By James Bishop, Jr.
(July 13, 2018)
Another world within it lay
Drums throbbing in the distance, dancing and chanting are distant memories of the old days in 1989 when magnificent dancers performed on the Posse Grands. Then they were gone.
However, visit the Yavapai-Apache Cultural Center these days near the Casino in Camp Verde at the right time and you may still hear the drum beat, be stunned by ceremonial regalia, and learn about cultures that flourished long before anyone had heard of Plymouth Rock.
But what about Sedona? Might these timeless scenes unfold someday again up on the Posse Grounds? “I think that could be arranged,” Vincent Randall, Yavapai Apache elder told visitors in answer to this question.
Countless tourists now come to Sedona and the Verde Valley to explore the landscape, visit the ancient ruins, and embark upon a journey into the inner self to find a sense of meaning and spirituality to leave behind their digitalized, fast-paced world. Regrettably, while driving up interstate 17 and passing the large casino just off of the freeway, few realize they are passing by a culture that is a living history and spirituality, rich with dance, song and community: they are passing by the Yavapai-Apache Nation.
Visit the cultural center and discover the beauty of their basketry, or watch short videos of their dances. Yavapai means “People of the Sun” and the Sun is the giver of life. This lays the foundation for their community life and their spiritual life being one idea, one practice. Randall, says, “In the Apache philosophy, the creations of the Giver of Life, the Creator, are living entities just like you and I are a living entity. He (points to the Verde River) deserves and much respect as you and I do. Recently water from a local dam was released and we said, ‘we have given life back to the water’”.
He continued, “We still have dances and ceremonies. We just had three coming into maidenhood ceremonies.” When looking deeper, we find they have The Mountain Spirit Dance, War Dances, Victory Dances, Social Dances, and the Sunrise Dance Ceremony. In particular, the Bird Singing and Dancing has been adopted by modern Yavapai culture from the Mojave people of the Colorado River region. According the elders, the bird songs tell a story. An entire night is needed to sing the whole cycle from sun down to sun up. Their story tells the creation of their people and how they came to be.
When asked him how long his people have been there, he replied, “Always”. But their world changed in 1863 when the Walker party found gold near Prescott. That set off a chain of events that lead to the permanent settlement of white people along the Verde River. The story is shocking from then on as General Crook and his army came into the Verde Valley to march the entire Yavapai tribe 180 miles in winter to the San Carlos Indian Reservation near Phoenix. One hundred people died during that march. When they were finally set free and returned to their homeland in 1937, they found it all given away and established by the white settlers
These these days, thanks to gambling income, enhanced education and increased population, the tribes are active in many directions; Right now making the best use of the water is very important. They are still working on a water rights settlement agreement and the negotiation rights started in 1967. Then there is the desert bald eagle that is sacred to their people. Reports Randall, “The U.S. government took the desert bald eagle off the Endangered Species List. An uncommon, separate species that stays in this area and should still be on that list. The future of the desert bald eagle and the Verde River are intertwined. When the Eagle is protected the river is, too.”
So in the many sunrises yet to come over the Sedona rocks, may the drums be heard! May a medicine woman or man run for Mayor? After all, true medicine men have said, “Being a medicine man is a state of mind, it is remembering, it is a meditation.”
Might it happen that these ancient people can bring to mind a new state of mind, a more spiritual way of life, a recognition that we are all in this together? Onetime Chief Tom Beauty says we had better hurry. Says he, “One of these days we shall take our land back when you all go back East”.
But not yet.
See you on the Posse Grounds
By James Bishop Jr. and Karen Walker