The Girls Run: A Review of the Mescalero Apache ‘Coming of Age Ceremony’ and the words written by Claire Farrer & Bernard Second”.

By Crisosto Apache

I am writing this because the month of April begins the ceremonial rituals for the Mescalero Apache, which are the “coming of age” ceremonies for the girls and the host families. Another activity that is held in April is the Annual Centennial Run which commemorates the Apaches being released as ‘prisoners of war’.

There are not very many documented accounts of the Mescalero Apache peoples religious and ceremonial activities. There are however, other resources that were written many years ago from authors to try and gain knowledge or understanding of the ethnography regarding the Apache culture. Many would argue that the information previously written and disseminated by early scholars is outdated, and the approach of observation is subjective. Claire Farrer attempts to bring the Mescalero Apache culture, and its world views to the twenty-first century, and validating the perspectives as legitimate cosmology amongst other Native American cultures and their world views. Within her book Thunder Rides a Black Horse, she works with, Bernard Second, a notable medicine men of the tribe, who has directed many of the ceremonies for the Mescalero Apache people.

With the assistance of Bernard Second, Farrer is guided through many oral stories of emergence, cosmology, etiquette and purpose for the Kádá’idąą’e’ (the girls coming of age) ceremony known to the Apache culture. There are eight chapters dedicated to the specificity of the ceremony, and a map to the stars for the existence in this important activity, which defines the culture.

In the first chapter “Time and the Mythic Present”, Farrer describes her arrival to the Mescalero Apache reservation and meeting Second for the first time. She also begins her field work for her dissertation and is introduced to Bernard’s family and emphasizes the term “fictive kin” in her text. She discusses how this term translates to non-Native culture and her relationship to the Apache people. Farrer develops a relationship and begins to compare, and define the differences in cultural aspect of the Mescalero Apache people. In this chapter she focuses on some of the ritual aspects of the Kádá’idąą’e’ (coming of age ceremony). Farrer also describes the lunar cycles of the moon and the relevancy of its cycle in regards to the girl’s ceremony. The second chapter entitled “Arrive” begins with a brief description of the scenery surrounding the Mescalero Apache reservation. She discusses the creation story or emergence stories of the Apache people which Bernard provided. Bernard introduces the importance of animals and the interaction with animals, because within the oral tradition of storytelling, Second discusses the introduction of plant into the world and its many uses. Second spends some time describing current plants to Farrer and how they are used within the Mescalero Apache culture. One of the important factors within this chapter is the dichotomy which is established between Farrer and the many people she encounters. Because she is an outsider, there is a greater emphasis placed on her and all her amenities and mannerisms, one of them being her dog. Farrer brought her family and her little white poodle with her and many thought it looked like a sheep and often made fun of her small sheep. This made Farrer aware about the good joking that went on the reservation.

Another story that is revealed in the second chapter is the story of Tianashka’da / the three who left together. This is a story told by the Apache people about the social behavior of Apache people and how this is reminded in the stars. The story is about two sisters who fell in love with one Apache man. All three had a good relationship throughout their lives and were accepted by all the other people. While they remained together, the band remained happy and prosperous. When they reached old age, the man could not continue on. The medicine man prayed, and sang songs but the man, who was not getting any better. The band had to move camp, but all three and the medicine man remained behind. The man used his final strength to get up, but as he did he began walking towards the horizon. The medicine men tried to stop him and encouraged his rest, but the man insisted. The two women help him walk towards the horizon. As they disappeared, there was a bright light in the sky. At that moment, a set of three stars added to the sky, ‘within the constellation of Taurus’. The three lovers who will always symbolized the balance and prosperity of the Apache people joined together among the starlight in the night sky.

Chapter two reveals many of the cultural aspects of the Apache “coming of age” ceremonial, as instructed by Second. Second, being the primary source of information for the ceremonial, outlines his lineage and tribal relationships. There are maps which are drawn by Second, which indicate the layout of the ceremonial grounds and those aspects of ceremonial purpose, such as the Holy lodge. The next map is that of the old grounds, before the new one was built. Chapter two clearly embodies the content of the entire text, conceptually. Focusing on the oral nature of stories and astronomical concepts for the ceremonial rituals. These rituals define how they are incorporated into the ceremonial practices.

In chapter three, “On Forming Women”, Farrer begins to explain how Second defines the ceremonial practice, and reasons for the implementation of the ceremonial practices for the girls. The chapter begins when Second wakes with coffee, before the sun rises. This is a time that becomes important for the ceremony. Second explains the preparation for the Sunrise ceremony which will happen later that morning. Another activity which occurs on the ceremonial grounds, away from the preparation of the girls, is the erection of the ceremonial tipi or Holy lodge. These activities are happening simultaneously, as it is all about timing, and the rise of the first light. Second describes in chronological order the erection of the first four poles, which become the structural frame of the lodge. Many people, mostly the men of the host families, assist in the erection of these poles. They first are laid out in the four cardinal directions, and then blessed by the medicine men before they begin to raise the poles. During this chapter, Farrer speaks about the origin story of White Painted Woman or Changing Woman and how this ceremony begins to define the culture and their identity. Each aspect of the first day is depicted in the third chapter. A major aspect to the ceremony is feeding of the people, which the host families are responsible for. Each hosting family must prepare food for the entire tribe and their guests, and anyone who comes to join in the celebrations. In chapter three, Farrer describes the preparation of foods, both traditional Apache foods and modern food types. On the first day, the first meal for the girls consist of traditional style foods, (mescal, mesquite beans, Indian cabbage (yucca bloom petals), and Indian bananas (yucca fruit). There are many people involved in the preparation of the food, which the families will serve all day, breakfast, lunch and dinner. All prepared foods and drink served must be blessed by each of the girls, to ensure the people are participating in the continued balance of life.

Chapter two revealed the importance of the ceremonial activities, whereas chapter three reveals more of the preparation activities for these particular ceremonies. There is a conflict stated by Second in the text about the preparation of the mountain dances, with regards to Farrer being a female. Females are not allowed in the area where the mountain spirits are preparing. Second states that the knowledge obtained and retained, is strictly for the males of the tribe. She is given some leniency, due to the research she was conducting. Farrer does not document the mountain dancer’s preparation rituals. She however, gives description of the regalia worn by the deities and the mode of dance.

Chapters four ‘ Ko’io/ Go Around!’ and chapters five, I will give you a bow and arrow…a flint knife…I will make a horse for you…” describe the ceremonial etiquette for the third and fourth day. In the fourth chapter, Farrer touches on the issue of alcoholism amongst women on the reservation and how the numbers have risen in succeeding years.

Chapter six ‘You are the mother of a people. Let no man speak ill of you.’ concludes the fourth ceremonial day. As indicated in the text Second states the fourth day is the most important day of all. Because the ceremony is coming to a close, and it is important because it will signify the continuation in the balance of life. As in the opening of the ceremony on day one, the process begins the same. Beginning with the night before and the alignment of the Big Dipper (Náhaakus) constellation, the ceremony commences. Singers sing for the girls as they dance late into night as the Big Dipper descends. The upper tip of the Big Dipper vanishes, the girls stop and rest. This is prior to the sunrise. The girls do not sleep but begin the preparations for the transformation into White Painted Woman. As the sun raises many aspect of the camp begins to be dismantled. The girls are lead out to the Holy lodge and the “pulling songs” begin. During this time many of the people can be blessed by medicine men, which represents a new beginning under the blessings of White Painted Woman. Mid morning as the sun peeks, the Holy lodge is slowly taken apart by the men of the families. This time is crucial to the ceremony, as it all has to do with the movement of the sun. At the right time, the girls begin to run, and on the final run, the family begins the ceremonial throw. The community throw consists of everything from candy, beach balls, common household items, which are thrown into the crowd. The girls run and disappear into the horizon and are instructed to run to various places, only known to the girls and the medicine people. Upon their return, the girls are escorted into their specific camps, untouched by anyone and emerge as women & mothers for the people.

Chapters Seven and eight conclude the text with some of the dismantling process of the camps and end with personal notes on Farrer’s experience. She concludes her text with the image of the warrior twins (thunder and lightning) riding their respective horses and how the story of the twins continues to define the Mescalero Apache people to this day.

On Farrer’s attempt to grasp the concepts of the Mescalero Apache cosmology. She is given credibility because of her efforts. As I stated in the beginning of this review, there are few researchers who have written about the Apache culture, let alone the intricacies of the ceremonial process. Her writing has allowed other to understand the Apache culture, but most of her information boarders on exploitation. Granted this information is important to the schools of anthropology, and ethnography, it however leads to more questions. The route this information should take from here, should be, from a member of the Mescalero Apache Tribe. A doctoral credibility acknowledgement should be retained for tribal individuals who retained this information. So often, many of the cultural components identifies specific indigenous cultural aspects, which are scrutinized and analyzed in academic institution without regard where the information originates. Farrer attempts to acknowledge and respect the information she has received. She is careful for the nature of information she has obtained and has given proper acknowledgements to the cultural relevancy to cosmology of the Mescalero Apache people. I recommend that many students read this text, as it offers an introduction to the Mescalero Apache culture, which define them as a people.


  • Farrer, Claire, R. Thunder Rides a Black Horse: Mescalero Apache and the Mythic Present. 2nd Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.1996. Print.

Copyright © 2017 Crisosto Apache


By Crisosto Apache

Originally published, December 8, 2011 on the Qualia Encyclopedia of Gay Folklife website by Mickey Weems.

Two-Spirit is an identity shared among First Nations Canadian and Native American LGBTQ people that situates same-sex orientation and gender variation within each nation’s cultural framework. Recognizing that many Native North American tribes view identities in their own way, the Two-Spirit community does not demand conformity to pre-set classification of Lesbian, Gay male, Bisexual, Trans, and Queer. Rather, Two-Spirit people privilege each community’s traditional understanding of inclusion, which often includes positive spiritual aspects concerning orientation, gender variance, and the body.


Reports of homosexuality and gender variation among Native populations were common during the first centuries after the European invasion of the Americas. These stories became part of literature that both sensationalized local cultures as exotic and condemned them for being barbaric and un-Christian. Later ethnographic research in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries confirmed that many Native societies had identities for gender-variant people, which included them within the man/woman division of labor and ritual. Recognition of those identities may begin with children who prefer activities associated to the gender not assigned to them on the basis of their apparent physiology, such as a little boy who chooses a basket, representing women’s work, over a bow for hunting, representing men’s work.

Travel narratives of Europeans among Native Peoples speak of men called berdaches (from the Persian-Arabic word bardaj for a young male sex slave) who lived as women and would possibly have sex with, or marry, men. The term “berdache”, however, is now considered derogatory to describe Two Spirit people. In the nineteenth century, evidence of manly women, some who would marry other women, came forth as well. Such non-heteronormal identities, however, were rarely mentioned in the histories of First Nations across North America.

The Two-Spirit Movement

After the Stonewall ‘Awakening’, Gay folk historians began compiling evidence concerning orientation- and gender-variant people worldwide. Many of those among Native peoples with Gay-related identities discovered that the growing and ever-diversifying Gay community did not include the positions within Native communities set aside for orientation and gender difference, positions that often had spiritual significance and ritual participation.


Gay American Indians (GAI), established in San Francisco in 1975 by founders Randy Burns (Northern Paiute) & Barbara Cameron (Lakota Sioux), gave hope to restoring traditions that recognize alternative orientation and gender expression in Indigenous communities. With the establishment of GAI, the next few years were dedicated to grass roots organizing. Things came together in a gathering that took place in 1988 in Minnesota called “The Bow & the Basket” to address the damaging effects of chemical dependency and HIV. This meeting galvanized the Gay American Indian movement as it focused on better means of expressing identity and community. In 1990, the third annual Native American/First Nations Gay and Lesbian Conference was held in Winnipeg, Canada. During the conference, Two-Spirit (translated from the Ojibwa (Anishinabek) words niizh manidooag) was chosen as a ‘new term’ to represent all Native LGBTQ people within the Nations without displacing each nation’s terms for identity and gender variation. This was done so the identity could be understood from an English perspective.

The purpose of Two-Spirit is recognition that LGBTQ terminology may work alongside but cannot replace Native identities and sense of belonging that such identities give LGBTQ people of First Nation/Native American descent. The term is especially popular among Urban Native populations, and as a means of extending community identity to people from different First Nations and Native identities. In more rural Native communities, Two Spirit people are called specific tribal terms, such as winkte (one who speaks with the Creator) among Lakota and nádleeh (one who is changing) among the Diné (Navajo) people. These terns do not always translate well in the European Western concepts of sexuality and gender. Which means, many indigenous people do not use the term ‘two spirit’ because of the difficulty in association during translation in their respective languages.

Coming Out as Two Spirit

The importance of a Two-Spirit identity that complements LGBTQ identities while nevertheless remaining distinct from them should be understood in terms of the challenges First Nation/Native communities have with encouraging the next generation to stay true to its roots. Too often, young people stray from their Native traditions for many reasons, including orientation and gender identity. LGBTQ identity configuration strikes many Native peoples as part of the non-Native world. Two-Spirit identity allows those First Nation and Native people who identify as Gay to have an option that recognizes their identity, but does not alienate them by marking them as non-Native. In addition, the Two-Spirit community gives them membership in a tribe of many tribes, a sense of belonging to a group that appreciates tribal cultural sovereignty and culture, yet also celebrates the three spectra of orientation, gender variance, and non-typical sexual physiology.

In coming to terms with the complexities of First Nation/Native identity and orientation/gender/sexual physiology issues, it is not unusual for Two-Spirit people to have a double coming-out narrative: first coming out as Gay, then coming out as Two-Spirit. In many traditions with alternative identities that have survived colonization, this results in three identities: the designation of orientation/gender variance specific to the nation or tribe, identity as Two-Spirit, and identity as Gay, reflecting membership in a nation, in the Pan-Native collective, and in the LGBTQ collective.

Some Gay organizations have been incorporating Two-Spirit into the identity acronym as LGBTTS or LGBT2S.

Two-Spirit Icons: Pre-Stonewall Ancestors

Native and non-Native scholars have been gathering information about peoples with traditions of non-heteronormal identities, and individuals who possessed those identities within their communities.

Among the most famous Two-Spirit icons is the Zuni lhamana (womanly man) We’wha, a pillar in her community whose physical strength, skills at producing baskets and weaving, temperate nature, and ceremonial influence, made her beloved among her people.

Other icons with articles in the Qualia Encyclopedia of Gay Folklife are Woman Chief, a fierce warrior who hunted and went to battle, identified herself as a woman, but living as a man and marrying four women); and partners: Lozen and Dahteste, two Apache women who lived and fought together for their people. At the same time Dahteste was married to an Apache man named Coonie, and cared for three of his children.

Osh-Tisch, “Finds Them and Kills Them”, was a badé (defined as not man, not woman) living amongst the Crow Nation as a woman who was anatomically male. During Osh-Tisch’s lifetime, he had experienced discrimination from the local Baptist missionaries. This persecution continued against badés even after Osh-Tisch’s death, and the badé tradition declined. During his lifetime, he was celebrated as a quilt maker and renowned for his bead work and leather medicine bags. Osh-Tisch’s role as badé was crucial during the Sundance, a ritual where participants will dance around a tall pole in a sanctified outdoor location from sunrise to sunset for days to fulfill a vow, or to help a person in need. The Sundance may also include piercing the skin on the chest or back with bone skewers that are then ripped out, and the torn skin placed on the pole as a sign of sacrifice. The ceremony was abolished by Christian missionaries and was lost until it was revived in 1941, but without the participation of a badé. Osh-Tisch was so revered by the Crow people that, when he was forced to cut his hair by an American agent, Chief Pretty Eagle ordered the agents off the tribal lands. During Osh-Tisch’s life, he endured much hardship but fulfilled his role as badé and warrior until his death in January 1, 1929 at the age of 75.

Hastiin Klah, (also spelled Hosteen Klah) was a nádleeh medicine man, singer, and weaver. In Diné tradition, males usually are allowed to sing, chant, and become medicine men, while women usually do the weaving. Hastíín Klah fulfilled both roles becoming a well-respected medicine man and weaver. He dedicated his life to learning the complexity of Diné ceremonies and mastering the art of weaving. In later years, he worked with Mary Cabot Wheelwright to preserve many of his songs, sand paintings, and woven articles, along with various sacred objects he used in ceremonies. Wheelwright founded the Museum of Navajo Ceremonial Arts in 1937, which later became the Wheelwright Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Hastiin Klah died in 1937 at the age of 70 due complications of pneumonia. The Wheelwright Museum was dedicated to Hastiin Klah, and a ceremony was performed in his honor. Recently the Navajo Historic Preservation Department’s Traditional Cultural Program Committee recommended viewing restrictions on Hastiin Klah’s ceremonial displays due to the private nature of Dené spiritual traditions.


Two-Spirit organizations include Two Spirited People of Manitoba, Inc. (Winnipeg), 2SPR (Two-Spirit Press Room, Minnesota), Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits (California), Montana Two-Spirit Society, NativeOUT (Arizona), Northeast Two-Spirit Society (New York), Tulsa Two-Spirit Society (Oklahoma), Two-Spirit Council of Wichita (Kansas), Two-Spirit Circle of Edmonton (Alberta), Two-Spirit Society of Denver (Colorado), Two Spirit National Cultural Exchange, Inc. (Colorado), Nations of the 4 Directions (San Diego), Northwest Two-Spirit Society (Washington State), Regina Two-Spirited Society (Saskatchewan), Red Circle Project (California), 2Spirits of Toronto (Ontario), and the Two-Spirit Society of North Dakota. Others have formed since this article’s publication. Annual gatherings since the initial “The Basket and the Bow” have been sponsored by different Two-Spirit organizations each year and held throughout Canada and the USA. Other organizations that contribute the Two Spirit Gathering movement is the Two Spirit Society of Tulsa, which hosts the annual Two Spirit Gathering in Tulsa, Oklahoma at the Osage Hills Park and Recreation site. Montana also hosts the annual Two Spirit Gathering at various locations near the Blackfeet Reservation. Others, have also contributed to the ever growing number of gatherings. The Bay Area American Indian Two Spirits (BAAITS) now have an annual Two Spirit Pow Wow event held in February.

– Crisosto Apache

QEGF Authors and Articles

QEGF Introduction

Comments? Post them on our Encyclopedia Facebook page.

Further reading:

Jacobs, Sue-Ellen, Thomas, Wesley, Lang, Sabine, eds. Two-Spirit People: Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality and Spirituality. Chicago: University of Illinois, 1997.

Roscoe, Will. Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America. New York: St. Martin’s, 1998.

Roscoe, Will, ed. Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology. New York: St. Martin’s, 1988.

LaFortune, Richard. Native Cultures, 2 Spirit Identity. Minnesota: 2Spirit Press Room, 2008.

Brown, Lester B., ed. Two Spirit People: American Indian Lesbian Women and Gay Men. New York: Harrington Park Press, 1997.

Copyright © 2017 Crisosto Apache

Indigenous Peoples Day 2016

By Crisosto Apache
“Our education preceded with learning to make our beds and hanging up our new clothes. Our old ones, I learned later, were sent to our families in Florida so that they might know that we were still alive. How they knew from that I do not know.” –Asa Daklugie, as transcribed by Eve Ball, “Indeh; An Apache Odyssey” (University of OK Press, 1988).
What a great way to start out my first blog post of many blog posts. Since I obtained this website, I had been thinking about how to start incorporating my blog, and what I was going to write about. Many ideas, perspectives, and thoughts ran through my head about how to start. Naturally, it stressed me out because, there are times I have convinced myself I have nothing to say.
I have included a quote from my great, great, great, great grandfather Asa Daklugie, from his recollection while placed in boarding school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania as dictated by historian Eve Ball. Eve Ball was a gracious woman to my family. I remember as a small child accompanying my mother Evangelina Apache to Eve Ball’s home in Ruidoso New Mexico.
Today being Indigenous Peoples Day, I remember and celebrate the lineages of my ancestors. In doing so, it reminds me how fortunate I am to have had many successful experiences in my life. All I have accomplished have been in honor of my family and ancestors. Memory, how we choose to remember and honor those who have gone before us, can be a difficult task. Sometimes those memories have personal blockades and other time it is a public who do not want to be reminded of a past history. When I read the words in any book about Apache people, I am reminded about my history and legacy. How I choose to delineate my future and interpret my past is how I can begin to leave my own foot prints for the future. Like I stated early in this post, there is so much more to being Native American than just the name itself. So much of me is tied to memory. Creating memorial in writing is my attempt to document my history, my identity, my sexuality, my gender, and all those ties which contribute to my thoughts and emotions. So this is a good beginning. My hope is to continue writing passages that inspire. I have got to try and make something good, here. ‘Ixé‘he (Thank you).

Copyright © 2016 Crisosto Apache