Exodus 2018 and Grand Opening of the Cliff Castle Casino Hotel
Exodus of the Yavapai-Apache Nation event remembers February 25, 1875
by Don Decker, Editor, Gavahnah-Yati’ News, Yavapai-Apache Nation
Dateline: March 6, 2018
Camp Verde, Arizona-Members of the Yavapai Apache Nation gathered on Saturday, February 24, 2018 to honor Yavapai and Apaches who were forced marched to old San Carlos 188 miles east to an alien territory 143 years ago. The late Ted Smith, an Apache elder and a former chairman of the Yavapai-Apache Nation and a sister, the late Rebecca Smith, Apache, were both instrumental in reviving the language program in the mid-90s and designating this annual special day each year to commemorate the dislocation, removal and finally, the return of the Yavapai and Apache back to their homelands at the turn of the century in the 1900s.
Rebecca also recognized the spirituality of the Yavapai and Apache by bringing back a holy ceremony to Boynton Canyon in nearby Sedona. During the last week of February each year, since the mid-90’s, a morning is set aside for prayers and songs to give thanks and honor the Creator for protecting the Yavapai and Apache and all mankind. The Boynton Canyon site is considered a point of origin for both of the Yavapai and Apache.
That first Saturday morning, songs were sung by traditional Apache medicine men as they drummed and prayed with their eagle feathers while standing in the cold February morning facing the east. This pilgrimage into the canyon provides a moment of silence and introspection for the Yavapai and Apache people. (see photo gallery on this website)
Members of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, invited guests and medicine people arrived to the special place located at the rear of the Enchantment Resort located inside of Boynton Canyon on U.S. Forest lands for the morning blessing. This is the special place where approximately 50 people gathered to honor spiritual traditions through songs and prayers. Despite the subfreezing morning, all the visitors took the matter in stride as they made their way back to a blazing fire on the resort’s property after the brief ceremony where Enchantment Resort personnel served hot drinks and assorted pastries before the participants departed back to the site of the festivities in Camp Verde at the Veteran’s Park below the casino.
This year’s 2-day event was tied in with the grand opening of the new Cliff Castle Casino Hotel which adjoins the casino. This $30 million dollar hotel is replete with a large indoor swimming pool and 122-plus rooms in the 6 story structure.
The day finally arrived when the ribbon was cut by the Nation’s council membership to acknowledge the pending official opening on March 1. The ribbon cutting was done by Chairwoman Jane Russell-Winiecki with the Nation’s council members close by. After the ribbon cutting, a noon luncheon was held inside of the new convention center adjoining the new hotel for the visiting governmental officials. This gave an opportunity for tribal leaders to spend some time visiting and getting to know one another.
Earlier in the morning on Friday, elders arrived inside the new convention center where they were treated to breakfast. Various dignitaries from city governments and Indian tribes stayed for the 3 day weekend.
Exodus Day-Saturday, February 24
At the Veteran’s Park that Saturday, the day was set aside to honor the Long March of February 25,1875 which was capped out with prayers, songs, dances and a large community bar-b-que that was cooked by staff members of the tribal government. The menu consisted of fresh vegetables for salad, commemorative cakes and traditional acorn stew and assorted meat dishes that was served to over 400 people in attendance.
To commemorate Exodus, a long distance run began on the western boundary of the San Carlos Apache Reservation on Friday February 23 during the early dawn and runners from the Yavapai-Apache Nation consisting mainly of young teens and young adults ran the long 180 miles from the San Carlos Apache Reservation through Globe, Roosevelt Lake and through the mountains of Payson and finally into Camp Verde valley. Twenty-one miles east of Camp Verde, another group of runners called the ‘Spirit Runners’ joined the Exodus runners from San Carlos to complete the run as a united group into Camp Verde.
That same afternoon members of royalty who represent their respective Indian communities came before the gathered crowd to announce their presence. This also is a time of recognition for those who helped out with the Exodus event which included all of the cooks and helpers who served the luncheon that day. The Exodus committee also gave out printed t-shirts commemorating the long march and on the previous day at the grand opening for the new hotel on Friday, blue warm up jackets with a large patch commemorating the Exodus of 1875 was distributed to elders of the community.
The cultural event on Saturday brought dancers and performers from the different Arizona tribes. Local Yavapai-Apache groups also contributed to the offerings which started promptly at noon during the luncheon as Bird Dance singers Troy Kaska (Yavapai) and Ron Juan (Quechan from Yuma by way of Yavapai-Apache Nation through marriage) of the Yavapai-Apache Nation provided the traditional gourd songs as women danced in their best dresses for the occasion. Former TV personality of KPNX Channel 12 of Phoenix Mary Kim Titla emceed the outdoor event including the grand opening festivities the prior day on Friday inside of the new hotel lobby.
Mary Kim is also the executive director of the UNITY (United Native Indian Tribal Youth) which works with teens across Indian country.
Some of the tribal groups represented were the Tonto Apache Tribe of Payson (who sponsored part of the activities for the weekend), the Southern Paiute Tribal council located near Tuba City, Arizona, the White Mountain Apache Tribe, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Tribe, Navajo Nation, San Carlos Apache Tribe and the Ft. McDowell Yavapai Nation. The farthest Nation to participate were the Quechans and Cocopahs who live near the southwestern most point in Arizona–Yuma.
Local official city government officials attending the grand opening included council members from nearby cities of Sedona, Cottonwood and Camp Verde along with council members of the Yavapai-Apache Nation. Miss Indian Arizona, Mariah Sharpe from the Colorado River Indian Tribes made an appearance at the grand opening.
All photos by YAN news except where noted. See photo gallery on the website for ‘Exodus ’18