Shaped by decades of war, Geronimo, Cochise, Victorio, Lozen and Mangas Coloradas (and those they ran with) cultivated a genius for survival so their descendants could live on.
In what can only be received as a triumph of the Apache people, this year Shaylee Mangas and Haley D. Apache Tsinnijinnie participated in their tribe’s puberty rites over 4th of July weekend in Mescalero, New Mexico. The girls, who are cousins, are also winners of the Apache birth lottery trifecta; they are both descendants of larger than life ancestral figures Mangas Coloradas, Warm Springs Apache leader Victorio and his sister Lozen, a medicine woman who could divine their enemies’ whereabouts and steer her people clear.
The girls were honored by a visit from another cousin, a young marine stationed in 29 Palms, California, who came home to pray with them, to speak Apache language with their grandmother, and to celebrate that their ancestors’ great hardships and early deaths were not in vain. His name is Coloradas Mangas, and like his ancestor’s position vis a vis U.S. military, his name is flipped from the original. Mangas Coloradas was a combatant with; Coloradas Mangas, a combatant for. It might seem an almost ironic translation of an ancestor’s legacy, but circumstances have changed enough in the ensuing generations that the inversion of both the name and the role makes sense to the family as a continuation of their lineage.
“We know who we are, where we come from, and not just who our family is, but what our people fought for—pride, respect and family, to hold onto our lands, cultural background and way of life,” Coloradas explained.
Mangas Coloradas was a formidable Apache warrior, unstoppable by legitimate means, so he was stopped by illegitimate ones. Assassinated by Union soldiers in Fort McLane, then beheaded, his brain was scooped out of its skull and dispatched to the Smithsonian.
At the tribe’s Feast Grounds where his cousins’ puberty rites were being held, Coloradas cut a dignified figure even as the sun beat down relentlessly those early July afternoons.
“I’m wearing the uniform for my people who take a lot of pride in it,” he said.
Coloradas wrestled with the contradictions of joining the military force of the government that “put us here on reservations, placed us in boarding schools, suppressed us culturally especially our language and tradition.” But he eventually resolved it.
“Freedom trickles down to the reservation, so our way of life, our ability to protect our own language can continue into the future,” Coloradas said.
He is clear about his duties and what he is fighting for.
“My family wants our ancestor’s brain returned home to our people,” Coloradas said solemnly. “When it’s returned, we’ll do the ceremony to rebury it, perform all the prayers and blessings. Then we’ll be done with it.”