Myths, metaphors, and social norms that facilitate collective action and understanding of restoration dynamics serve as foundations for ecological restoration. The experience of the White Mountain Apache Tribe demonstrates how such cultural foundations can permeate and motivate ecological restoration efforts. Through interviews with tribal cultural advisors and restoration practitioners, we examined how various traditions inform their understanding of restoration processes. Creation stories reveal the time-honored importance and functions of water bodies within the landscape, while place names yield insights into their historical and present conditions. Traditional healing principles and agricultural traditions help guide modern restoration techniques. A metaphor of stability illustrates how restoration practitioners see links among ecological, social, and personal dimensions of health. These views inspire reciprocal relationships focused on caretaking of sites, learning from elders, and passing knowledge on to youths. Woven together, these cultural traditions uphold a system of adaptive management that has withstood the imposition of non-indigenous management schemes in the 20th century, and now provides hope for restoring health and productivity of ecosystems through individual and collective efforts. Although these traditions are adapted to the particular ecosystems of the Tribe, they demonstrate the value of understanding and promoting the diverse cultural foundations of restoration.