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Tribal Belt

After receiving several death threats, Margarite Faras now sleeps with her pistol.
Paolo Vescia

San Carlos -- Margarite Faras sits at her dining room table weighing the cost/benefits of her weaponry. The old snub-nose .38 is handy but about as accurate as a blunderbuss. The high-powered rifle is deadly beyond 30 yards but worthless in close quarters. A sawed-off 12-gauge would be best, but the blasts would shred her home and possibly snap her tiny chicken bone of a clavicle.

The 9 mm. will have to do. She lifts the sleek black automatic in her right hand, slips down the safety, stands, walks to the front window and peeks out the blinds into the warm summer night.Outside her double-wide trailer, over in the field across the train tracks, Buck Kitcheyan, Earnest Victor Jr. and several dozen of their friends, family and fellow San Carlos Apaches are holding an impromptu pep rally. This evening, the old powers-that-be of the tribe are going to crush their arch-rival, the headstrong reformer Margarite Faras.

A microphone is passed among speakers.

"Margarite Faras is a Mexican!"

"Margarite Faras was adopted!"

"Boycott her Taco Shack!"

The diatribes crescendo. "Margarite Faras said 'damned Apache' on the radio!"

"Margarite Faras wants to lock up your children!"

"Margarite Faras is an atheist!"

"Don't buy Margarite Faras' tacos and tamales! She makes them out of cats!"

"Margarite Faras doesn't want you to have running water!"

"I hold Margarite Faras accountable for the death of my nephew!"

"Margarite Faras, can you hear me?!" Kitcheyan yells through the PA system several times in both Apache and English. "We are going to remove you from the reservation!"

At 10 p.m., the phone rings. A man calmly says, "You're going to die tomorrow." Brawny trucks roar past her house with young men yelling "Leave now!" and "Get out, Mexican bitch!"

People walk along the road, back behind the trees, down through the wash, in and out of the shadows. Her dogs bark in all directions.

Her hands begin to shake and she feels like vomiting and she begins to sob.

And she curses the day two years ago when she agreed to run for the San Carlos tribal council.

And she begins to believe what other reformers here inevitably come to believe: That the proud and storied San Carlos Apache Nation, her home of 50 years, cannot be saved from itself.


The San Carlos tribal government is known nationally as one of the most inept and corrupt in America's Indian Country.

And now, things are apparently getting worse.

In late 1994, former tribal chairman Buck Kitcheyan pleaded guilty in federal court to 14 counts of embezzlement of tribal funds, estimated at $134,000. Allegations of similar corruption continue to swirl around the tribe's present leaders and administrators, many of whom are related to or have strong political ties to Kitcheyan.

One of the chief whistle-blowers against Kitcheyan was Margarite Faras.

Faras was elected to the tribal council in late 1998. As a council member, she fought for audits and overhauls in numerous tribal administrations.

The audits found fraud and ineptitude; the overhauls began bringing greater professionalism and accountability to numerous tribal programs.

Faras helped pull the tribe from the brink of bankruptcy, cutting the tribe's debt from about $8 million to $3 million.

She pushed for more tribal police, more cooperation with state and federal law enforcement officials, a new jail, a new youth detention facility and better staffing, training and equipment for the tribe's emergency medical response teams.

She made improvements, but she also made a lot of enemies.

In July, Faras was ousted from the council in a political coup that appears to have violated numerous tribal laws. A tribal judge issued a temporary restraining order in September blocking the recall election to fill her seat.

But TROs mean little in San Carlos politics. Faras' seat already has been filled by Anson Sneezy, the brother of her chief rival, council vice chairman Velesquez Sneezy.

Velesquez Sneezy won't talk about "anything regarding Margarite Faras or the tribe."

"I have been told by my lawyers not to speak to any of these issues you're asking about until everything has been settled in the courts," he says. "We just don't want to cause any more damage."

The stakes are getting higher.

In the last decade, the San Carlos Apache tribe has landed more than $80 million dollars in water-rights settlements and continues to fight for millions more.

The massive Apache Gold Casino is poised to rake in millions of dollars as a mountain gambling retreat for the endless busloads of well-heeled Arizona retirees.

But, because of the tribe's well-documented problems with fraud and bad accounting, federal officials won't release the water-rights money until the tribe comes up with an economic-development plan showing how the money will be spent and properly accounted for.

 

The federal government put the tribe on "high risk" status two years ago, meaning federal agencies will only allot money to the tribe on a quarterly basis rather than as a yearly lump sum.

Over the past few months, Faras has sent bulging packets documenting alleged fraud and violations of tribal and federal law to more than a dozen congressmen, senators and officials in the FBI, BIA, U.S. Attorney's Office and the Department of the Interior.

The detailed report outlines myriad cases of everything from illegal firings and illegal lawmaking to credit card fraud. It lists 14 other tribal officials, including the tribe's prosecutor, four judges and one other councilmember, who have been removed in the recent purge.

"It's sad, because many of the things she fought for are washing away," says a former assistant U.S. attorney who has followed her case.

Nonetheless, Faras has received little response and no help. Neither the U.S. Attorney's Office nor the Bureau of Indian Affairs officials charged with overseeing tribal issues returned calls for comment by New Times. Faras has been told in several letters that the federal government can't get involved because it is an internal tribal affair. She must "exhaust her local remedies," she is told.

"My 'local remedies' are controlled by the people who purged me and hold rallies against me and spread lies about me and who have destroyed everything I worked and fought for," she says.

"I'm an American and an American Indian and an elected official who has been harassed and illegally blocked from serving my term. But it doesn't matter. I have no rights."


Faras' tidy mobile home hugs the banks of Gilson Wash, a meandering swath of sand and scrub skirting the small town of San Carlos, the epicenter of this vast reservation.

Gilson Wash weaves out through the tribal lands, out through 1.8 million acres of rolling high desert dotted by mesquite and piñon and ramshackle trailers on cinder blocks sitting cockeyed in blowouts of sand or arroyos of clay.

Some homes on the outskirts rest untethered by power lines, with old buckboard outhouses perched uphill from failing water wells. In rain or snow, roads and front yards transform into pea soup and residents must hike to gravel or blacktop to hitch a ride into San Carlos.

Faras has lived in the district of Gilson Wash since 1941. She was born on this land. She was raised 200 feet from her current home in a tiny house built of buckboard salvaged 66 years ago when the original town of San Carlos was moved to make way for the reservation's massive reservoir behind Coolidge Dam. That reservoir revived the ancient fields of the Hohokam 100 miles downstream, in the lower East Valley. It did so at little cost to the burgeoning Valley and at little benefit, until recently, to the San Carlos Apache.

Faras' father hauled the wood from the flooding ghost town and built the family's little white house, the shell of which now hunches in bramble and the angles of which collapse at the edge of Faras' property.

Faras was enrolled in the tribe at birth. Still, she is only one-eighth Apache. The rest of her is Papago, Isleta Pueblo, Mayan, Spanish and Irish.

Her ancestry is a complicated stew that reflects the complicated history of the Apache. In her blood, too, is the complicated history of territorial Arizona.

In 1862, her great-grandfather, George Stevens, rode into Arizona as part of the California Volunteers. That year, he fought alongside the Union forces in Arizona's only Civil War battle, the skirmish at Picacho Pass.

He later served as an Indian agent at Camp Grant and San Carlos, and in 1873, he helped in the consolidation of the Apaches into the San Carlos Reservation, a spot chosen because it kept the troublesome children of Geronimo, Cochise and Magnus Colorado far from burgeoning white settlements.

Stevens was the first sheriff of Graham County, served three years in the territorial legislature and started two of Arizona's most famous ranches, the Double-Circle and the ranch at Eureka Springs. It was at Eureka Springs that he met Francesca, the daughter of a White Mountain Apache chieftain and niece of Cochise. As a baby, Francesca was the only survivor of a raid on an Apache camp by renegades. She was rescued and raised by a Mexican man who served as a scout for the U.S. Army.

George and Francesca married and had four children, all of whom, like their mother, served as respected liaisons and representatives for the Apache people.

 

More than any family in the region, the Stevenses had sway on the upper echelons of both Apache and Anglo society.

Faras' grandfather, James Stevens, followed his father into government service. He was the San Carlos ambassador to the famous 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha, Nebraska. He served as interpreter after the capture of Geronimo, the brutal and uncannily wily renegade who led a band of Chiricahua in perhaps the most fierce and storied guerilla war against federal subjugation in the Indian Wars.

But James loathed Geronimo. When James was a child, Geronimo's band killed and ate James' pony and burned down the family's house. Before James would serve as Geronimo's interpreter, James made Geronimo pay him $50 for the horse. And Geronimo paid because Stevens was the only man who could help him.

Even then, the Stevenses heard the mean whispers from both worlds. They were half-breeds. If they made decisions that rankled a tribal member, they were called apples -- red on the outside but white on the inside.

Or, they were called Mexicans because of Francesca's upbringing.

Against the mythology of Geronimo, the Stevenses were sometimes viewed as placaters, traitors in the U.S. government's effort to shatter the traditional Apache leadership.

Even today, through a century of San Carlos rumor, Francesca Stevens remains Mexican. So Margarite Stevens Faras remains Mexican.

This issue of blood purity has become a fiercely contested tenet in modern Apache culture and a primary weapon in tribal political battles.

"The Apache never used to care about how Apache they were," says San Carlos tribal historian Dale Miles, who is three-fourths Apache with "the curly hair of a Mexican guy."

"We were warring people, we were always wiping people out and getting wiped out and running low on numbers.

"Part of the Apache culture was adopting whoever we found and bringing them into the culture and building numbers. There is so much mixed blood throughout this tribe. Blood didn't matter. It only started mattering when the U.S. government, with blood quantum issues, started making it matter."


In the 1930s, Margarite Faras' parents began selling tacos on weekends out of their little house. The Taco Shack quickly became an institution.

Faras began working at the Taco Shack when she returned to the reservation in 1970, after a decade spent living in Phoenix. She took the business over in 1980 when her mother died.

In 1992, she decided to expand. She found an abandoned trailer, the former Geronimo Smoke House, out on Highway 70, and had it moved 13 miles to her house. She gutted the trailer, installed kitchen equipment bought cheap at auctions and opened the new, improved and higher-volume Taco Shack.

She made pretty good money. In 1998, she traded in her old trailer for a brand-new double-wide.

"I was so proud to get this place," Faras says. "We lived in such poverty for so long. It may sound kind of quaint, but I really felt like I had made something of myself."

From the time she moved back, Faras began questioning the tribal government. As a businesswoman raised in the Stevens legacy, she was angered at how tribal leaders categorically refused overtures from outside business. John Ford had wanted to build a movie studio near San Carlos. No. A mining engineer had proposed a less destructive and more profitable method for mining gemstones from the mountain behind San Carlos. No. What tribal leaders saw as white infringement, Faras saw as economic opportunities to lift the tribe.

To Faras, one of the culprits has long been the San Carlos constitution.

In essence, Faras and others say, the San Carlos Reservation is the product of haughty Anglo social engineers forcing disparate cultures together, stripping them of traditional leadership and binding them with a vague, quasi-socialist constitution better suited for 19th-century European steel mills than Native American tribes.

For decades, tribal officials have manipulated the vague constitution to justify lavish expenditures and purges of their enemies.

The problem is that the tribal chairman and vice chairman share leadership but have historically engaged in power struggles. And they are both part of the tribal council, an 11-member entity that has sweeping powers over tribal affairs, including the tribal courts.

Reformers have long pushed for a separation of powers more in line with the U.S. government -- the chairman and vice chairman split into an executive branch and elected on the same ticket. To further expand checks and balances, reformers also wanted to insulate the tribal court judges from the wrath of the tribal council. San Carlos has a history of judicial purges.

In 1985, Faras tried to get a copy of the constitution and the corporate charter. Neither the tribe nor the Bureau of Indian Affairs would give her copies; the government told her the tribe wouldn't allow it. Finally, she made a formal request under the federal Freedom of Information Act to the area BIA office in Phoenix. She received copies, made hundreds of duplicates and distributed them to tribal members throughout the reservation.

 

For the next 10 years, Faras made the business of the tribe her business. She ran for office, but lost. She chaired reform committees and even filed a federal lawsuit imploring the federal government to step in.

In 1998, the tribal government melted down once again over the issue of constitutional reform.

The tribe was $8 million in debt and on the verge of bankruptcy. Chairman Raymond Stanley called for immediate action to avoid insolvency, but the council sided with vice chairman Marvin Mull Jr., who claimed the tribe was not going broke. They fired the tribe's general manager, Jim Burns, who had authored a cost-cutting plan.

At the same time, allegations of fraud swirled around Mull and his supporters.

On March 20, Stanley was ousted by Mull and the council.

Soon after, the militant reform group Call to Action, formed by residents seeking accountability and constitutional overhaul, occupied the tribal administration building.

The protesters remained in the building for three weeks, holding prayer meetings, singing songs and making speeches in which they demanded that Mull and all nine council members -- everyone but Stanley -- step down.

Instead, Mull and the council set up headquarters at the tribal police station and went about removing more Stanley allies from tribal positions. On April 10, tribal police and Gila County sheriff's officers retook the building and arrested 10 protesters.

Demonstrations continued throughout the summer with more arrests. Members of the American Indian Movement arrived to lend support. The council hired a private security force of two dozen men, a group that became known by protesters as "the Men in Black" and the "SS." In late July, Stanley resoundingly won a recall vote, but the council would not recognize him as chairman. More protesters were arrested, including Miles, the tribal historian who is a Call to Action leader.

"It felt like you were part of a revolution," he says.

The upheaval continued until elections in November. Stanley won again as chairman; Velesquez Sneezy, who ran as a reform candidate, became vice chairman. Four council members were replaced, some by Call to Action supporters.

One of the new council members was Margarite Faras, who vowed to fight for the accountability and reform she had been talking about for 15 years.

But Margarite Faras was not involved with Call to Action. She disagreed with the group's militant tactics and she questioned the motives of its leaders. Indeed, she believed much of the organization's high ideals were just fronts to justify a thuggish coup, a coup that would ultimately benefit itself.

Call to Action's leaders vehemently deny her claims, saying their only concern was to wipe out corruption, reform tribal government and overhaul many of the tribe's ineffective programs. They are the reformers, not Faras, they say.

Faras has sided with "the corrupted council on some occasions," Miles says.

In fact, both Faras and Call to Action's current leader, Gail Haozous, are pushing toward many of the same progressive goals. But the two have fiercely disparate views on how to reach those ends.

To Haozous, Faras is just another non-Apache stooge. And each accuses the other of fostering the incompetence and corruption in the tribal government.

By early 1999, the near-insurrection on the reservation had quelled. AIM members and the private security forces went home.

But the seeds of the next crisis had already been planted.


The San Carlos jail is condemned. The tribe has no youth detention facility.

By law, juveniles can't be jailed with adults. When a minor breaks a law, a tribal police officer must often baby-sit delinquents until parents show up. Sometimes, parents don't show up.

When Faras took office in 1998, there was often only one police officer patrolling the 1.8 million acres of the reservation. The officer could be as much as an hour away from San Carlos at any time. A popular pastime in San Carlos is listening to police scanners.

"Everybody knew where the officer was," Faras says. "So anybody in a mischievous mindset knew where the officer wasn't."

Meth use is on the rise. Alcohol abuse continues to plague the tribe.

In the last six months of 1999, nine San Carlos teens died in alcohol- and drug-related car wrecks along Highway 70.

 

At the time, the Arizona Department of Public Safety had no enforcement authority along the highway. And emergency medical technicians often took more than 30 minutes to reach accidents on the road.

Faras saw a crisis of law enforcement, medical response and youth discipline and support. She pushed for more tribal officers and she wanted the DPS to have expanded powers on the reservation, particularly along Highway 70. She wanted a more professional EMT unit with a substation along Highway 70 by the casino. She helped start crime- and drug-education programs for San Carlos children. And she began lobbying national leaders for the money to build a new jail and a new detention center for minors.

Within weeks of taking office, though, her progressive ideas for change began getting lost in the morass of old-fashioned San Carlos politics.

On December 2, 1998, the day after new councilmembers were sworn in, Sneezy sent a memo to the tribe's personnel director saying he had appointed newly elected councilmember Verna Cassa as the tribe's new treasurer. Sneezy called it an "emergency appointment," which, he wrote, meant he didn't need council approval.

Two days later, according to tribal documents, Cassa and Sneezy went to Healy Auto Center in Globe to buy a new $24,000 Chrysler Concorde for Sneezy, using tribal funds. Cassa, as treasurer, signed off on the expenditure.

Under tribal rules, the chairman and vice chairman each receive a tribal vehicle. But, the rules say, the expenditure must be approved by the tribal council.

Because there was no council approval -- and because the tribe's shaky financial status was well-known -- a Globe bank refused to give the tribe a loan on the Chrysler. The car dealer let Sneezy take the car anyway.

But in January, Faras, who was assistant tribal administrator at the time, got a call from the owner of Healy Auto, who said he wanted his money or he wanted the car back. And he planned to charge the tribe $5,000 for use of the vehicle.

But Sneezy refused to give it up. So Faras sent the tribal police chief to pick up the car and return it to the dealer. Sneezy took that as an effort to oust him from his office.

"Regarding your allegations that the Chairman and I are conspiring to remove you from office by reporting this matter to the police is rather ironic," Faras wrote to Sneezy in a February 4, 1999, memo. "By that I mean, it was Ms. Cassa and you who obviously conspired to defraud Healy Auto and Community First Bank out of about $24,000. Ms. Cassa posing as Tribal Treasurer signed for and attempted to obtain funds from the Tribe's bank account to purchase a $24,000 vehicle for your benefit. Now, that is criminal conspiracy and reporting it to the police is not.

"In any event, your conspiracy theory seems to be nothing more than psychological paranoia."

Sneezy returned the car. But a month later, he and Cassa presented the council with a resolution to remove Faras as assistant tribal administrator.

Over the next few months, the fight with Sneezy and Cassa widened to other issues. As Faras made new enemies, those enemies began pulling together into an alliance against her. Often, her detractors say, her personality helped make her an easier target. "She is condescending; she can be very rude when she thinks she's right," Miles says.

Faras' political opponents escalated their campaign against her. And according to those who have watched San Carlos politics for decades, there is nothing more devastating than a San Carlos smear campaign.

"Apache hatred is a fierce, terrible thing," Miles says. "So is Apache jealousy and Apache exclusivity and Apache vengeance. And some people out here have the terrible habit of blaming others for problems they caused.

"Sometimes, rightly or wrongly, all these forces come together, focused on one person. In many ways, what is happening to Margarite Faras is just the Apache way."

A letter was sent to the tribal election board questioning Faras' membership in the tribe because she was "Mexican" and, the letter alleged, adopted.

Tribal officials who sided with Faras, including an administrator, a secretary and a prosecutor, were harassed by Sneezy and his supporters and eventually removed from their jobs.

Council meetings became shouting matches and procedural disasters, with Faras and other members even walking out of one over procedural issues.

In the chaos, tribal administrator Rupert Alden sent a letter to federal officials asking the BIA to declare a "state of emergency" and step in to assist the tribal government "before anyone is seriously injured."

Two days later, the tribal council voted to suspend Verna Cassa for leaking confidential information regarding water-rights settlements. Cassa said the charges were trumped up by Margarite Faras.

 

That was the last political straw for Faras' detractors. It was time to get rid of Margarite Faras.

Cassa, who did not return calls from New Times, slammed Faras on local radio programs, calling her "this Mexican woman," questioning the legitimacy of her membership in the tribe and criticizing -- inaccurately -- her council voting record.

On June 14, a group of tribal members met at the home of Buck Kitcheyan and planned how they would get Faras recalled. A recall petition drawn up by the group alleged Faras had walked out of a June 6 council meeting "unexcused" and that she supported "corrupted government."

Rallies were held and the petitions were circulated by Cassa, Kitcheyan, Sneezy and their supporters. They urged people to boycott the Taco Shack.

On the evening of July 11, Buck Kitcheyan and others held their rally across the train tracks from Margarite Faras' home. Kitcheyan announced that he and others would begin pushing for Faras' removal from the tribe.

The late-night death threat delivered via phone prompted Faras to call the BIA superintendent, other councilmembers and the tribal police. That night, two young men kept guard outside Faras' house. Faras tried to sleep, guns at her side.

Instead, she spent most of the night looking out through her blinds.

"She was on the verge of a breakdown," says her best friend, Taffey Padilla. "She just couldn't believe what was happening. They were waging an all-out war against her for standing up to them."


In the morning, as the sun peeks over Peridot Mountain, the enemies of Margarite Faras congregate in the yard of her neighbor's house. They make signs demanding her removal from the tribal council and from tribal lands. Her neighbor brags to a few protesters that she will get Faras' double-wide if they succeed at running her off the land.

Faras has not slept. She is numb and tired, and coffee only jags her nerves more.

The protesters march from her neighbor's home to the council chambers. Faras follows and enters the chambers with a dead expression and a consuming hatred for life and people she has never before felt. She imagines this is how one feels before an execution.

Cassa, Gail Haozous, Buck and Geri Kitcheyan and others have canvassed her district over the past weeks. They have alleged to voters that Faras doesn't want them to have water. They have said that she has said she hates the Apache. They have explained that she is a Mexican because the elders say so. They have claimed she puts cats in her taco meat.

Some people sign their petitions. Many more signatures appear to be forged. And finally, sheets of paper with 550 signatures and heart-wrenching testimonials are ready for the coup in council chambers.

Frieda Boni writes:

"I am diabetic and my husband is not well in health. Our house does not have any electric wire and running water. The only water we get is from a running hose from our neighbor. I am sick but still cook for our children on an outside fire. It is hard for me as a diabetic to go to the bathroom to the outside toilet in the middle of the night. My daughter has spoken to councilmember Margarite Faras. There is no response. This has broken my heart. What Gilson Wash people are doing is good. I am with them."

Faras has never tried to block water from getting to some of her constituents. She has only raised concerns about a plan that did not go through proper planning procedures.

Faras is asked to leave the chambers by the chairman. She walks into a back room and waits.

David Boni, a longtime foe and Verna Cassa's uncle, stands and speaks to the council.

"Are you Apaches or what?" Boni says to the remaining council. "Are we 'damned Apaches'? She said that on the radio. I didn't like that. . . . I don't know why you back her up. That Mexican lady should go."

Geri Kitcheyan takes the floor.

"She says, 'You have no balls.' A lady doesn't say that."

"She spoke the 'bad D word,'" another woman laments.

The testimonies continue. Finally, the council votes to discuss the recall issue at a later meeting.

As the morning wears on, Rupert Alden steps down as tribal administrator. Verna Cassa is voted back onto the council. As the meeting wraps up, Cassa thanks her supporters.

"A few of us, six or seven, took petitions everywhere; they did it themselves. . . . Even though those people aren't here with me, I know that they are out there praying for me; they helped me with prayers. . . . I don't know when it will be, I will feed the people from Peridot. Thank you."

 

Margarite Faras returns home and again tries to sleep. Her dogs bark through the evening, and she remains close to her guns. One of her friends leaves the house to return to Globe. A few hundred yards from Faras' home, a large black truck with fog lights roars up behind Faras' friend. The truck tailgates the woman 15 miles to the reservation line, then turns around.

The next day, Faras and the woman describe the incident and the truck to another friend.

"Oh yeah," the woman says nonchalantly. "That's the Death Truck. It shows up when you start messing with certain people."


Two months later, Faras was voted out in a recall election, replaced by Anson Sneezy.

It made no difference to anti-Faras forces that a tribal judge had blocked the election due to apparent violations of the process. For instance, the petitions had never been turned over to the tribal secretary and no "bill of particulars" listing the charges against her was submitted. Later, the recall vote resolution was illegally altered to make it a recall special election.

Before the vote, however, some of Faras' allies were relieved of their administrative duties or fired from their posts. Velesquez Sneezy received $59,000 in back pay, and Cassa got $3,000. The payments were made without an official council action. Soon after, Sneezy moved into free government housing, the residence of former BIA superintendent Joe LaPlante.

In August, Sneezy, Cassa and two other councilmembers went to Washington, D.C., and attempted to convince BIA officials to have Faras disenrolled from the tribe and expelled from the reservation.

By November, the tribal housing director, the prosecutor, the judge and several others who were sympathetic to Faras had been forced from office.


On November 8, the day after Election Day, Margarite Faras' television is abuzz with reports on the presidential impasse. It's no matter to her; she's already lost faith in both her tribal and federal government.

A commentator mentions the possibility of a "constitutional crisis."

Faras scoffs.

"If you want a real constitutional crisis, just come on up to San Carlos," she says to the television. "We'll show you how it's done."

Later that day, Faras receives a phone call from Faye Polk, the tribe's juvenile judge. Polk has good news: San Carlos will be getting grant money for both a new jail and a new juvenile detention facility, the only tribe in the nation to receive both facilities.

"Kind of bittersweet right now, but I guess we should be proud," she says with a sigh of resignation. "It's great they realized how badly we needed it."

Soon after Polk's call, Tao Etpison, a former prosecutor, stops by with news of the tribal council election. He has heard that two of the council seats are going to be contested by opponents because the winners were allegedly giving voters alcohol and $10 and $20 bills to vote for them.

Later in the day, Sandra Rambler, a former tribal secretary, comes by and says she has witnesses who saw the opponent of Harrison Talgo, another defeated councilmember, giving money to busloads of tribal members returning from fighting forest fires.

But after reconsidering, the witnesses became leery of providing testimony. They were both related to both candidates. And neither wanted to cause further rifts in their families, nor did they want to feel the wrath of their families."Everybody is so close -- this is how it is here," says one of the women, who doesn't want to be identified because of fear of reprisals. "I'm related to both of them. I know what I saw, but I also know the grief I'll get for saying anything. I'd rather just have the whole thing dropped."

Rambler also changes her mind later.

"I've talked to several elders about this," she says a week after visiting Faras. "It becomes so difficult because you're just creating more chaos. You get in a bad position where you want to do what's right, but you also don't want to make things any worse. You have to pick your battles."

Faras, though, plans to continue her fight for her council seat and for the government reforms she had tried to champion. She has begun looking for a law firm that will take her case to federal court. Supporters in nearby Globe are donating items for raffles to raise money for her legal fees.

She says she is still suffering from anxiety attacks and insomnia, but that she is beginning to recover from her near breakdown during the protests outside her house.

 

"Still, it's like something inside of me is dead."

But she says she's strong enough to keep up the fight.

"My name has been destroyed, my business has been destroyed and I have people trying to run me out of my home," she says. "It would be easier to lay down and give up and forget about it. But it's just so wrong. This should not be happening in America. So I'll fight until there's no more fighting to do."


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