Just as his Apache ancestors have done for centuries, Wendsler Nosie — the former chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe — led a traditional ceremony on a mountaintop at Oak Flat, about 60 miles east of Phoenix, overlooking a landscape of basins covered in tall grasses, boulders and jagged cliffs.
The tradition, called a sunrise ceremony, is a rite of passage for a teenage girl in which she goes through a series of rituals to recognize her transition to womanhood.
The girl had collected plants from Oak Flat that have the “spirit of Chic’chil Bildagoteel,” the name of the sacred spot in the Apache language. Plants from anywhere else cannot be used — they don’t have the spirit that resonates from Oak Flat.
And the girl spoke to “the spirit of Oak Flat,” giving thanks for providing acorns, yucca, cedar and saguaro cactus that the tribe uses.
Even in the 21st century, Nosie and his tribe still take part in the traditional, four-day ceremony and other cultural events at Oak Flat, a roughly 4,300-acre spot they consider sacred to Native Americans. “This is where we came from,” said Nosie. “It’s the beginning of our being, our identity. Oak Flat is where the Creator made us and gave us this land.
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