Written by San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman, Terry Rambler.

In the Apache way, so that our Elders know who we are and to educate our youth, we introduce ourselves by naming our parents and our people.  My name is Terry Rambler.  I am Tugai (white water people) from my mother’s side and born for Nadots’osn (slender peaks standing up people) from my dad’s side.

My mom is Tugai and born for Iyah hajin (mesquite extending out people). My dad was Nadots’osn born for Tsee binazt’i’e (surrounded by rocks people). My maternal grandparents were John Rope and Sarah Hadley Rope. John Rope was Biszaha (edge of cliff dwelling people) and came from the Cedar Creek area. Sarah was Tugai and orginally from an area just southeast of Show Low but moved to East Fork after Fort Apache was established. After they met, they eventually moved to Bylas where many of their relatives still reside.

My paternal grandparents were Homer Pechuli Rambler and Olive Talgo Rambler. Olive was Nadots’osn from her mom Nona Zaye Talgo. Homer was Tsee binazt’i’e from his mom, Lide Pechuli, my great paternal grandmother. Homer was born Homer Pechuli but added the name Rambler after he went on the relocation program in California. My great paternal grandmother, Lide Pechuli, came from the Aravaipa, Superior and Oak Flat areas, places that stand as monuments to where we came from, what was taken from us, places where our Ancestors took a stand for us, and spilled their blood for us, for our Tribe.

Sometime in the late 1800’s, non-Apache miners discovered minerals in these areas.  With the miners came United States soldiers.  Apaches came into conflict with the soldiers and were eventually overpowered by the soldiers with their rifles.  The surviving Apaches were rounded up and herded at gunpoint to old San Carlos on the current San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation.  Eventually, Lide Pechuli’s family moved to present day San Carlos with many settling in the Gilson Wash area.

The area surrounding Chi’chil Bildagoteel (Oak Flat) was at one time the traditional territory of the T’iis Tseban (cottonwood trees gray among rocks people), also known as the Pinal Band of Apaches, and is closely associated with the related Tse Binesti’e (the surrounded by rocks people), also known as the Aravaipa Band.

At least eight Apache clans have direct ties to this location, and that Apaches continue to visit and invoke Chi’chil Bildagoteel through prayer and song for a wide range of traditional needs, practices and ceremonies, such as the Sunrise Ceremony, an Apache ceremony where a young girl dances her way into womanhood over a period of four days.

Oak Flat is a place filled with power – a place where Native people have, since time immemorial, and continue to go to for prayer, to conduct ceremonies such as Holy Ground and Apache Puberty Rite Ceremony and to seek and obtain peace and personal cleansing.  Oak Flat has and continues to play an essential role in Apache religion, traditions, and culture for centuries and is a holy site and traditional cultural property with deep tribal religious, cultural, archaeological, historical and environmental significance.  On March 4, 2016, Oak Flat was listed on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property.

Through treaties with the United States, federal laws mandating the allotment of Indian lands, and other U.S. takings, tribal nations lost hundreds of millions of acres of tribal homelands to help build this Nation.  Federal lands are carved out of the ancestral lands of tribal nations and the historical and spiritual connections of Native Americans to these lands have not been extinguished.  Some of these lands contain the remains of our ancestors and Native Americans continue to pray, hold ceremonies, and gather traditional and medicinal plants on these lands.  The United States government has legal and moral obligations to provide access to these ancestral lands to Native Americans and to protect these traditional cultural territories in a manner that respects the cultural, historical, spiritual and religious importance of these lands to tribal nations.