Activist teaches Apaches their traditional culture

Kari Petrie

SAN CARLOS, Ariz. – Apache spiritual leader Wendsler Nosie said he went to the mountain to pray.

His daughter was preparing for her Sunrise Dance ceremony, which commemorated her entrance into womanhood. Nosie’s wife, Theresa, told her husband Mount Graham was rumbling and he must go to it.

“(I prayed) as a father should pray for his child,” Nosie said.

A storm started, so Nosie headed back down the mountain. As he got closer to the bottom, U.S. Forest Service officers stopped him and University of Arizona police arrested him for trespassing, he said.

Nosie was in a refuge set up to protect the endangered red squirrel, he said. Federal law requires a permit to enter the area and he did not have one, Nosie said.

A judge later acquitted Nosie of trespassing charges, citing lack of intent, according to news reports.

Although at the time of his arrest in August 1997, officers told him never to return to Mount Graham, Nosie said he has been back to pray every year since, bringing other Apaches with him. Last year, he said, he had about 40 people with him.

As founder of Apaches for Cultural Preservation, Nosie educates Apaches on their traditional culture, according to the organization’s Web site. The group has been vocal in its opposition to the Mount Graham International Observatory project.

“Wendsler is the bridge between the old and new generation of Apache people,” said Dwight Metzger, who works with the Mount Graham Coalition.

Nosie also owns a company called Rural Opportunities of Arizona, which helps American Indians find employment, Nosie’s wife said.

But his kindness translates into everyday life.

Whether people need a warm meal, money, advice or prayers, Nosie helps them, his wife said.

“He helps everyone that comes to the door,” she said.

With his wide, warm smile and firm handshake, Nosie greets strangers and longtime friends into his home.

Every living room tabletop is crammed with photos of his family, which includes seven children and two grandchildren.

“And two more on the way,” he said.

Perched on the edge of a brown leather couch, Nosie is surrounded by photographs and paintings of traditional Apaches adorning the walls of his home.

Nosie’s easy demeanor immediately puts visitors at ease. As he tells stories about involvement with the spirit runs to Mount Graham, his high school-aged daughter and brother sit casually nearby, listening intently to tales they already know by heart.

Nosie said he has been an opponent of the Mount Graham International Observatory telescope project for more than a decade.

He has been around the world voicing his opinion, from Minnesota to Italy. Next month, he said, he will speak to the United Nations about the U.S. treatment of indigenous people.

Metzger said Nosie brings “human values” to political discussions that are usually inhuman.

“He speaks from the heart,” he said of Nosie. “He represents the heart.”

Nosie met with the Board of Regents in October 2002, when it discussed joining the Mount Graham telescope project.

Patricia Albers, director of the University’s Department of American Indian Studies, said Nosie is fighting for the well-being of his people and not for fame and fortune.

“He’s a man of impeccable integrity,” she said.