Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 19, 2001 - Issue 36



Language Holds Universal Mysteries


 by Brenda Norrell Indian Country Today Staff


art: To Market by Virginia Stroud

TUCSON, Ariz. - When Ronnie Lupe was a little boy, it was the words of the Apache language that carried the history of his grandmother hiding in the mountains during the battle to end all battles.

Again, it was the Apache words, spoken by the Cibecue medicine man who knew one of 32 ways of healing, that shared the great mystery.

Holding sands and shifting them in his hands, the medicine man said of the grains, "These are the sons and daughters."

Lupe, councilman and former chairman of the White Mountain Apache Nation, opened the 10th annual Keepers of the Treasures Conference," with his keynote address on "Strengthen Our Languages."

Lupe began his sweeping address documenting the Cibecue people by teasing the audience about their youthful faces, then switched to a serious theme.

"We have lived in our own country with extreme unfairness. These are challenging times still.

"I was born many years ago when everything was Apache, there was no second language."

Lupe said he grew up among leaders of respect and decency in their canyon homeland of rivers, mountains and sacred places, homeland to the Crown Dancers.

Surrounded by the four colors, he said he grew with the green of corn, the black of prayer and life, the yellow of songs, drums, bells and honor and the white of the snowfall on mountains everywhere.

He grew up with the stories of the last battle in August of 1881, near the place where his umbilical cord was buried, hearing of how his 4-year-old grandmother was hidden in the mountains away from the gunshots.

"Our people thought this was the last day. We did not want rations, it threatened our way of life. We resisted."

When it was over, their spiritual leader was the only Apache killed by the Cavalry from Fort Apache. Many soldiers died that day, he said.

"We accept change, but we accept the change we want."

Today, whether Cibecue Apache are in Europe, Asia, or their beloved canyon, he said, "We are at the center of the universe."

In early times, Cibecue Apache journeyed far south to the Sierra Madres of Mexico where cedar grows much like their own, and to the ocean to collect their sacred items. Traveling north, they hunted buffalo with the Plains tribes.

"It was so easy to communicate with those people because of the international language we no longer use today."

It is the international language of thinking parallel when meeting together in peace and prayer, Lupe said.

In his own language, he said he learned from the medicine people of the trees, birds of winter and summer, flies with wings, food, stars, shifting sands and the universe.

"Cultural tradition, heritage and language must be identified," he told the conference, American Indians of every age from across North America, gathered to preserve language, traditions and sacred places.

Looking into the audience, he identified individuals as "sovereigns" because their appearance reflected their deep roots on this continent's soil.

Today, in Cibecue there is a blacktop highway, high school and hospital, but, he says each was a conscious and selective choice.

"We want change, but we want it our way.

"We will be there with you, but we will remain Cibecue Apache," he said. "It is amazing how people so much in love with their language can do wonders."

Language, too, can keep generations from forgetting.

In the 1800s, soldiers collected the skulls of American Indians for the Smithsonian Institution, he said. They also collected 18,500 bodies.

"Some were freshly buried."

Ancestors were dug up and placed in museums and on display.

"They did not consider each and every one of us as human beings. They considered us less than human beings."

Returning to thoughts of nature, he recalled the beauty of the trees and mountains.

"Each and every mountain can speak to you if you listen carefully. Remember the shifting of sands. Sacred land is so important."

The four-day conference, April 17-20, included song and culture presentations and workshops on Native language revitalization, traditional healing and the protection of sacred places.

White Mountain Apache Language Issues


Apache Tribe




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