Godmother Michelle Antonio dresses Nizhoni Pike, the beginning of her Sunrise Ceremony. Photo by Anna Jeffrey / The Apache Messenger

Apache Messenger: Younger generation returns to sacred site

The following story appears courtesy of The Apache Messenger.

Apache Sunrise Ceremony held above Superior and Miami/Globe

Younger Apache Generation is returning to Sacred Areas
By Apache Messenger

Living a life within boundaries, limiting religious ceremonies to places within the reservation have become a norm for Apache people today. Confined to a reservation which generations have learned to call home, has limited many to believe that this place is where we came from, where we drew our power as Apache people and where we continue to be safe.

That statement is so untrue but believed by generations. San Carlos is a place where Apaches were brought and confined to keep them out of the way of American progress, their natural and historical homes were from places where life was good with the Earth, the mother. Places where water and food were abundant, places which gave shelter and held the sacredness of life, places like Mt. Graham and Oak Flat.

Apaches were forced to move from these places.

Today, a generation of Apache are returning to these Sacred Sites for life’s ceremonies. This past weekend, a Sunrise Dance was held, the second in more than a hundred years, which will be followed by another this weekend. Oak flat saw the return of the Sunrise Dance two years ago when Shelby Pena held her Dance. Mt. Graham saw the return of the Sunrise Dance a year ago also for Naelyn Pike.

Godfather Alvin Antonio with Nizhoni as Gaans, or Mountain Spirit people, bless and paint her. Her grandfather and Uncle Wendsler Nosie Sr. and jr. in the background. Photo by Anna Jeffrey / The Apache Messenger

Over the weekend, Nizhoni Pike had her Sunrise Dance with godparents Alvin and Michelle Antonio at Oak Flat, the area above the town of Superior. A place where the Apaches lived, the same Apaches that the town of Superior refer to as the Apaches which leaped to their deaths, not to be captured and driven to Old San Carlos.(Apache Leap) Nizhoni’s great grandmother, Elvera, spoke about the sacredness of the Oak flat area and how her father’s family were forced from this place. Her great grandmother grew up in Old San Carlos, never to enjoy the places her father spoke about. Nizhoni has chosen to change that history and build a new path.

Walking around Oak flat, food is abundant, water sources are everywhere. The rock ledges provide shelter. There are many sites where there is evidence that many people lived here. Everyone who came for the Dance, loved the area and enjoyed the scenery and the cool evenings. The only negative to the area were all the mining claims which are spotted almost at every turn, the drill rigs, the trapping of water and the piping of water along the roadways to pump the available water to help the mining efforts which already are destroying this sacred place.

The Sunrise Dance comes at time when a bill still sits in the U. S. Congress which seeks to give the land to a foreign owned mining company, Resolution Copper, to pull the copper ore from miles beneath the surface. This will cause the land to fall and destroy the life above it. Not only for the Apache people but for all people of the Globe, Miami, and Superior area, the water and land is at risk. Water is life, and future generations will be affected.

Nizhoni Pike after the painting ceremony and the take down of her teepee on Sunday at Oak Flat. Photo by Anna Jeffrey / The Apache Messenger

The sunrise ceremony brought many people to enjoy an area which for years has been considered by many to be ‘out of bounds’ for Apache people. Many returning each year to only pick acorn during the season. The return of the ceremony and the importance of Usen’s gifts to the people were explained by medicine man Leroy Kenton. The ceremony was done by Leroy Kenton, his singers, and crew. The families would like to thank him for his spiritual guidance in a time where the younger generation is opening the doors back to original Apache holy places.

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