by Brooke Gregg
The Apache Sunrise Dance is a beautiful ceremony that has been going on for centuries to strengthen a young woman during her coming of age and offer her blessings for a strong, long life.
Most of my friends had dances and they told me how they had fun and how special it was to them. I decided to have one to also honor my late grandpa Johnnie Cooley, who passed. He would have been so proud of me.
The whole experience having a Sunrise Dance was memorable. The sounds of drums beating with Apache songs; the smell of traditional foods like acorn stew and barbecue corn, beans and cornbread; the crown dancer’s bells. Seeing my family and my Godparents’ family. People who came near and far, the blessings, the medicine man. Everything was memorable to me.
Our Apache culture is so beautiful. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I was blessed to have. I will always cherish it. I remember one of the medicine man’s helpers telling me to enjoy the weekend, to have fun and pray. This is similar to being a princess, he told me, like Cinderella or Snow White. It’s like a dream come true for me, he said. He told me that I should listen to the songs and drums, and to pray and do what the medicine man says. So I did those things. But I felt more like an Apache warrior goddess than like Cinderella.
The hardest part was dancing on my knees. I had to dance four songs that way to show my strength. The medicine man talked with me and told me what I would be doing and how it would make me a stronger person in life.
Part of the ceremony involves being painted in yellow cornmeal and clay. I had to wear that paint all day and night. On Monday morning, my Godmother took me to the river and washed the paint out of my hair and washed my face. The water was cold, but it was fun. She was so kind and loving.
Now that it’s over, I miss everything. It went by so fast. I miss the dance, the camp, family gatherings and all the apache songs.
I am shy, kind, loving, and strong in mind, body, spirit.
I feel very blessed that I had this special ceremony with family standing strong behind me. I have joined with the many young strong Apache woman who have also endured it before me. I know now that anything is possible in life, and that my family and Godparents will always be by my side and support in anything.
Brooke Gregg, now 14, is the daughter of Butch Gregg and Ericka Hinton-Gregg. Members of the White Mountain Apache Tribe, they live in Whiteriver, Arizona on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation.
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Editor’s note: BorderLore editor Kimi Eisele was invited by Brooke’s parents to attend their daughter’s Sunrise Dance. Photographic documentation was permitted by them and by Terrell Hinton, the medicine man performing the ceremony.