Fort Apache

Fort Apache

Project Description

United States tribes and Canadian First Nations are among the most impoverished and violence-ridden and least educated and healthy communities in North America. Vulnerable to escalating threats from historical trauma, climate variability, demographic imbalance (low median age), economic instability, and inflexible and episodically retreating federal fiduciary arrangements, First Nations and tribes are united by common interests in reclaiming and exercising sovereignities and in creating adaptive institutions grounded in distinctive and time-tested values and cultural forms. Given the high demands on existing management capacities, one persistent question concerns spatial and administrative contexts in which Native organizations and citizens can take modest risks and explore promising ideas without fear of contributing to tragic circumstances.

Chartered by the White Mountain Apache Tribal Council and recognized by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, the Fort Apache Heritage Foundation was created in the late 1990s to facilitate preservation and tourism at Fort Apache, the historic cavalry post (1870–1922) that became the Theodore Roosevelt School in 1923 and has since operated as an American Indian residential school. In the early 2010s, the Foundation shifted its mission focus from external, non-Apache ‘markets’ for information and experience to local Apache interests in education, economic opportunity, environmental quality and decolonized institutions, places and futures. This shift entails the replacement of tourism-based economic development and ‘old-school’ historic preservation with an environmentalism grounded in place-based heritage conservation and community engagement and empowerment. The Foundation’s emergent goal is to pursue and integrate Fort Apache’s preservation and adaptive reuse with the assertion and expansion of tribal sovereignty.

Figure 1. White Mountain and San Carlos reservations, with the location of the Fort Apache and Theodore Roosevelt School National Historic Landmark

This project, a unique partnership between the White Mountain Apache Tribe and the FAHF is a real-time experiment in returning the primary locus for White Mountain Apache subjugation and colonization into a place of pride, opportunity, and sovereignty enactment. The Fort Apache sovereignty reclamation project integrates historic site preservation, environmental conservation, leadership development, and the realignment of legal and management institutions with Apache values and cultural precepts. The experiment is guided by the simple theory that sovereignty enhancements constitute antidotes to colonial harms and that sovereignty consists of and is generally exercised through five inter-braided ‘pillars’ or pursuits:

  1. Self-sufficiency—creation and maintenance of sustainable supplies of the food, water, shelter, and human relationships essential for people to survive and thrive;
  2. Self-determination—policies and practices that foster and enable futures concordant with longstanding and emergent community values and interests;
  3. Self-governance—internal capacities to pursue and sustain self-determination;
  4. Self-representation—first-person portrayals of cultures, histories and aspirations;
  5. Peer Recognition—establishment of government-to-government and other peer relationships based on legitimate authority over territory, citizens, and resources.
Figure 2.White Mountain Apache Tribal Council members lead a procession of those who care about and share in Fort Apache history

The five-pillar framework offers guidance on ways to serve and integrate the needs and interests of citizens, communities, and nation-scale institutions. Support for the exercise of White Mountain Apache Tribe sovereignty at levels ranging from basic human needs to expansive intergovernmental relations is guiding Foundation planning and programming for further decolonization of this emphatically colonial property. The Board now explicitly and consistently prioritizes local Apache preferences in planning future roles of the Fort Apache and T.R. School NHL in reservation and regional community development, in civic engagement, in citizen education and in local economic expansion. The following Foundation contributions to each of sovereignty’s five pillars illustrate synergistic connections among culture, landscape, architecture, management institutions and the building of internal capacities and external audiences, markets and clienteles.


  • Rehabilitating the Fort Apache and T.R. School farm fields and orchards, including the heritage garden and irrigation system at the confluence of East Fork and North Fork;
  • Planning to create at Fort Apache an enterprise zone intended to promote local commerce and reduce reliance on off-reservation businesses;
  • Training Apache citizens in skills ranging from accounting, geographic information science and digital media management to trails maintenance and historic structure restoration;
  • Fostering the development of a professional work force committed to the preservation and appropriate use of the land base, water supply, buildings, grounds and collections into perpetuity.


  • Building the collection of documents, objects and photographs relating to local and regional history into a world-class ‘Apache National Archive’ repository and center for research, interpretation and administrative solvency;
  • Securing jurisdiction and funding necessary to set aside the East Fork and North Fork riparian corridors, as well as other areas of ecological integrity and sensitivity, as Tribal preserves within or adjacent to the Fort Apache and T.R. School property;
  • Engaging members of the Tribal Council, T.R. School Board and other partners in ongoing discussions about Fort Apache’s short- and long-term roles in building White Mountain Apache futures grounded in longstanding and emergent Apache values;
  • Supporting T.R. School Board interests in a potential transition to an immersion school focused on instruction in Apache language and culture arts and traditions;
  • Collaborating with the staff and clients of the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health in the creation of a youth entrepreneurship storefront in Captain’s Quarters 103.


  • Managing the Nohwike’ Bágowa Museum Store as a retail outlet for Apache artists and a Foundation revenue center;
  • Supporting the Tribal Council in the selection of an investment advisor for the Fort Apache Fund;
  • Hosting the Whiteriver Unified School District Junior Leadership Academy, which served 16 middle schoolers in a four-week program in 2014;
  • Transitioning to a Foundation Board of Directors more clearly controlled by White Mountain Apache citizens.


  • Hosting the Ndee Ła’ Ade (Gathering of the People) Fort Apache Heritage Celebration and Apache Song and Dance Competition, held in May each year;
  • Assuring the primacy of Apache voices in the interpretation of local and regional history and culture and the balancing of non-Apache knowledge and perspective by Apache knowledge and perspective;
  • Maintaining a respectful separation of interpretive materials dealing with Apache history, culture and contemporary community status from materials dealing with the history and consequences of Fort Apache and the T.R. School;
  • Privileging Apache values, knowledge and preferences in matters of policy and daily practice (i.e., Board recruitment and decision making, aesthetic choices, menu planning, etc.).

Peer recognition:

  • Hosting the only Arizona Office of Tourism Local Visitor Information Center located on tribal lands;
  • Supporting formal and informal intercultural reconciliation processes attended by representatives of groups with ties to Fort Apache and T.R. School  history;
  • Providing staff and Board members as trainers for workshops on tribal museum and tribal historic preservation officer operations;
  • Maintaining public- and private-sector partnerships, including collaborations with Johns Hopkins University and the University of Arizona;
  • Obtaining Federal, state and private grants and contracts to support all of the above.

The Foundation’s rapidly accruing experience with community-engaged and sovereignty-driven conservation raises at least four set of questions to guide Foundation research and action. First, how will the Foundation and its partners incorporate and employ Apache ways of doing business? How can values, interests, preferences and priorities originating within reservation borders be synchronized with external (‘dominant society’) goals and operating principles? Second, how readily can Fort Apache and the Foundation adapt and respond constructively to future changes in local community interests, preferences and priorities? What preparation will enable shifts in Foundation plans and processes to accommodate community dynamics? Third, who is Fort Apache and the Foundation producing? How is Fort Apache and FAHF changing the people it touches and those who touch the place and organization (staff, residents, partners, visitors, etc.)? Finally, what public goods (i.e., benefits free for the taking) is Fort Apache and FAHF producing? What informal social work, public security, aesthetic pleasures, remembering, fun and recreation, and self- and collective care and organizing is happening at and because of Fort Apache? In other words, what ‘goods’ is the place and organization producing and how can the property and Foundation produce more and better goods? Perhaps needless to say, these questions deserve particular attention in a community characterized by underemployment, ecosystem dis-integration, related social ills and historically founded suspicions of organizations, authorities, and now-institutionalized power relations.

IHOPE – Project Synergies

The Fort Apache project offers to IHOPE an important and unique case study in the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of heritage—objects, buildings, places, and traditions—to serve pressing current needs. We envision operating at and contributing to environmental humanities and future studies, and possibly historical ecology as well. At Fort Apache our partnership is applying a blend of Apache traditional knowledge and sovereignty theory and practice to the management of an ecosystem that reflects and embeds a millennium of intense and highly varied cultural-biophysical linkages. The Apache traditional knowledge being revitalized at Fort Apache centers on highly personalized relationships with plants, animals, and landscape features as sources of individual and collective vitality. As a protected area within an increasingly urbanized and degraded landscape populated by people whose immediate forebears were fiercely independent hunter-gatherer-farmers, the Fort Apache property contains the symbolic, organizational, intellectual, and biophysical resources required for creating desired futures grounded in Apache pasts. The project has laid the essential foundations of equity, trust, and respect at the core of the IHOPE mission and has adopted and begun the decolonizing process of re-institutionalizing Apache ways of learning, planning, and doing in relation to the Fort Apache and T.R. property and the broader Apache community. In this sense, Fort Apache offers a good context for examining and applying transdisciplinary theory and management in a setting desperately in need of better ways of taking care of place and community.

From IHOPE, the Fort Apache project seeks the following:

  • Engagement and dialogue with diverse scholars and practitioners working on the resilience of social-ecological systems and related themes;
  • Enhanced international profile to assist in attracting financial and technical assistance and in demonstrating that many non-Apaches care about Apache traditional knowledge and management institutions;
  • Access to knowledge concerning comparable projects and relevant scholarship;
  • Guidance with respect to sources of financial and technical assistance to support management, training, and research initiatives.