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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 31, 2003 - Issue 88


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Cultural Foundation Formed

by Steven Adams Coolidge Examiner
credits: Deer dancer, from the Gertrude P. Kurath Collection of the Cross-Cultural Dance Resources in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Deer dancer, from the Gertrude P. Kurath Collection of the Cross-Cultural Dance Resources in Flagstaff, Ariz.Although Abel Ochoa never met his great-grandfather, he has started a foundation in his memory so that his spirit can be honored for generations to come.

Ochoa, the Native American Title VII director for the Coolidge Unified School District, has started a foundation in the name of Policarpio Paderez Salveterria (Poli'maso) as a way for Native American students to get in touch with their history, and to possibly earn money for college in the future.

Policarpio was a deer dancer who performed at the most sacred ceremonies of his tribe. His story has been passed down from generation to generation, and it has affected Abel and the way he lives his life.

"I think it sets my priorities in a different way," Ochoa said. "I try and focus on the cultural part of my life."

Abel has written down all that his mother, Sara Garcia, has shared with him about his great-grandfather. The story is as follows:

The Deer Dancer
Born in 1877, Policarpio witnessed and experienced the history of the Jiak (Yaqui') people. Growing up in the traditional lands in Sonora, Mexico, he worked the land farming and hunted at times when the animals would gather.

At a very young age, he learned to honor the deer through his dance, a knowledge that came to him in dreams. One day, he made his journey to hunt the deer and formed his own headdress. When he finished the headdress, he looked for and caught a live hummingbird and placed it in his mouth. Once the hummingbird passed on, its energy was absorbed into his spirit.

It is a strong belief among the Yaqui people that the hummingbird has the power to grant the individual whatever the person wishes to become, whether they wish to a singer, prayer man, musician or dancer. The hummingbird's spirit has much energy and movement and Policarpio surrendered to it and become an incredible deer dancer.

His body would become that of the deer, his motions unlike any other before him. His dance would honor all of nature, mountains, rivers, trees, wind and animals. For many years he would dance at all of the traditional ceremonies, in Guadalupe, Scottsdale and in all of the villages of Rio Yaqui. When asked why he danced, he would respond, "I don't dance the deer, I am the deer."

At the age of 14, Policarpio became a part of the Coyote Warrior Society to protect his village from the ongoing occupation of the Mexican army in the Yaqui lands. He would later become a part of the relocation campaign to the Yucatan Peninsula.

He traveled to Vera Cruz, Mexico, by boat and then walked to Oaxaca where he was forced into the fields to work as his family was separated and sold. One evening, he noticed a small group of Mexican troops mistreating a young woman who was forced to cook for them. He became angered at how they treated her and a small confrontation began.

Policarpio freed the woman along with a handful of others, and they escaped that night. As they made their way north through rough mountains and terrain, the woman he rescued would later become his wife.

The couple traveled from the Yucatan to southern Arizona, having their children along the way. They finally arrived in South Phoenix at the small village of Santa Rosa, three miles west of the town of Guadalupe.

Policarpio continued to work wherever he could, always thinking of the family he had left behind. In the evenings, he would gather all of his children together and tell them the stories of the life he lived before coming to Arizona. "He taught us to remember the past so we could retell his stories to the next generation," Sara said.

On December 5, 1952, Policarpio danced for the last time at a wake. As the families went to the cemetery, Policarpio went to sleep. When the family returned, he was not to be found.

They searched the town of Guadalupe, only to be told that he was last seen walking toward the mountains. He was never seen again.

It is believed the spirit of the deer called to him and he went to the mountain to become the deer. Nothing was ever discovered, and the elders believe his spirit went into the next life in the form of the deer, Ochoa's story concludes.

The future and the past
Seven years ago, Ochoa's family performed a special ceremony so his great grandfather's spirit, believed to be with the deer, could rest. "He's with the elders now," Ochoa said.

Today, Ochoa and his family travel all over the southwest and Mexico, performing similar traditional ceremonies at funeral wakes or special events. He hopes anyone who hears his great grandfather's story will ask their parents about their own history, and one day, he hopes to start a museum to showcase his people's plight.

And his mother can still recall what her grandfather looked like dancing with such passion that other tribal members say no one else has been able to mimic in their history. "I haven't seen another dancer like him," Sara said. "I was small, but I felt real proud of him."

©Casa Grande Valley Newspaper 2003

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