The Mission of San Carlos
DescriptionThe Mission at San Carlos helps members of the community reconnect with their Apache identity by blending elements from Apache ceremonies with the Mass as well as providing instruction in Apache language and culture to students at St. Charles School.
Is a harsh and unforgiving land, but for generations, the Apaches of San Carlos have called this desert their home. Forced by the government to settle here over a century ago, they have had to struggle to survive and struggle to preserve their culture, which gradually disappeared due to the influences and intervention of a non-Indian world.
Lorena Wiley Denver :
White people told our ancestors, you know, don't use your own language. You can't pray and dance like the way you do. I just believe that these white people thought that our language was strange to them, and they were afraid of it. Or if we danced or put paints on our face, you know, symbolizing something, that they were afraid of it. You know, they didn't even like our hair long so they cut our hair.
We were raised speaking English as our first language. And my grandmother told me that, "The world is changing, and your life is changing, so your first language is going to be English." So I learned English, and that's my first language now. And -- but when I -- and I never knew anything about my tradition because I was taught that that was bad for me, my culture was bad for me.
As with many native peoples, some of the most significant impacts on the San Carlos Apaches were made by the religious ministries that came to the reservation. Father Gino Piccoli is the Pastor at St. Charles Catholic Church in San Carlos . Like the Franciscan Friars before him, he attends to the spiritual needs of his congregation. But unlike his predecessors, Father Piccoli is committed to helping restore and nurture the Apache culture by incorporating it into the fabric of parish life.
Father Gino Piccoli:
We meant well, but we goofed, and we said, "leave your -- leave your Apache culture and spirituality and become like us European Catholics or American Catholics. And so I said, "I'm not going to do that. I'm going to do everything I can to see what is beautiful about your spirituality and your culture, and whatever is beautiful is of God."
From the outside, St. Charles resembles many of the old mission churches scattered throughout the southwest, but inside it's clearly a house of worship meant for Native Americans. Where at one time the traditional anglicized images of Jesus and Mary were prominent, there are now are Apache representations. The baptismal font is a familiar component of Apache life, a watering tank for livestock. And within the ritual of the Mass itself, Father Piccoli has incorporated many of the same elements found in traditional Apache ceremonies.
Paul, in one of his letters, he says, "When I was with the Jews, I was a Jew. When I was with the Greeks, I was a Greek. When I was with the Romans, I was a Roman."
It's good. It's good for the people here. It makes you feel strong, you know? It makes you feel closer to God. To me, it does.
in addition to efforts within the church, the parish school is also very much involved in keeping the Apache traditions alive in San Carlos . This is in sharp contrast to the government practice a century earlier of sending Native American children away from home to be educated in the ways of white society.
Sister Georgia Greene:
There were a number of parents who, during that boarding-school era, they lost their tradition and culture. And so what they hoped for their children was that they would be able to get a good education but not off the reservation.
Building on a solid academic foundation, St. Charles School offers a unique curriculum integrating Apache language and traditions, helping to restore an important part of Apache life before it disappears.
One of the things we try to emphasize here is trying to keep the culture and the language alive. There's a whole generation for whom the language was lost. They came back on the reservation. They didn't know their ways. Today we're realizing that that was a big mistake and that culture is transferred through language primarily. And so we have worked very hard to put an Apache curriculum into the school that incorporates language, cultural opportunities, traditional ways, and traditional history.
[ speaking Apache ]
[ children repeating ]
Okay, "Friday" is...
Developed over a number of years, the curriculum has become increasingly popular, even with the youngest students, who come to school eager to learn the vanishing language of their people.
That's one thing I ask them from the beginning of the year is "What do you expect to learn? What do you want to learn in kindergarten?"
"I want to learn how to speak Apache. I want to learn how to write Apache."
"Purple" -- [ speaks Apache ]
"Yellow" -- [ speaks Apache ]
One of the things we're very proud of and feel we've been very successful with is our after-school program, and for the girls it means designing and actually making their own camp dress, their own jewelry, all of the things we associate with the Apache people. For the boys, it's learning their traditional sacred dances through what we call the gans or more commonly known as the Crown Dancers. And it's a wonderful experience. What we have discovered through the culture clubs and the Apache Curriculum is that our children have better self-esteem. They have a better sense of themselves.
If you don't know anything about your culture, you're lost, and that's one of the things I love about St. Charles is that it emphasizes Apache culture.
What I hope, you know, is that in time, by -- by using Apache spirituality, by using Apache language, that what we do here in church, what we do in school is going to allow these people to have pride in themselves, to believe in a future. That's a good reason to help people here.