After over 30 years fighting the US military and American settlers, the Chiricahua Apache medicine man named Geronimo surrendered to the US government in a canyon in Southeastern Arizona in 1886. Mexican and American soldiers had already murdered many of Geronimo’s wives and children, and sold others into slavery. After surrendering, Geronimo and 341 other Chiricahua were permanently moved to an Oklahoma military base as prisoners of war. There, separated from their land and the plants and animals that inhabit it, their children were sent to schools designed to strip them of their language and cultural identity.
At Lithub, journalist Anna Badkhen pays homage to the tribe’s intergenerational trauma and their attempts to reconcile their pain with their proud ancestry. Invited by a Lipan Apache friend, she travels to a small town in the Sierra Madre Occidental of northern Mexico, where descendants of Geronimo perform the Ceremonia del Perdón — a Ceremony of Forgiveness, but also a celebration of their lineage. As the Apache try to forgive, Badkhen tries, in her words, “to learn what forgiveness is and whether it is possible.”
The Holguíns are lighting a ceremonial flame in a pedestal grill, to prevent a forest fire. One of Geronimo’s many great-great-grandsons, Alex Holguín, hands out pieces of paper. Bernarda has explained her idea for this: “It is a ceremony to ask God to forgive, in the name of our ancestors, the perpetrators and the victims. We will ask for forgiveness for the wars against Indians. For the turbulent times the consequences of which we are still suffering today.” People are already lining up to torch their pain. In the rain, smoke over the grill billows white.
I guess forgiveness means making peace. But I don’t want to make peace. Not with the prisoner of war cemetery at Fort Sill. Not with Charlottesville. Not with Tulsa or the Osage murders, not with the Holguíns’ abducted and enslaved grandmothers. Not with the orphaning of entire nations of their ancient rituals. Not with the banality of evil around the globe, nor with my own prejudiced cruelties and malice. All of them make me who I am, allow me to see the world the way I do, make me want to bring it to some kind of accountability. I must carry the heartbreak of it, this dark fire.
Hilda Holguín says it simpler:
“All these things I have, they form me,” she explains over a paper plate loaded with what she calls “Apache food:” a stew of potatoes, onions, hot dogs and ground meat cooked up in an enormous communal vat.