An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
February 9, 2002 - Issue 54
A Monumental Day
by Dennis Romboy Deseret News staff writer-February 4, 2002
credits: Photos by Tom Smart of the Deseret News. first photo Stephanie LaRee Spann jogs past Delicate Arch with the Olympic torch this morning after an American Indian sunrise ceremony conducted by her grandfather. second photo-Frank Arrowchis hands the torch to granddaughter Stephanie LaRee Spann during the sunrise ceremony. Arrowchis learned the rites from his father.
The Olympic flame began its final ascent to Salt Lake City on a
wing and a prayer as the sun rose over famed Delicate Arch early today.
Wearing a feathered war bonnet and full buckskin
regalia, Frank Arrowchis carefully peered east across Arches National
Park for the first rays to peek over the snow-capped LaSal Mountains.
The Northern Ute sunrise ceremony passed down for generations must take
place when the sun first appears, he explained earlier.
As the light illuminated the clear sky, Arrowchis
said afterward that he offered a petition of protection and guidance
for torchbearers, Olympians and the president of the United States.
Arrowchis, 65, waved an eagle wing in the
four directions of the compass before patting the first torch runner
his granddaughter Stephanie LaRee Spann from head to toe
as a blessing.
The 16-year-old Taylorsville High School student
then jogged around the snow-splotched red sandstone bowl, setting in
motion the five-day relay to the climactic lighting of the Olympic caldron
at opening ceremonies Friday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
About 400 spectators gathered in a bowl just
west of Delicate Arch cheered at the sight of the flame.
"It was really peaceful, Spann said,
shivering in the frosty air. "It kind of made me appreciate that
I still have my grandfather and that I can share this experience with
A raven's caw and an American Indian flutist's
gentle song broke the morning silence, though the natural melodies were
outdone by a news helicopter whirring overhead.
"Most of our music comes from our hearts,"
said Lakota Tribe member Nagi Nupa, who titled his flute solo "We
Torchbearers paraded the Olympic flame through the Windows section of Arches, including Double Arch and Balanced Rock. Mountain bikers pedaled it into Moab for a Main Street procession.
An AirMed airplane this morning was scheduled to fly the flame to the Navajo Indian Reservation in Monument Valley for a short tour in the southeastern corner of Utah. The plane will then deliver it to Bryce Canyon National Park, where cross country skiers and snowshoers will hoist the torch. The relay also was to pass through Zion National Park before ending today at a St. George street party.
Indian culture was in full bloom this morning
at Arches National Park.
Forrest Cuch, state director of Indian affairs,
held the torch up to the east, south, west and north before running
his leg down the Delicate Arch Trail.
"It's just a way of consecrating the
beginning of the day," he said.
Cuch said he was skeptical about the significance
of the Olympic flame before joining the relay for a short time in Oklahoma.
Now, he said, he sees in it a "powerful" message of love and
a rancher in the tiny outpost of Whiterocks on the Uintah and Ouray
Indian Reservation in eastern Utah, learned the sunrise ceremony by
watching and listening to his father, who is a medicine man and tribal
"It's just something handed down, and
it becomes part of you as you're growing up," he said.
Arrowchis does not conduct the ritual lightly.
It has deep spiritual meaning to Northern Utes.
"It's real," he said. "For
us it's real, anyway."
The ceremony is not unlike one performed in Olympia, Greece, last November when the Olympic flame was kindled by a ray of sunlight. An actress playing the role of a high priestess placed the fire on an altar and petitioned the gods on behalf of those who would relay it to Salt Lake City.
"The ancients again bring us that source
of connection to the divine," said Mitt Romney, Salt Lake Organizing
Neither Arrowchis nor Nupa usually conduct
public displays of their rituals, but they consented for the 2002 Winter
"I think the spirit of my ancestors reached
out and touched us and said, 'This is a good thing,' " said Nupa,
clad in a cream-colored elk skin and a moose pelt.
Moab resident Jo Anne Simbeck, 59, arose at
3:30 a.m. to hike the dark Delicate Arch Trail for a spot at the lower
bowl, too far away to hear Nupa's song.
"My only disappointment is that there
was no music," she said. "I felt like bursting out and singing
'America the Beautiful.' "
There also was a bit of what Moab is famous
for in today's events.
Directly under the long shadow of Balanced
Rock, Natalie Hettman, a 61-year-old National Park Service worker, put
the lit torch into a PVC pipe latched to her back wheel and pedaled
down the road on her old mountain bike.
"Well this area is known for its mountain
biking, so it makes sense I'm biking it through," Hettman said.
"It would have been fun if they would have let me go off road a
little too, but that's OK."
The torch is scheduled to start Tuesday in St. George and end the day in Provo.
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