SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Members of the Warm Springs Hotshots were getting ready to head home when the radio buzzed — a wildfire had started — and the elite crew launched into motion to tamp down the blaze in the sagebrush of eastern Oregon's foothills.
The blur of activity in late June would be familiar to every wildland firefighter, but the Warm Springs crew is one of only seven Hotshot crews based on a Native American reservation and overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. It's also one of only four administered directly by a Native American tribe.
The country's more than 100 Hotshot crews — consisting of about 20 members each — are trained to work in remote areas for long periods and often respond to large, high-priority wildfires. Members must pass arduous physical tests and undergo training in specialties like fire behavior.
Gaining certification as a crew can take years.
For those based on Native American reservations, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has a hiring preference that selects tribal members first. Most Warm Springs Hotshots belong to one of the three Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and live on the sparsely populated reservation about 100 miles (160 kilometers) southeast of Portland.
“As a Native crew, we're representing Native people when we're going out,'' said Renso Rodriguez, the crew's assistant superintendent.
Darron Williams, a Hopi tribal member and head of fire prevention for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Pacific Northwest, put it another way, describing modern prescribed burning techniques as tying into traditional understandings of the role of fire — and people — in the ecosystem.
The Warm Springs crew has a unique connection to the community, but members had to overcome tensions elsewhere in its early years.
Glenn Smith was a supervisor on the team in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, shortly after it gained the elite status.
Back then, Smith recalled, the crew's members stood out — and were sometimes singled out, arriving at fires to find themselves assigned work normally reserved for less-qualified crews.
Hotshots are “usually up in front with the flames,'' Smith said. The superintendent at the time, he added, “would always have to go up there and tell them, “No, we're a Hotshot crew.'''
Once, recounted current superintendent Gary Sampson, the crew showed up at a wildfire in another state only to be made to wait in camp for three days while other crews were sent out.
“We were just sitting together, playing cards,'' Sampson said, adding that he was a junior crewmember at the time. “We could see the fire on the hill right above us.''
Over time, the crew earned a reputation for hard work, and younger members described such tensions as mostly something they had only heard about.
Overwhelmingly, members described the Warm Springs Hotshots' unique identity in positive terms, as a commonality that draws the group together and connects it to the tribal community.
It's not uncommon to have relatives working on the crew — its members currently include a pair of brothers — or successive generations cycling through, Sampson said.
The connections extend beyond the crew itself.
A small wildfire recently sparked dangerously close to the outskirts of Warm Springs, and community members including Austin Smith, 67, parked on an overlook to watch its progress.
As crews from around the area fought the fire, Smith, a distant relation of Glenn Smith, described a tribal tradition of digging graves by hand.
Some families still follow the practice, physically arduous as it is.
“If the family wants to do it by hand and they ask the Hotshots to help them, they will,'' Smith said.
In winter, the crew also is known to cut wood for tribal elders, and in the summer to clear flammable brush and grass from around their homes.
“They're a vertebra,'' Smith said. “They hold up the people.''
VERONA, N.Y. (AP) — The 25th anniversary of the opening of the Oneida Indian Nation's first casino in central New York is being celebrated.
Local officials and employees of Turning Stone Resort Casino gathered Tuesday to commemorate the casino's opening on July 21, 1993.
The casino was built on Oneida Indian land just off Exit 33 of the Thruway in Verona, 30 miles (48 kilometers) east of Syracuse. Syracuse.com reports the initial $10 million facility was financed from the tribe's bingo and cigarette profits.
Today, the business has grown to include more than 1,700 slot machines, five golf courses, four hotels, several restaurants and a concert venue. Employment has grown from about 1,000 in 1993 to nearly 4,000 today.
In recent years the tribe has opened smaller casinos in nearby Chittenango and Bridgeport.
PHOENIX (AP) — Every March 21, Roberta Tortice says “Happy Birthday'' to her youngest child — the same words she spoke when she first held the girl, her face flawless and beautiful.
But for more than a decade, she has seen Katherine “Kat'' Tortice only in pictures. She's wearing a light-colored dress at her eighth-grade graduation, sitting in a hallway outside her bedroom after claiming she cleaned it, getting ready to play basketball and in a red shirt while away at boarding school in Oregon.
“You see she's always happy,'' the proud mother says.
Those are the ways she remembers the 16-year-old who was killed and buried in a shallow grave on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in eastern Arizona in November 2006.
Roberta Tortice had suspected Kat's then-boyfriend Andre Hinton was responsible but it wasn't until a decade later that a federal grand jury indicted Hinton on a second-degree murder charge. Federal authorities have jurisdiction over major crimes on the reservation.
The 36-year-old Hinton pleaded guilty earlier this year to a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. He was sentenced Tuesday to eight years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.
Prosecutors said presenting such an old case to a jury would have been risky as witnesses' memories fade and documents are lost. They had no direct evidence against Hinton and worried a jury might not view the teenager who admitted to helping bury Kat's body as credible, given his criminal history.
“I don't think there's any dispute this is a circumstantial case,'' prosecutor Dimitra Sampson told The Associated Press. ”It's putting all the puzzle pieces together. No one was there except the two of them.''
Roberta Tortice and her family wanted Hinton locked away for life and for him to show remorse.
He said nothing about Kat or the crime at his sentencing.
“He killed my daughter, buried her and he's getting (involuntary) manslaughter?'' Tortice told The Associated Press. “That's the part I don't understand. But he's going to face the true judge one day.''
Savannah Abraham, Hinton's sister and one of Kat's best friends, was torn yet made no excuses for him.
“I just hope he comes out better than when he went in,'' she said.
In court documents, Hinton acknowledged striking Kat in the head. She lost consciousness but he didn't seek medical attention. He and Charles Jones later buried her body, burned their clothing and ditched the digging tools in a pond near the highway.
Prosecutors said Hinton abused several women over the years, using his hands, a stove pipe, a stick and possibly an electrical cord as weapons. Court documents detail the women's bruises, bleeding, swelling, scrapes and scars. Some were knocked unconscious.
The judge Tuesday took that history into account in sentencing Hinton.
His attorney, Mark Paige, argued in court that the death was an accident. He said Hinton was scared and wanted to call police but Jones dissuaded him.
It wasn't uncommon for Kat to disappear with Hinton and return home with injuries, court documents state. Kat's sister, Daisy, and her mother both told authorities Kat would cringe in pain when they hugged or touched her because of injuries that Hinton inflicted.
In late October 2006, the family filed a missing persons report with tribal police. It would be weeks before her body was found.
Roberta Tortice said she drove back and forth on a local highway for work not knowing her daughter was buried nearby. She and her late husband searched the woods in McNary and begged police to help, she said.
“They say time will heal, but you never heal from losing a child, especially when your child was brutally murdered,'' Tortice wrote in a letter read Tuesday.
Authorities said Jones, the teenager who helped Hinton bury Kat's body, led them to her grave after getting into a fight with Kat's brother. White Mountain Apache police responded and looped in federal authorities.
But authorities didn't have enough to charge Hinton and the case sat for years, although it was reviewed at times.
FBI special agent Scott Flake took it over in 2015. He re-interviewed Jones and heard details no one else would have known: the burial site pinpointed on a map, a half-eaten burrito in Kat's pocket and the location of the digging tools.
An FBI dive team searched the pond in 2016 and found a rounded wooden handle where Jones said it would be. “A lot of things came together with a sustained push to see what was going on,'' Flake said.
Medical investigators determined Kat died of bleeding in the brain caused by the hit to her head. Hinton's explanations for her death didn't match the evidence, they said.
After Kat's body was exhumed from the frozen ground in December 2006, her family had a closed-casket funeral service. Hinton didn't attend.
Roberta Tortice questions whether she did enough to protect Kat and whether her daughter called out for her. She closed her eyes tightly with Daisy at her side.
“I'm sure God needed her more,'' Daisy said.