Otero Mesa a Sacred Place to Apache

Albuquerque Journal
Sun, Jun 5, 2011

By Ted Rodriguez, Alfred LaPaz, Larry Shay, Houston Murphy, and Styve Homnick / Mescalero Apache Advocates For Otero Mesa National Monument

Until a few months ago only a handful of the curious knew the importance of Otero Mesa to the Apache. Otero Mesa is one of the most sacred of places, if not the holiest, to us Apache.

From time immemorial we have had profound ties to this enchanted land.

Historically, Apache country spanned from Western Texas to Eastern Arizona and deep into Northern Mexico. We shared all of New Mexico with the Pueblos.

Otero Mesa is centrally located in the heart of all this, 40 miles south as the crow flies from the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation. Our ancestors lived here peacefully for many hundreds of years.

Our people were nomadic and we left very few traces, with Otero Mesa being the exception.

In our language, we call ourselves N’dé, “the people,” and like nowhere else, we left behind some of the most fascinating and mystical petroglyphs in America. Here rising majestically out of the Mesa floor, Alamo Mountain harbors our ancestral rock paintings that confess to our fears, our struggles, our joy and our religious faith.

We made seasonal villages on Otero Mesa. We hunted and gathered medicinal herbs, celebrated in ancient song and dance, intermarried with other Apache bands and we worshipped Usen, the creator of the heavens and the earth.

We are a proud monotheistic people. To us Apache, Otero Mesa is our cathedral.

No other ethnic people in North American history have suffered so much from stereotypes as the Apache.

We were described as “bloodthirsty savages” for defending our land from invaders who respected neither our culture nor our faith. Today we live on reservations hidden away to what is left to us of our beloved mountains and plains. Still we struggle.

For most of the past decade, a coalition of groups has worked successfully to safeguard the grasslands, wildlife and freshwater resources of Otero Mesa from full-scale oil and gas drilling. Now, however, a new and even more volatile threat has emerged for this sacred land – hard rock mining.

A plan to mine for so-called “rare earth” minerals has the potential to significantly alter this landscape, but what is rarer than this earth that we hold so sacred?

Just 60 miles south of Otero Mesa in Hudspeth County, Texas, a rare earth mine is already in the early stages of what will likely become a vast open-pit mine. Something of that magnitude has absolutely no place in the heart of Otero Mesa, and this is why it is our mission to support the movement to preserve Otero Mesa as a national monument and ensure that our ancestral homelands are protected.

Our advocacy group is comprised of Mescalero Apache traditional elders and community leaders.

Combined, we have experience serving on the tribal council and various tribal committees and youth programs. We are employed by our local school system and serve in law enforcement. We maintain a Mescalero Apache Mountain Spirit Dance group. As concerned citizens, we wish to share the sacred nature of Otero Mesa with not only our children but also with youths from all cultures and nations.

From World War I up through the present, thousands of Apache men and women fought as U.S. soldiers to protect not only America, but foreign lands from invasion. Now we respectfully ask President Obama, through the American Antiquities Act of 1906, to protect this precious piece of land as a national monument.

Let us take you there! It is a beautiful land!

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