Navajo man celebrates birthday, Apache way

By Glenda Rae Davis
Navajo Times

ALAMO, N.M., November 29, 2012

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(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)

TOP: Willie Apachito, 95, from Alamo, N.M., watches the fire burn in October during a blessing ceremony in Alamo, N.M.

SECOND FROM TOP: A teepee silhouettes the setting in October during an Apache blessing ceremony in Alamo, N.M.

W hen Willie Apachito turned 95 years old back in October, his family decided that an Apache blessing feast was appropriate even though he was raised in the Navajo culture.

"Just recently we started to look into our family tree and as we backtracked we began to learn more about the Apache traditions," said Mark Apachito, son, adding that his dad is half Apache and half Navajo. "Then we decided that we wanted to honor our Apache side while celebrating my father's birthday."

The event lasted two days and included a ceremonial dance by the Mescalero Apache Crown Dancers during the Indian Days celebration grounds in Alamo, N.M.

The reason why so many gathered and honored Willie, according to Mark, is because his dad is a man that will always help a person in need.

"He's a very kind man," he said. "You'll never find him turning down someone that wants his help. He's not this man that did extremely extraordinary things but he always seemed to have been there for people. In whatever way he can."

Mark said that his father also fixed herbal medicine for anyone that asked and tanned deer hide.

"People come from as far as Window Rock," added Willie's oldest, Geneva Chavez, 63. "He's well-respected for that. When I went in for lung surgery he prepared some medicine that, I think, made the cuts heal a lot faster."

According to Chavez he did what he could to earn money for his wife and eleven kids.

"He worked as a ranch hand in Mountainair (N.M.) for 21 years," said Chavez, "He never went to school and so he used what he learned from his parents growing up."

Working in Mountainair, Willie took care of an Anglo man's livestock gathering up cattle on horseback and branding them when needed.

"Me and my brother, who was born right after me, use to live with him up there," said Chavez. "We helped him with the livestock. My father always worked with his hands, never (ventured) away from that."

Now, Chavez said nowadays her father only does one thing.

"Sleep," she said laughing. "If he's not sleeping he's visiting my other brother, who lives 50 yards from his home."

If he's not visiting her brother or sleeping, Chavez said he visits his ex-wife, Wauneta Apache, who also lives about 50 yards from his hogan.

Chavez said that when Mark was about four years old, Apache and Willie ended their marriage.

"My father stayed in Alamo to be with us," said Chavez. "My mother went to Mescalero and remarried."

At the time Willie still had four of his children under his roof, Mark and his two brothers and one of his sisters.

"My sister, Geneva, took my younger sister to raise," said Mark. "Me and my brothers stayed and with my father."

"My father was always there for us," he added. "It's only right that we celebrate his birthday in such a way."

Mark said that the ceremony is something they plan to do every year.

"When we were planning to have the ceremony he (Willie) said that he wants us to come together every year for the ceremony."

"'Even after I'm gone, I want this to happen.' That's what he said to us," said Chavez. "We want to make him happy."