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Orlando Gushoney, White Mountain Apache, Guest Lectured in Prof. Molesky-Poz' Class

On November 13, Orlando Gushoney, White Mountain Apache of eastern Arizona, guest lectured in the Religious Studies Seminar, Native American Myth, Memory and History.  In this seminar, students examine creation accounts of Native peoples, and find the Sacred and the ethics of reciprocity within the stories, and then ask how these accounts and relations can inform First Nations’ struggles against environmental devastation and for the reclamation of their sacred sites.

Gushoney began by addressing the “sickness” the Apache felt as a result of the Spanish invading their territory. He described how Apache identities were lost, because their land was being used in an “unfamiliar way.” As the Spanish invaded their territory, they changed the names of sacred mountains and rivers, causing the Apache to feel as though their identities were stripped from them. “When the land becomes sick, the people become sick,” he said.

“In Western society, the land belongs to the people; but among the Western Apache, the people belong to the land,” he said.  In referring to the San Carlos Apache fight to halt construction of the Pinal Copper Mine at Oak Flat on sacred, ceremonial lands in eastern Arizona, he explained that logging, mining, and the dumping of toxic materials “is an assault, not only on the land, but also on us as Native people.”

On October 29, Gushoney spoke in RSOC 91, Native Spiritual Traditions, and shared his personal experience of religion on the reservation. In the 1880s Native children were forced to live in boarding schools. “Since then, we have been in a war that won’t end,” he said.  “Traditional Apaches, Christian Pentecostals, and Catholics have been warring over me, each believed I needed to be saved.”  People actually kill each other over religion on the reservation, he said, each wanting legislative power. He captivated students with his story of a Franciscan priest who came to the White Mountain Apache reservation. While traditionalists were in ceremony for four days, the missionary stood outside, staying in a distance in constant prayer.  When the medicine men approached him, saying he didn’t belong there, the Franciscan said,  “I saw the Virgin Mary in the fire.”

“It was very quiet,” Orlando said. “The medicine people instructed us,  ‘Leave him alone.  He must be of importance.  If he wants to pray, leave him alone.’ We stood together for warmth; he stood alone.” Orlando was eight years old then, and over time they became friends. “He was a holy man.” “I was speaking to an enemy face-to-face,” said Orlando. “If you listen to an enemy’s language, it is very insightful.  The dignity of truth is so beautiful.” The Franciscan, moved by Apache ceremonialism, said he would integrate Apache ways into the Catholic liturgy.  Orlando, who remains a “traditionalist in the modern world,” said,  “On, Christianity, there is nothing more sacred than sharing a meal, taking time with another.” Perhaps students were most impressed to learn that language is used differently among the Apache and that the sacred is embedded in their words.  “For us, language is influenced by land.  In Western society, people speak for a listener, to be understood by the stranger, rather than with our own truth. But the Apache speaks one’s truth. And in that, is a great difference.”  Student Olivia Pickett remarked,  “Orlando opened my eyes to how beautiful, and how different, language can be.”