Wednesday, Apr 4, 2007
Chiricahua National Monument and Fort Bowie National Historic Site are pleased to have been part of an historic Apache homecoming. The Chiricahua Apache people, the central band of whom once lived in south east Arizona, left their homeland in 1886. On September 8, 1886, Geronimo and his remaining followers were escorted form Fort Bowie to Bowie Station and the long train ride to Florida as prisoners of war. All Chiricahua Apache, including those who served as US army scouts, remained prisoners of war for 27 years. Today many Chiricahua prisoner of war decedents live with their friends and relatives on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in south central New Mexico.
On the weekend of March 23-25, 2007, over three hundred Chiricahua and Mescalero Apache returned to south east Arizona and spent a few days in their ancestral homeland.
This special occasion was a corporative endeavor that included the Mescalero Apache Tribe, the National Park Service and United States Forest Service. The idea for a homecoming "Blessing Feast" grew out of a relationship that developed between Chiricahua NM, Fort Bowie NHS and the Mescalero Apache Tribe, begun in 2003 with an NPS funded Ethnographic Overview and Assessment conducted with the tribe.
As part of the study, NPS staff began to meet with tribal members at Mescalero on a regular basis and individual tribal members visited special places on NPS and USFS land in south east Arizona. During these visits the idea of a homecoming Blessing Feast was born, suggested by tribal elder Silas Cochise and tribal council member Oliver Enjady. Both men are decedents of Chiricahua Apache prisoners of war.
The Blessing Feast was held on USFS land on the east side of the Dragoon Mountains, in what is today known as Cochise Stronghold. Teepees, a brush cooking arbor where traditional meals were served to all, tents and camping vehicles dotted the canyon floor. Family and friends visited one another. Day trips were made to CHIR and FOBO, where special interpretive presentations were given. Apache children received junior ranger badges and adults bought Chiricahua NM tee shirts.
On Saturday and Sunday night, Mountain Spirit Dances were conducted to bless the ceremonial fire, the land, the people present, and the first return of the Chiricahua as a people to the country from which they had been forcibly removed 121 years ago.
Funds for the event and in kind services were contributed by the Mescalero Apache Tribe, Chiricahua National Monument, Fort Bowie National Historic Site, the NPS office of Indian Affairs and American Culture (IAAC), the United States Forrest Service and the Amerind Foundation.