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The Mescalero Apache Tribe conducted a blessing ceremony on its ancestral homelands last weekend at White Sands Missile Range.

The Oscura Blessing Ceremony took place in a meadow near Oscura Peak, one of four sacred mountains than represent the outlying boundaries of the tribe's ancestral homeland. The other mountains are Guadalupe Peak, Tres Hermanas and Sierra Blanca.

It has been more than 100 years since a blessing ceremony of this type has been performed by the Mescalero Apache Tribe, whose purpose is intended to confirm the tribe's connection to the four sites, memorialize the tribe's history and strengthen its culture.

Last weekend marked the third such event following ceremonies at Guadalupe Peak and Tres Hermanas the past two years. Following the ceremony, the tribe will conclude with its final ceremony near Sierra Blanca which lies on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation.

White Sands Missile Range Garrison Commander Col. Christopher Ward said he welcomed the opportunity for WSMR to help play a role in allowing the Mescalero Apache Tribe to perform such a meaningful and historic ceremony.

Ward was an apt listener during an afternoon visit during the first day of the ceremony when he had the opportunity to sit among tribal elders who shared their history and culture with Ward as nearby cooking fires burned to prepare fry bread for the evening festivities to include Blessing songs and dancing.

"It was humbling to be welcomed by the tribal elders," said Ward. "WSMR will always look to strengthen relationships with our neighbors to ensure mission success now and in the future."

Although the ceremony took place on an active test range, WSMR was able to work with the Mescalero Apache Tribe to coordinate travel through the range to a site safely prepared for the ceremony. WSMR also provided representatives to be on site at all times during the two-day ceremony in case of an emergency.

The assistance was greatly appreciated by Medicine Woman Karen Geronimo, who performed a blessing ceremony for Ward by gently marking him with yellow pollen from his feet to his head. Geronimo explained that the pollen is used for non-Apaches to signify a blessing of happiness and good fortune. Her husband Harlyn is a Vietnam War veteran and the great, great grandson of Geronimo, the legendary Apache leader and medicine man who led the resistance to consolidate the his people and force them to live on reservations.

"I'm just really happy to be here," said Geronimo, who teaches Apache at a Mescalero Apache school. "It's an honor to be our here on this military reservation where my people camped before the 1800s, and to experience their way of life."

One of the WSMR employees extensively involved in helping the tribe prepare the site for the ceremony was Michael Stowe, a senior archeologist from the Environmental Division of the Directorate of Public Works. Stowe was appreciative of the insight he gained into the Apache culture.

"What an incredible opportunity it was to help the tribe and facilitate this ceremony at one of their sacred places," said Stowe. "Although there was a lot of planning and coordination, to have an event like this, I'm thrilled it all came together. One of the highlights for me was escorting many of the tribal elders to North Oscura Peak. For many of them it was a place they only knew of through stories and to have them visit and see this place as their ancestors did really solidified for me the importance of making this event a reality for the tribe."

The Mescalero people were nomadic hunters and gatherers and roamed the Southwest. They were experts in guerrilla warfare and highly skilled horsemen. The women were known for their ability to find and prepare food from many different plant sources. The people were given the name "Mescalero" because they gathered and ate the mescal plant. It was the staple of their diets and could sustain them in good times and bad.

Today, three sub-tribes, Mescalero, Lipan and Chiricahua, make up the Mescalero Apache Tribe. They live on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation, consisting of 463,000 acres of what once was the heartland of their aboriginal homelands.