Speech delivered by Chairman Terry Rambler at Hon Dah Resort & Casino on June 22, 2022:
My name is Terry Rambler, Chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe and I am honored and humbled to be here in the beautiful pines of the White Mountains. Part of my roots, like a lot of people from Bylas, comes from the White Mountains.
On my mom’s side, my great maternal grandmother was Sarah Hadley who was Tugai’. She originally came from the Show Low area and when the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation was established she moved to East Fork. My great maternal grandfather John Rope was Biszaha. He came from the Cedar Creek area. When he met Sarah, he sold his land for horses and they moved to the Bylas area.
John Rope and Sarah Hadley Rope were included in the base tribal membership roll when the federal government’s BIA established the initial tribal membership for our Tribe. That is how I am San Carlos Apache today. I am Tugai from my mom’s side and born for Nadots’osn from my dad’s side.
On my dad’s side, my paternal grandparents were Homer Pechuli Rambler and Olive Talgo. Olive Talgo was Nadots’osn. Olive’s parents, my paternal great grandparents, were John Talgo and Nona Zaye Talgo. They were also included on the initial tribal membership role and a reason why I am San Carlos Apache.
Homer Pechuli Rambler was Tsee binazt’ie’. Homer’s parents, my paternal great grandparents, were James Pechuli and Lide Curly Pechuli. They were also included on the base membership roll and why I am San Carlos Apache today.
Homer went on the federal government’s Indian Relocation Program and added Rambler as his last name prior to returning home. My mom and I both went on the program also. Homer’s mom was Lide Pechuli and she was Tsee binazt’ie’ and came from the Aravaipa, Superior & Oak Flat area.
When miners discovered minerals in that area in the 1850s, they enlisted the help of the United States Calvary to overpower the five Apache clans that lived in the area after a brutal war. Lide Pechuli and other Apaches were herded at gunpoint like cattle to Hells Forty Acres at old San Carlos, now San Carlos Lake. After the United States built Coolidge Dam and flooded our homes and agriculture and cattle grazing areas, Lide Pechuli and other Apaches moved to present day Gilson Wash, Seven Mile Wash and Peridot. Many Apaches returned to their homelands when Reservations were established by the federal government.
I have ancestral ties to Oak Flat like a lot of my fellow Apaches. I consider Oak Flat a land of my ancestors. That is why I stand strong to help save Oak Flat. My ancestors lived and practiced their ways at Oak Flat and surrounding areas and left their footprints. The Tonto National Forest published a report, an ethnographic and ethnohistorical study of Oak Flat and surrounding areas, that documents our Apache ties to the area. One of the few places Apaches left their footprints as we used to run with the wind.
At an early age and too young to remember, my mom and dad divorced and consequently I was raised by my mom, my grandmother, and my two aunts. All of us, including my brothers and sister and my cousins were raised in a two-bedroom home in Bylas.
My grandmother had a great influence on me. She would take us to all the sunrise dances in Bylas, San Carlos, and Whiteriver and she would explain to us the meaning of sunrise dances and to learn to respect the Apache way of life. We would all be bunched up like sardines in my Grandma’s truck and attend all the Apache religious ceremonies. In those days, we all listened to our parents, especially the Elders. In retrospect, it seemed like all our relatives lived in pods and our aunts and uncles would all tell us to behave no matter in whose yard we played.
I remember my grandmother would wake us up early in the morning to tell us where to hunt for rabbits, quail, and desert rats as that was part of our main diet. I remember my grandmother would tell us of the watering holes in the mountains to quench our thirsts. I remember my grandmother telling us to bring back the century plants so she could roast it for its sweetness for our dessert. I remember my grandmother telling us to bring home certain medicinal plants for healing our wounds. I remember my grandmother always talking to us in Apache and even though she didn’t understand English always telling us we needed to stay in school and learn the ways of the dominant society. She would tell us to learn to speak English but never forget the Apache ways.
During my younger days, I didn’t realize that we were in the midst of the United States Government’s relocation program, whereby it was sending our Apaches to other parts of the country to get educated and trained and learn the ways of the dominant society.
One day two young white men in ties showed up to our home to talk to my Grandma and her sister about religion. We did not understand this new concept as my Grandmother brought us up in the old ways. For whatever reason, my Grandma agreed to have, with the exception of my oldest brother, all of us go on the Mormon placement program in southern California. I cried on the greyhound when we were leaving my beloved Bylas for California. I never slept; in fact, I did not sleep for almost three days. We were all driven to a Mormon church from which our names were called one by one and each young Apache and other Indians departed with our new adopted families.
I will never forget a gut wrenching experience, when my two brothers were called before me and they were taken away screaming and crying. I ran outside and saw my youngest brother in the back of a station wagon, and to this day, I will never forget that look of near death I saw in his face. I heard him screaming “save me big brother like you always have”.
I felt hopeless, because, for the first time in our lives, I had failed my little brother whom I had saved many times from rattlesnakes, javelinas, near drowning, and attacks from bullies. I wondered why, why did this happen to my brothers and sisters? We never did any harm to anyone. I thought our Grandma loved us. I did not realize at that time that I was placed in the relocation program. The old ways were never the same after this.
It was a culture shock, to go one day from eating my Grandma’s gravy and beans to eating salad and pasta. No longer could I speak Apache, as there was no one to speak Apache to. My foster family had a phone, but no one in Bylas had a phone. There was no one to call. It was complete isolation, and I had to adapt. If not for my foster mother, I would have been completely lost. She gave me her love, and soothed the pains of being away from my family. I learned through this experience that the human spirit is strong; in fact, so strong a person can do what they want to do if they put their mind to it.
As I grew up and became lost between the old ways and the new ways, I got addicted to alcohol and drugs, like many of my fellow Apaches. Due to my addiction, I dropped out of college, and parted ways with the mother of my first three children. She was a good hard working woman, and taught me to become a better man, and I still respect her to this day. She gave me three wonderful children. Over the years, I have come to terms with the cowardly choice I had made, which was choosing alcohol over my family.
There are many bad habits I picked up when I was addicted to alcohol, such as lying, stealing, and cheating; but, two still challenge me to this day. One is procrastination. How many of you like to put things off? That is procrastination – to keep putting things off. Well, with alcohol it gets real dangerous, because we are talking about our soul. There is evil amongst us and it has a leader. Some often refer to him as the Devil. Whether he exists as a spiritual being, or within the spirit of alcohol, here is his plan. He doesn’t want us to recover. He wants to hang on to us until he has our soul. And how does he do that? By softly talking to us and motivating us to delay becoming sober by saying, “Remember, your birthday is coming up. Or, remember your best friend’s birthday is coming up. You can wait. Don’t sober up until after you have one more drink, or a drug party.” His ultimate goal is for us to lose our lives before we can recover. He is after our soul.
The second is feeling sorry for yourself. This gets real bad with alcohol and drugs. The same soothing voice appears again, telling us it’s okay to feel sorry for ourselves and to blame others. Again, he has another plan with this one, too. He wants us to feel so sorry for ourselves that, unfortunately, sometimes it leads to suicide. My heart always aches when there is a suicide involving alcohol or drugs, and even more so with our youth. Our youth have not experienced life like some of us have, so they are really vulnerable. He is after our soul. He has always been.
That’s why faith is so important. To believe that there is good in each of us, and that we all have a higher calling. To never lose hope even though our days may not always be bright. That’s why our parents and grandparents pray for us all the time. They want us to believe in the goodness of life. Our precious lives that we were given by our Creator God.
I wondered through life with my addiction for about ten years before I found another love of my life, a young beautiful Tohono O’odham woman from Sells. We were both users of alcohol when we met, but this time the tables were turned. I finally found the strength to become sober and have been for the last 30 years. Unfortunately, the mother of my next three children could not overcome her addiction, and that led to our separation. In spite of our separation, I still respect her to this day as she helped me to become who I am today.
When we separated, my children were three, two, and 9 months old. It was hard for me to be a single parent and I almost quit three times. It has now been 26 years since I became a single parent. It was so hard, and I was always stressed out. It was hard for me to juggle my work and family. My bills were more than my take home pay. I was behind in paying my babysitter. I purchased all my children’s clothes at yard sales and thrift stores. I stopped buying pampers because I could not afford it, and started using cloth for diapers. I had a demanding job and my situation began to affect my work as I came in late because I had to take my children to their babysitter, take time off due to my children’s appointments, and take my older son to school at Head Start. I started to feel sorry for myself again, as I once had when I was addicted to alcohol.
I wondered “how long can this continue before I have a breakdown?” Than one night, everything changed. I had just brought my children back from the emergency hospital room where they all got treated for ear infection. It was around midnight and they were all finally sleeping on the living room floor. As I looked at them, an overpowering feeling of guilt and unconditional love just swept through me. I silently cried with joy, and promised myself that from that point on I would never, ever forsake my children and feel sorry for myself again. I learned the true meaning of unconditional love.
As I was watching my children sleep, I heard a commercial come on my antennae TV. The commercial was about a debt counseling service. I listened to the commercial and wrote down the toll free number. The next day, I called the toll free number from work and made arrangements to enter the program. After five years, with the exception of my trailer and vehicle, I managed to pay off all my bills. My personal credit rating went from poor to excellent.
The next day I also went to sign up for food stamps, WIC, and child care. I got approved for WIC and child care, but I missed food stamps by $5.00. I tried to argue with DES, saying come on, it is only $5.00 and my children need the food but all I got was a blank stare. I didn’t realize I was supposed to use WIC in increments as I immediately went to Bashas and used all my vouchers at one time and caused a big line to form behind me. With the child care funding, I was finally able to find a good babysitter.
With my newfound purpose and energy, I learned not to waste time. At night, I would prepare my children’s clothes for the next day, at night I would prepare their lunches for the next day, at night I would prepare breakfast for the next day, and at night I would clean the house so it would be ready for my use the next day.
When I came home for lunch from work, I would eat and prepare dinner at the same time. I would put on beans or peel potatoes. I would get everything ready for my children so I could bathe them after our dinner and play time. As we did not have cable or satellite TV or a phone, I would read to my children. In hindsight, these challenging times were also the best times of my life with my children, as we became a strong, close, and loving family.
With my newfound purpose and energy, I found a university geared towards working adults and enrolled into the University of Phoenix. Even though my children were young, I managed to drive 150 miles roundtrip 3 to 4 times a week from Sells to Tucson to attend classes. After 2 ½ years, I managed to earn enough credits to graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management.
I still wonder to this day, but, as I have matured over the years and found my footing along the way, I realized that I was being prepared to one day become the leader of the San Carlos Apache Tribe. I have, through education and experience, been taught how to survive in the new ways and still remember the common sense teachings of the old ways. A perfect combination to have, indeed, in this new world. My journey has brought me to this day.
Why am I telling you my story? Because my story started with an Elder woman and now will conclude with a young woman. My grandmother, the late Ada Rope Jordan to my mother Audrey Jordan Johnson and now to my youngest daughter Gabrielle Ada Rambler, who have all shaped my life to become a better man. I thank God each and every day for providing me a glimpse into the busy and hard working lives of our Apache women and all women. I have come to respect you women so much and I now understand why our Heavenly Father created woman, to provide that unconditional love we cannot live without and to provide that equilibrium the world so desperately needs so we don’t destroy each other. Behind every decent man is a good woman.
I was wrong, my Grandmother did love me. She was a strong spiritual person and could see into the future. She saw my future and sent me on my journey to ensure it would make me stronger and prepare me to lead my people. Thank you Grandma, you were always there when I needed you.
Please know that hope never dies. In closing, please remember, there is nothing wrong with saying NO to alcohol and drugs. Nothing at all. Thank you and have a great day.
Download a PDF copy of this speech here: