Gunshots disrupt sacred Apache ceremony

During a sacred Sunrise Ceremony at Oak Flat, members of Apache Stronghold heard gunshots, a clear message of intimidation against the community.
A painting of a humming bird in flight, looking towards the sky, with the words "Soleil D'Argnon Sunrise Ceremony" overlayed.

On Saturday, 7 October, shots were fired near the east end of the Oak Flat campground. 

Members of CPT-Turtle Island Solidarity Network at Oak Flat had the honour of receiving an invitation to attend a Sunrise Ceremony for the daughter of two Apache Stronghold members. During the Apache coming-of-age ritual, a girl who has begun menstruating temporarily becomes Changing Woman, the first lady and mother of her people. At the ceremony’s conclusion, her community honours her as a woman for the first time. The four days of ancient songs and dances are an intensely spiritual event for both the girl and the entire Apache community. From time immemorial, Oak Flat was the place where the Apache people who lived nearby performed this ritual until the U.S. Army forced them into the prison camps that later became reservations. 

As the Gaan Dancers1 were about to begin their part of the rite on Saturday evening, members of Apache Stronghold heard four or more gunshots.  Apache visitors, particularly those in the camp of the godmother (who fulfills a crucial role during the four days of the ceremony), became alarmed, and some of them packed up and left the camp. 

A member of the encampment called 911 to report the shots, and the responding officer said he thought they might have been SOS gunshots (a hunter’s SOS is three shots) or unrelated to the gathering. However, Apache Stronghold members remain convinced the shooter(s) meant to chase away families from the gathering. The shootings were not the first time members of Apache Stronghold have been threatened for resisting Resolution Copper mine’s plan to turn Oak Flat into a 1.8 mile-wide, 950 ft deep sinkhole.  Activists who have challenged the mining companies that make up Resolution Copper in other countries have faced assassination and death threats.

Other disruptions of this sacred space and time occurred on Friday when fighter jet pilots from a nearby air force base played war games and dropped flares over the area and on Saturday and Sunday when a curious drone operator flew his machine over the campground, despite the notices posted that informed visitors the camp was closed to protect the ceremonies of the San Carlos Apaches. Even if the harm caused by these actions was unintentional, the effects were analogous to performing the same maneuvers over a cathedral during Easter Mass, a synagogue on Yom Kippur, or Muslim prayers at a mosque during the holy month of Ramadan.

Despite these threats and the disrespect shown to their religion, the spiritual commitment of the Apache to preserving their sacred space remains unchanged.

  1. The Gaan are mountain spirits whom the Gaan dancers embody. Their dances bring purification, renewal, healing and protection. ↩︎

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