The fifth chapter of the Book of Romans teaches an important lesson about the value of adversity. It states that we are to rejoice in our sufferings because suffering produces perseverance; perseverance develops character; character gives us hope; and hope does not fail us.
It's hard to imagine the members of what we today call the Yavapai-Apache Nation "rejoicing" in the enormous suffering inflicted upon them 131 years ago by the U.S. Cavalry.
But we do know that the great majority of the 1,476 Yavapai and Apache men, women and children who were forced to march 180 miles from Camp Verde to San Carlos endured unimaginable suffering. We also know that they persevered. We know they never gave up hope. We know they eventually returned to their homeland.
More than 1,300 Yavapai-Apaches survived the march, which was a miracle in itself. It was certainly more than the U.S. Government expected. Noted Southwest author J.A. Jance once wrote that the U.S. Cavalry-Apache "wars" in Arizona in the late 1800s were akin to what we today call ethnic cleansing.
This weekend, the Verde Valley will join with the Yavapai-Apache Nation for the "1875 Removal-1900 Return Commemoration." Tribal Elder Ted Smith describes the weekend event as "a time of reflection and spirituality that binds us to this land." It is a time of remembrance, a celebration of the human spirit of survival.
The "Exodus" years were not the only period of suffering by the Yavapai-Apaches. For decades, the Yavapai-Apaches suffered enormous economic hardship and suffering. With their reservation parcels split from one end of the Verde Valley to the other, the Yavapai-Apaches were as economically disadvantaged as any Indian tribe in the United States.
"Our ancestors taught us to survive at all costs," says Tribal Chairman Jamie Fullmer.
Survive, they have. Today, the Yavapai-Apache Nation is an economic powerhouse in the Verde Valley, sharing the wealth among its members and the entire Verde Valley. The Nation's annual scholarship program for high school students at both Camp Verde and Mingus Union have opened the doors of higher education for many local students who would not otherwise be able to attend college.
Without a doubt, the history of the Yavapai-Apaches shows that they are a people who know a thing or two about suffering. Their history also provides a textbook example for the rest of us about the value of perseverance.