Updated: Feb 15
I always wanted to be one. Every single time my sugar-high buddies and I would play Cowboys and Indians, I chose to play the part of the Indian. I had a rubber tomahawk, a pair of moccasins, a few arrowheads and a shoddy red and yellow headdress that had only ruffled four feathers. I didn’t look like Sitting Bull but I sure felt like I did. I felt authentic when my mother told me that some of my distant relatives were Natives and that I was “Part Indian.” In actuality, the percentage of Indian blood running through my veins is minimal yet it didn’t matter, because it was enough for me.
I never enjoyed reading until I discovered library books about Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and especially Geronimo, my favorite, who was rough, tough, fearless and a great defender of his convictions and people. It wasn’t long before my research revealed that the bad guys weren’t the “red men” but were actually the “white” ones. Diving deep into my books made me ashamed of my forefather’s broken promises, greed, genocide and the thievery they unleashed on the original owners and habitants of this great land.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. I was on vacation with my family in the mountains of Ruidoso, N.M. We were planning to go to the fireworks display at the “Inn Of The Mountain Gods,” a hotel owned by the Mescalero Apaches. We arrived about dusk on July 4thonly to be told the display wasn’t until the 6th. What a letdown!
In discussing further with a hotel worker, we discovered the Apaches were having a ceremonial pow-wow that was open to visitors. Realizing my dream of attending a genuine ceremonial dance was within reach, I rushed to tell the family we needed to quickly head to the reservation.
The sun was setting over the pine-topped peaks as we exited the car. We could hear the distant sound of drumbeats and singing as we made our way to the edge of a massive bonfire. Around it were men in stunning costumes dancing and shouting sounds I had only heard in the movies. The women shuffled from side to side in a semi circle and wore fringe laced “dance shawls” while watching the men spin in circles and shift their balance from one leg to the other.
Tepees were erected everywhere. Young girls, 12-14 years of age with braids of the most beautiful coal-colored hair I have ever seen, were dressed in eagle feathers, buckskins and ornate necklaces, passed through the ceremony to celebrate their passage into womanhood.
We stayed for several hours and were welcomed by complete strangers as though we were family. It didn’t dawn on me until leaving that we only saw two other Caucasian people the entire night. I wish I could have stayed for days!
I felt honored for my family to have witnessed these beautiful people and this experience. We were given food, drinks and, most importantly, respect and courtesy. Several Apache people explained their culture and the significance behind different aspects of the celebration. Not once, did my wife, three children or I feel unwelcomed or out of place – in spite of the past and negative reminders that our skin color “could” have represented.
Later that night I thought to myself how different, yet the same, the Apaches and I were. We grew up differently but we both cherished family, unity and peace. Our skin was different shades but our heart wasn’t. We longed for love, acceptance and purpose to life.
We don’t worship the same and much of our theology and ideology is on differing sides of the fence, yet I am convinced there is no variation in the depth of love God feels for us both. I choose to embrace our differences and see them as opportunities to learn how I can more effectively relate and reach out to others. I long to become a better servant, more humble and understanding enough to put myself into the shoes of others. This is the exact model my one and only hero left for me to follow. Like Him, I hope to display the greatest of all love, which is the willingness to lay down my life for others.
The last two weeks the media has done everything possible to erect walls between people of opposite races. Sadly, many Americans have allowed themselves to be stained with polarizing comments, actions and thoughts. The fences some have built to support their viewpoints and fan political flames will eventually be revealed as nothing more than razor wire for their own prison. While it is often difficult to understand others, it is always best to respect them. Disagreement without love leads to rebellion. It’s always more difficult to win an offended friend back than to overtake a fortified city.
The proverb says that a man who has friends must show himself to be friendly. The noble Apache people I met understood this well.