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Africa and Aboriginal Tuesdays: Geronimo's power and legacy

Geronimo possessed extraordinary powers as the ultimate warrior of the Chiricahua Apache and came to know the power of unity, said great-grandson Harlyn Geronimo, preparing to unveil a plaque at Geronimo's birthplace.

Beneath a shower of stars, at the confluence of the headwaters of the Gila, Geronimo was born in 1829.

''Geronimo stood for freedom, that was his major concern, to fight for his people's freedom, so they could live within the Gilas 'for as long as the wind blows,''' Harlyn told Indian Country Today.

While the Calvary was trying to wipe out his people, Geronimo rose to be chief of his band, the Bi da a naka enda (Standing in front of the enemy.)

Geronimo evaded capture so many times that the final search for him took several months and 5,500 troops crossing 1,645 miles, U.S. records show.

Harlyn said if Geronimo could look across this mural that is Indian country today, he would see that his prediction of the Apache Nation's progress has become a reality. But, he would urge Indian tribes to unite.

''One thing that would come to his mind is unity. Without unity, we as indigenous people are not going to move forward. This would be Geronimo's number one priority.''

He said Geronimo would tell Indian tribes to fight to protect their way of life and preserve their languages. ''Once you lose the language, you have lost everything.'' Geronimo would urge tribes to develop preschool classes with full-day instruction in Native languages, to keep the languages alive.

Urging Indian young people to focus on their education, Harlyn said tribal sovereignty and treaty rights are precious rights. ''Focus on your education and elect leadership that will fight for traditional rights, so the state and federal governments can not encroach on tribal court systems.''

Harlyn, sculptor and longtime fighter for Apache water, timber and hunting rights, is preparing a 12-foot bronze sculpture for Geronimo's birthplace where the memorial plaque is being dedicated in the Gila wilderness. The former tribal councilman said he began sculpting in 1983 to take his mind off politics.

Now, the 57-year-old grandfather is carrier of the great stories.

Apache women were also warriors. Harlyn recently portrayed his grandfather in the Discovery Channel documentary ''Lozen.'' She was the Apache woman who fought fiercely with Cochise until he and his people were massacred by the army in the Sierra Madres. Then, Lozen became a fighter alongside Geronimo.

When Cochise was slain, Geronimo was 100 miles away, fighting with Juh. Lozen joined Geronimo and fought with him for six years.

After Geronimo's final surrender in Skeleton Canyon near present day Rodeo, Geronimo was taken to Holbrook, Ariz., on the border of Navajoland, and placed on board the train that carried him to imprisonment in Florida.

Where present day curio shops and blue dinosaur monoliths now stand, Geronimo took his last look at the sky bursting with stars that he was born beneath and touched for the last time the motherland that nurtured him.

Geronimo died at the age of 90 in 1909 in Fort Sill, Okla. He never returned to the Southwest.

Harlyn, however, said the Apache people remain an unconquered people and Geronimo's legacy is alive. ''We are still here and we are multiplying.

''He was fighting for his homeland and for his people. He stood for freedom.''

While Geronimo could foresee a great future for his people, it is unlikely he imagined a new collection of relatives claiming his blood to capitalize on book sales.

''Every time there is a new book published, there are new relatives,'' Harlyn said. ''I don't appreciate that.''

Harlyn also gave a warning to Indian people, to never let their guard down, for no one knows what the future will bring. With his special intuition, Geronimo predicted a large war would occur in the Southwest when the white sands and the lava beds merge in southern New Mexico, where Apache were 1,000 years ago.

Harlyn heard these stories from Geronimo's wife Kate, who died in Mescalero in 1964, when he was 7 years old. Kate passed the stories down to Harlyn's father and his mother, Maneulo Carrillo, who retold them to Harlyn during her last days.

Harlyn's father's mother was the daughter of Geronimo, the only surviving daughter who bore children. Lana Geronimo was born in St. Augustine, Fla. in 1887. She named her son, Harlyn's father, Juanito Via, at a time when the name ''Geronimo'' was not celebrated by heads of state the way it is now in New Mexico.

''At that time, they didn't want us to have the last name,'' Harlyn said.

Geronimo left the legacy of a method: Planning and strategizing to reach one's goal. For instance, it might take all afternoon to kill a deer with one arrow, but after engaging in this, the experience would carry over onto the battlefield.

Harlyn said this legacy - of strategizing and planning to reach one's goals - is a traditional way tribes can protect their people and their future.

Gov. Bill Richardson and an array of Congressional leaders were invited to the unveiling of the Geronimo memorial plaque on Oct. 9 in the Gila wilderness north of Silver City. Harlyn said his great-grandfather did foresee a time when Apache people would achieve tremendous progress.

''He wanted the Apache Nation to progress. He saw this and made this prediction at that time.''

On the plaque at his birthplace are these words, ''I was born by the headwaters of the Gila. ''Geronimo,'' appears in large letters, with the words ''Chiricahua Apache Chief, 1929 - 1909.'' Engraved is his image with a rifle in hand.

Harlyn knows the ultimate legacy of Geronimo. Geronimo's legacy was survival.

This article appears in Indian Country Today

Brenda Norrell

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

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