Monday, June 30, 2014

Apache Crown Dancers

The ideal image of an Apache Crown Dancer

This past weekend we had our annual community celebration in Monument Valley. It is always a great time for the community to get together and celebrate. It has been a long dry spell and it has made life even harder than it usually is, but Native people enjoy getting together and that is cause enough for celebration. One of the activities was mud volleyball. Not traditional, but fun. A tractor dug out the hole and water was hauled in.

We make our own fun.
Singing and dancing are always part of a celebration along with eating (Mutton and Frybread), of course. One of popular performers around the Rez is Joe Tohonnie Jr. and the Apache Crown Dancers. As with all Native singing and dancing, there is a spiritual aspect. The Navajo and Apache are actually "cousins" as both are considered Athabaskan tribes and share a very similar language and history. Joe, himself, reflects this as he is half Apache and half Navajo. He has one of the most powerful voices I have ever heard. You have to understand Native culture to really appreciate Native singing, but Joe's powerful voice can be appreciated by anyone. It is more powerful in person than can be captured on a recording. Here is a video of him performing at another event.

Here is an explanation of the significance of the Crown Dancers...
The Apache (and Navajo) believe that there was once a time when their ancestors lived alongside with supernatural beings. The common belief, even today, is that there are spirits that live within certain mountains and underground realms. Part of the Apache creation story incorporates the belief that they are the blood relatives of the mountains, trees, rocks, and the wind. One of the most important and integral pieces to the beliefs of the Apache is a holy being sometimes referred to as White-Painted Woman, but she also is known as Changing Woman or White Shell Woman. In the beginning, she originally gave birth to two sons, Killer-of-Enemies and Child Born-of-Water and they were said to have ridden the world of evil by killing the evil incarnate monsters, thus making the world safe for the Apache people to live. So, these Mountain Spirit Dancers reflect that story by ensuring the well-being of the people to protect them from not just their enemies, but epidemic diseases as well. The Devil Dancers or Crown Dancers are not considered to be supernatural beings themselves, but simply posses the "special ability" of summoning these mountain spirits. They are a link between the supernatural and natural worlds and they often reflect this in a contradictory fashion. Part of their power is expressed as a "paradox of life". In many Native American cultures, this notion of chaos and disorder is personified as the "trickster", a destructive and simultaneously creative force. In Apache tribes, he is a boy amongst men, in some circles called Libaye, the ritual of "clowning" embodies the Apache beliefs underlying power.
My wife and I attended with all five of our grandaughters (we also have 11 grandsons). The littlest one, Naanibaa wanted to dance and so I took her out to participate. Joe saw her desire and it touched him so that he stopped and presented her with one of his feathers, a real honor.
Being called out.
Naanibaa getting a feather from Joe Tohonnie Jr.

I really appreciate the Crown Dancers and their efforts to keep alive some of the Warrior spirit. I just wish I could get them into the weight room to  recapture the ideal warrior appearance as pictured above. I have always considered it a privilege to live here and if I can make a contribution to preserving the physical warrior traits, I would be honored. I am so proud of the many young warriors who have passed through our program and are learning to take responsibility for their physical well-being.

Another composite photo created by our friend, Harry Nez.
Ahehee'  Harry.


  1. I've always been fascinated with the Native American culture. It was fun being a teammate of Oliver and driving through Reservation and learning more.

  2. If you ever pass this way again, please let us know and we can get togather and show you the real Rez and feed you some frybread.

  3. I reckon there's a lot more than meets the eye than just driving through town in the team bus! I saw a lot of Native American's piss away their life when I was on the mission, but the foot the Whaley's put forward is very commendable. I'd love to get in that HS gym too! God bless the Warrior Spirit.


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