Native American Rites of Passage

"I discovered that many women are thinking about how they might commemorate their daughter's important transition into womanhood. A good place to look for spiritual inspiration is among Native American tribes.

"When a Navajo girl comes of age, the tribe stages a ceremony that lasts five days. During this time she is called Changing Woman (a legendary creation goddess) and wears what Changing Woman wore: a sash and jewelry of white shells and turquoise. An older woman in the tribe whom the girl has chosen as her mentor washes the girl's hair and adorns her with the jewelry while singing chants. She then gives the girl a vigorous massage to mold the child's body into that of a woman. Her only tasks are to run several times each day from west to east 9in pursuit of the sun) and to grind corn for the enormous cake that the tribe will eat at the end of the ceremony.

"The Apaches have a four-day sunrise ceremony for girls that includes dancing and running to meet the rising sun at dawn, singing sixty-three songs, and reenacting the Apache creation myth, during which the girls attain the physical and spiritual power of White Painted Woman (also known as Changing Woman). During the ceremony, each girl gives gifts, healings, and blessings to her people and in return receives prayers and good wishes for prosperity, a long life, and fertility. Her fortitude during the activities, which are physically and intellectually exhausting, is considered a good indicator of her temperament later in life.

"In the early 1900s, when the U.S. government banned Native Americans from performing their spiritual rituals, these ceremonies were conducted in secret, and over the years the practice nearly disappeared. It was not until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978 that the Sunrise Ceremony was re-established openly on many reservations. Today many tribes conduct an abbreviated two-day ceremony. An exhibition at the Peabody Museum at Harvard offered a touching account of Mandy Begay's participation in the Sunrise Ceremony.

"Today, approximately 30 percent of Apache girls participate in this ceremony. You might consider attending one of these ceremonies on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona or at the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation in New Mexico over the Fourth of July weekend."