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apache weed

Apache weed

The word “Apache” is another of those catch-all words used to denote many tribes of first-nation peoples. Apache is, in fact, many peoples. The Navajo and the Mescalero are also Apaches. I was ignorant of this because I was only taught the history of white Europeans. Of the 562 tribes of first-nation peoples, a great many of them from the American Southwest to the Plains states can be identified as Apaches. Geronimo and Cochise were both Apache. There were Texas Apache, New Mexico Apache, Arizona and California Apache, and many, many clans contained in those tribes.

The first Americans were as different state to state and village to village as Europeans and Celts were. It is an inexcusable blind-spot in American history that the story of our first citizens are barely known to us.

My friend, the art dealer Sara Jo Romero, is a child of New Mexico and one of my favorite things in this world is an Apache “teardrop” arrow head she gave me some years ago as a gift. She’d find them all over the high dessert in new Mexico. they are lovely; made from agate, which was almost like glass and shaped into a lethal tear-drop shape that was so sharp I could still cut paper with it easily. These arrow tips were often dipped in poisonous compounds from plants–jimson weed and hemlock– to insure death in the intended target.

The Apaches were great warriors and hunters, often trading the elk, pronghorn and other hides for other goods with neighboring Apache tribes. They often raided and were considered horse thieves (a hanging offense) by other tribes and white settlers. Still, nobody much wanted to fuck around with the Apache peoples. They were ferocious in war–even the Sioux gave them a wide berth.

The Comanche (also Apache) regularly got their asses handed to them when attempting to usurp their fellow Apache tribes both the White Mountain and Mescalero Apache stomped their ass more than once.

A couple of Apache guys I know have a bristling resentment with the Navajo because their reticence at identifying themselves as Apache. “It’s like they’re Navajo before they’re Apache. They are like the Mick Jagger Apache. They piss the rest of us off.”

My friend, Hector Maldonado, who is Texas Coushatta (which are not Apache), often explains to me that nobody has a nastier opinion of other tribes like other Indians do. Like every other tribe, like the Irish, Italians, Polish and Germans, we want to be around our own kind, and are suspicious shitheels to those who are different from us.

The popular version of American history was that the Americas were virtually uninhabited when mighty-whitey got here. The ruling mythology being that the existing 526 nations were like so many rabbits and turkeys.

‘Sit on your ass, Pilgrim. . .light up a Camel. This IS the promised land.”

Thankfully, the Apache had peyote and used it in ceremonial sweat rituals to seek visions. And if you’ve ever done peyote, you know that, after the ceremonial puking up of your toenails, the visions are NO problem. That’s right, Butchie, gag down a button or two, if you don’t have any plans for the next week. . .and you bought your ticket to the aural and visual tilt-a-whirl.

I have friends that make a yearly pilgrimage to Burning Man with a stash of buttons and don’t remember a goddamn thing other than “There was fire. Big fire.” It looks like fun–a bunch of smelly hippies burning shit and fucking in the mud, all the while dressed like the cast of the Road Warrior. The website sure is fun. Friends have begged me to go and I’m always tempted but I feel like I’m too old by about 25 years for this circus. It is not lost on me that this pagan bacchanal is held right in the nut-sack of what used to be the heart of the Apache nations. I am betting there are no small amount of spirits to summon there.

I keep writing what very little I know about First Nation peoples because in 2012, in the middle of an election year, it seems they are nowhere in this conversation. It seems the stories of the 526 nations of our first Americans have been rendered disposable. That is the way history works against us. Bankers, bean counters, and bloggers now decide what is worth saving and what is worth remembering.

We want badly to forget that we took this country at gunpoint. We burned other humans in piles next to newly built railroad tracks. For all of the proud words and hyperbole being tossed about, about “honor” and “change we can believe in,” the land itself tells our story and underlines our transgressions.

When you step into the voting booth? Know this: We live on stolen property. Every sidewalk, every gated community, every 7-11. And we descend from the most successful murderers in human history.

The word "Apache" is another of those catch-all words used to denote many tribes of first-nation peoples. Apache is, in fact, many peoples. The Navajo and the Mescalero are also Apaches. I was ignorant of this because I was only taught the history of white Europeans. Of the 562 tribes of first-nation peoples, a great…

The Sacred Weed

A Blackfoot Legend

There once were four brothers, all spiritual men who had power. In a vision the oldest of them heard a voice saying: “Out there is a sacred weed; pick it and burn it.” The man looked around, saw the strange weed, and put it in the fire. It gave off a very pleasing aroma. Then the second brother had a dream in which a voice said: “Take this herb. Chop it fine. Put it into a hide bag.” The man did what he was told, and the dry herb in his hide bag was wonderfully fragrant. The third brother had a vision in which he saw a man hollowing out a bone and putting the strange weed into it. A voice said, “Make four pipes like this,” and the third brother carved four pipes carved four pipes out of an animal’s leg bones. Then the youngest of the four brothers had a vision. A voice told him: “You four men light your pipes and smoke. Inhale the smoke; exhale it. Let the smoke ascend to the clouds.” The voice also taught him the songs and prayers that went with smoking.

So the four medicine men, born of the same mother, smoked together. This was the first time that men had ever smoked, and they sang and prayed together as they did so. The brothers, who called the sacred weed “nawak’osis,” were meant to teach its use to the people. But nawak’osis made them powerful and wise and clear-minded, and they did not want to share it with others. They planted the sacred weed in a secret place that only they knew. They guarded the songs and prayers and rituals that went with the smoking. They formed a Tobacco Society, just the four of them. So there was anger, there was war, there was restlessness of spirit, there was impiety.

Nawak’osis was meant to calm anger, to make men worship, to make peace, to ease the mind. But without the sacred herb, unity and peace were lacking.

A young man called Bull-by-Himself said to his wife: “These four powerful ones have been given something good to share with the people, but they are keeping it for themselves. So things are bad. I must find a way to plant and reap the sacred weed they call nawak’osis.” Bull-by-himself and his wife went to a sacred lake and set up their tipi close by its shore. The man left everyday to hunt and look for the plant nawak’osis. The woman stayed in the lodge to quill, tan, and prepare food.

One day while she was alone, she heard somebody singing beautifully. She searched everywhere to find the source of the music and discovered that it was coming from a beaver house close by the shore. “It must be the beavers singing,” she thought. “Their songs are lovely. I hope they don’t stop.”

Though her husband came home with plenty of meat, he had not found nawak’osis. The woman called his attention to the music, but he said: “I hear nothing. It’s your imagination.”

“No,” she said, “I can hear it clearly. Put your ear to the beaver house.”

He did, but still heard nothing. Then the wife took her knife and made a hole in the beaver lodge. Through it they could not only hear the beavers sing, but also watch them performing a strange, beautiful dance.

“My young brothers,” the wife called to them, “be of a sharing spirit. Teach me your wonderful song and your medicine!”

The Beavers answered: “Close the hole you have made, because it lets the cold in. Then we’ll come out and visit you.”

So she sealed their wall up, and that night four beavers came to Bull-by- Himself’s lodge. As soon as they were inside they turned themselves into humans — four nice-looking young men.

One asked: “What have you come here for?”

“I have come,” said Bull-by-Himself, “to find the sacred weed called nawak’osis.”

“Then this is the right place,” said the man-beavers. “We are water people, and nawak’osis is water medicine. We will give you this sacred herb, but first you must learn the songs, the prayers, the dances, the ceremonies that go with it.”

“There are four powerful men in our tribe,” said Bull-by-Himself, “who have the medicine and the knowledge, but keep them from us.”

“Ah,” said the man-beavers, “that is wrong. This sacred weed is meant to be shared. Here is what you must do. By day, go out and get the skin of every four-legged and two-legged creature that lives in and around the water — except, of course, beaver. You must get the skins of the muskrat and otter, of the duck and kingfisher, of all creatures like that, because they represent water. Sun and water mean life. Sun begets life, and water makes it grow.”

So every day Bull-by-Himself went out for the skins, while his wife scraped, tanned, and smoked them. And every night the four man-beavers came to teach them the prayers, songs, and dances that go with nawak’osis. After a while the beavers said: “Now all is ready. Now you have all the skins, and now you have the knowledge. Make the skins, which represent water power, into a bag, into a medicine bundle. Tomorrow night we’ll come again for the last time to tell you what to do.”

The following night the beavers came as they had promised. They brought with them the sacred weed nawak’osis. The top of the stalks was covered with little round seeds, and the man-beavers put the seeds into the medicine bundle the woman had prepared.

“It’s planting time now,” said the Beavers. “Don’t touch nawak’osis before you’re ready to plant. Choose a place where there is not too much shade and not too much sunlight. Mix plenty of brown earth with plenty of black earth, and keep the soil loose. Say the prayers we have taught you. Then you, Bull- by-Himself, must take a deer horn and with its point make holes in the earth — one hole for each seed. And you, his wife, must use a buffalo-horn spoon to drop one seed into each hole. Keep singing the songs we taught you all the while. Then both of you dance lightly over this earth, tamping down the seeds. After that you just wait for nawak’osis to grow. Now we have taught you everything. Now we go.”

The nice- looking young men left, turning back into beavers as they went. Bull-by-Himself and his wife planted the sacred weed as they had been told. The four medicine-men brothers said to one another: “What can this man, Bull-by-Himself, and his wife be planting? Their songs sound familiar.”

They sent somebody to find out, and this person came back saying: “They are planting nawak’osis, doing it in a sacred manner.”

The four powerful men began to laugh. “No, it can’t be. It’s some useless weed they’re planting. No one but us can plant nawak’osis. No one but us can use it. No one but us has its power.”

But when it was time to harvest nawak’osis, a great hailstorm destroyed the secret tobacco patch of the four medicine brothers. Nothing was left, and they had not saved a single seed. They said to each other: “Perhaps this man and his wife did plant nawak’osis after all. Perhaps the hail hasn’t destroyed their tobacco patch.”

Again the four brothers sent someone to find out, and that person came back saying: “This man and his wife had no hail on their field. Here is what they have been growing.”

He showed the brothers some leaves. “It is indeed nawak’osis,” they said, shaking their heads in wonder. Thus with the help of the beaver people, Bull-by-Himself and his wife brought the sacred tobacco to the tribes, who have been smoking it in a sacred manner ever since.

One of our 1400+ Native American Legends – The Sacred Weed (Blackfoot).