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A Path Towards HopeBrad Armstrong

A Path Toward Hope (continued)

Some believe a return to traditional beliefs and ways is the answer. Others think suicide prevention starts with listening. Novalene Goklish’s son Warren, 14, may have saved a friend’s life. A target for bullies, the friend talked about feeling worthless and contemplating suicide. Warren broke up one bullying incident and counseled his friend against even thinking of suicide.

Sitting in his aunt’s house in Whiteriver, Warren stares at his hands, his fingers interlocked as if in prayer. “I told him there are always people who will be there for you. I told him suicide is not the answer,” Warren says quietly. “I guess I helped him. I guess it turned around for him.”

His older cousin, Julian Goklish, helps his own friends and has warned them about cutting: “You know what happens if you hit the main vein? You’re going to go black. You’re not going to see your family no more. You’re not going to have a joyful life with friends. You’re not going to see them all no more. You’re just going to see yourself in hell.”

Julian, 20 years old and taking online classes in computer technology, says he lives by his grandparents’ admonition to “keep our heart clean and live life.” He goes on “sweats” and participates in Apache ceremonies but also chooses not to emphasize differences between his tribe and other peoples. “We are all brothers and sisters,” he says. “Apaches, Navajos, Mexicans, blacks, whites—we’re all the same. We all bleed the same blood. That’s the way I look at everybody on the whole world. We’re all one.”

This message is not lost on the Celebrating Life staff. Novalene Goklish and Francene Larzelere-Hinton have already made presentations about the program to other tribes interested in preventing suicides among their young people.

The model would be most applicable in other limited-resource settings, such as inner cities, rural areas and international locations, notes Cwik.

MEN BEAT ON DRUMS AND SING. They lead a procession late Friday afternoon at the old fairgrounds on Whiteriver’s outskirts. “The dressing,” a key event in a girl’s sunrise ceremony, is about to begin. People from the godparents’ camp are dancing and walking to the camp of the young girl. Cars, trucks and dancing raise a powdery dust that envelops the ceremony in a cloud, made orange by the late afternoon light.

The men sing in waves of rising volume and shifting pitch as they file into the girl’s camp. A cell phone ringtone suddenly erupts but is quickly drowned out by the music. Some people stand on dusty white benches to get a better view.

The singing stops as medicine man Harris Burnette explains the ceremony’s journey in Apache. Before him lies a blue tarp covered with an elaborately beaded buckskin top, eagle feathers and traditional jewelry. A young girl in a white dress stands in front of him.

Her godmother dresses her in the buckskin top, patiently attaches the traditional jewelry, ties an abalone shell on the girl’s forehead and affixes a single white eagle feather to the back of her head as children play in the dirt and people snap cell phone pictures.

The sun starts to sink below the mountains. The people dance and sing with the young girl’s family, wishing her hope for a pure and untroubled future.

At the ceremony’s end, everyone in the crowd turns around once in a clockwise direction, a rapid sweep of the four sacred directions of the Apache and an implicit acknowledgment of their sacred mountains and the beautiful land around them.

Francene Larzelere-Hinton makes her revolution and explains, “It’s our way of saying Amen.”


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