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My Turn: Respecting Our San Carlos Apache Elders

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Growing up on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, my grandmother raised me in our Apache sunrise ceremony circle. With this foundation of our traditional Apache teachings, I have been taught to share the truth with great respect and a sense of sincerity.

Our Apache people were a nomadic group of people who traveled by clan to harvest seasonal food. Change came throughout history and boundaries were drawn. The settlement of the Southwest brought the exploration of copper, gold and other minerals, resulting in more boundaries being created and defined by our existing Reservation. Today, we live within our 1.8 million acres on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. So much change has occurred for the good and the bad. Our people survived the settlement of the Southwest, the American-Indian conquest, the boarding school era and the reservation era. I remember my grandmother reminding us not to fear but to remain faithful to God and to protect our culture and traditions. My grandmother also us that to keep up with change we need to stay in school and to keep away from people who may mislead you for their own gain and rob you of your way, prayer and dance.


The establishment of Tribal Government brought additional change which includes political agendas. Tribal Government is highly influenced by money and special favors, which always keeps a one sided perspective on issues and topics. Our tribal members and our Tribe face money concerns within the boundaries of our homeland. This is why I am clarifying and making the statement that Oak Flat has no sacred significance to our Apache people. Acorn can be harvested at Oak Flats, among many other areas on and off the reservation. Oak Flat does not influence or determine the outcome to our ongoing battle against our social ills, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, unemployment, housing issues, crime issues and education issues. I support the quiet elders who have said “Oak Flat is not sacred. There are no sacred songs or sacred prayers that say Oak Flat is a Holy Place”. These elders have also asked “Why is there a Holy Ground over there at Oak Flats? That is not good.”

It has been said many times we are reminded by the statements that come from our sacred sweat that “Change will ultimately happen.” With that statement, a true warning is also said “Do not let this change make you crazy!” Protect the sacred core of our people, culture, traditions and language. Protect our livelihood so that we continue to be strong and to welcome change gracefully.

I am a daughter to our creator God. I am a daughter to my parents who co-created this gift to my family as mother and grandmother. We must continue to let honesty generate peace, to let courage promote fairness and to keep praying for unity. Be mindful of respecting each other’s uniqueness as we welcome others hand of friendship. I am my mother’s clan and I am born for my father’s clan. My statement of truth is an indication that I will support valid issues that threaten our Tribe. I will support our neighboring communities genuine concerns of water, environment and employment as those issues also affect us here at home on the reservation. I will also support truth and fact and encourage all of you to call on your elders and the elders of our community as it is their voice that should be represented and respected – a voice that has not been at the forefront of the Tribes fight for Oak Flats. Our Tribal Leaders should not exploit the people or our culture and instead, represent our elders and the entire population of the San Carlos Apache people.

I ask that our Tribal Leaders respect the wisdom of our elders, and return the holy ground crosses as they have requested.  As Apache people we were always taught to respect our elders and spiritual leaders, and as leaders of our tribal government, I ask that you honor the voice of the people of the San Carlos Apache Tribe.


Karen Kitcheyan-Jones is an enrolled member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe and currently resides in the Peridot District on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. Jones was raised in her traditional Apache culture and was taught her Apache traditions by her late grandmother Mable Dosela-Kitcheyan.  

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