Inside the Sacred Ceremony That Ushers Apache Girls Into Womanhood

From running laps to finally receiving her Apache name, Mescalero Apache Tribe member Julene Geronimo takes Broadly through the four days of her arduous rite-of-passage.

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Feb 2 2018, 3:33pm

Broadly was invited by Julene Geronimo of the Mescalero Apache Tribe to attend her Sunrise Ceremony, a traditional Apache coming-of-age ceremony that occurs after a girl hits puberty and celebrates her transition to womanhood. A descendent of the renowned Apache leader, Geronimo, Julene feels strongly about continuing her indigenous Apache traditions to ensure that they are passed down to following generations.

Julene takes Broadly through each day of her arduous rite-of-passage in New Mexico’s Mescalero Apache reservation—from running laps to finally receiving her Apache name, Tseenaagai’bi Zhaa or Daughter of Whitetail. The four days of the ceremony require hard physical work from both Julene and members of the tribe, including building a teepee, starting large fires, and making meals together. Each night concludes with a dance, and on the fourth night, the dance continues until morning. “[The ceremony] will give me a lot of respect as a young lady,” Julene says. “It makes me very proud that I’m representing my tribe.”

Julene’s grandfather, Joseph Geronimo, tells us that there’s been a resurgence in Apache members partaking in Sunrise Ceremonies. For nearly a century, from 1883 until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed in 1978, Native American ceremonies and celebrations such as this one were illegal to practice in the United States. Because of this history, many members of the Apache Tribe feel that conducting the ceremony means more now than ever. Julene’s mother tells us that she’s spent over three years and $10,000 in preparation for her daughter’s ceremony—and she’d do it all again.

Though the tradition is focused on Julene, its benefits extend to her entire tribe. “We face challenges everyday,” Julene’s grandfather says. “But with this rite-of-passage that my granddaughter is going through—it gives us strength. When we sing and pray, it revives us and renews our strength.”