moccasins, were in attendance.
Also there to pay tribute were representatives of many tribal nations including Mescalero and Yavapai Apache, Navajo, Hopi, Tohono O’odam and others. Representatives of the Boeing Corporation (makers of the Apache helicopter), Johnny Basha, Salt River Project.
Many tributes were offered to the former chairman, who began his life in a traditional wickiup in Cibecue, but worked throughout his career to bring sovereignty and economic self-sufficiency to his people. Through his leadership he helped to raise the tribe’s standard of living by building critical infrastructure in tribal communities, including water, sewer, schools, fire stations and much more.
Critical business developments the tribe achieved under Lupe include Sunrise Park Resort and Hon-Dah Resort and Casino.
Lupe served an amazing 54 years in tribal government, serving 10 years on the tribal council and nine terms as tribal chairman. He was first elected to the tribal council in 1964, and won his first election to the seat of chairman in 1966 at age 36.
“Politics does not make you who you are, it reveals who you are,”said Tribal Chairwoman Gwendena Lee-Gatewood in her tribute to Lupe, “and Ronnie Lupe was a man of compassion,” who was loved by his people, she said.
Lupe’s vision and his steely determination to gain the sovereignty and rights of his people was outlined during the comments made by former tribal attorney, Robert Brauchli.
Brauchli outlined how Lupe worked to ensure that skilled jobs at the Southwest Forest Industries sawmill, which later became Fort Apache Timber Company (FATCO) were offered to tribal members, and fought a state tax on timber cut on tribal lands all the way to the Supreme Court and won.
The Tribe’s efforts under Lupe to undertake the sole regulation of their game resources was another triumph, said Brauchli, when the Tribe won a permanent injunction against Arizona Game and Fish.
The Tribe’s successful assertion of their water rights, Brauchli said, was the most significant achievement under Chairman Lupe. Brauchli noted that 78 percent of the water in Lake Roosevelt comes from White Mountain Apache Tribe lands, and the value of the tribe’s water rights is estimated at a whopping $458 million.
Even through these conflicts, Brauchli said Lupe’s sense of humanity remained intact, his compassion was evident. Brauchli noted that once the Tribe’s rights were secured, they went on to have friendly and productive relation with Arizona Game and Fish that resulted in protecting the Apache trout, and partnerships with SRP as well.
Lupe, he said, conquered his enemies by making them his friends.
Brauchli said the tribe will see Lupe’s final goal accomplished when the Miner Flat Dam, a multi-million dollar project that will bring water to his home community of Cibecue, is completed in about two years.
“One day I want to be standing in Cibecue,” Brauchli said, his voice breaking with emotion, “when that first glass of water is poured, to toast Chairman Lupe — your vision is fulfilled,” Brauchli said.