CAMP VERDE - The Yavapai Apache Nation's Exodus-Return Commemoration is a tradition that traces it roots back to the 1970s, a time when Indian nations across the country began a search for their own roots.
Former tribal chairman Ted Smith, a decorated World War II veteran who had returned to the Yavapai-Apache Nation after a career with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, conceived the idea.
According to Smith's sister, Elizabeth Rocha, he had heard stories of the Yavapai and Apaches' expulsion from the fertile Verde Valley to the desolate San Carlos Reservation from his grandfather, Billy Smith, an Apache born in captivity on the San Carlos Reservation.
His grandfather as well as his father often told tales of forced march endured by 1,500 men women in children in the winter of 1875, across swollen streams and snow packed trails, 180 miles from Fort Verde to San Carlos.
Fully understanding the meaning of sacrifice, Smith felt it appropriate for those who were living a better life to pay their appropriate respects to those who had paid the price.
Smith felt it would be appropriate to hold a celebration of their better life by taking a walk in their ancestors' shoes, by singing some of the old songs and performing some of the old dances, and by breaking bread with one another.
He also felt it would be appropriate for at least his people, the Dilzhe'e Apache, to include in their commemoration, a trek to Boynton Canyon, to give blessings.
It is the Dilzhe'e Apache belief that their people emerged into the current world from Boynton Canyon, after a flood destroyed their former world.
The 1970s were a time before the Yavapai-Apache people reaped the benefits of tribal gaming -- before hotels, nice restaurants and casinos had been conceived.
As a result, Apache elder Vincent Randall says, the first celebrations were somewhat makeshift, but nevertheless served the purpose for which they were intended.
"They would haul in a load of dirt so the dancers could have something other than rocks to perform on. The stage was a flatbed trailer and someone would paint a mural and hang it up as a backdrop behind the singers and musicians," says Randall.
In spite of its meager beginnings, the commemoration continued to grow -- eventually including a commemorative run that for at least a couple of years covered the entire distance from San Carlos to Camp Verde.
Today, runners come from the top of the rim to Fort Verde and include members of tribes throughout the state.
They also still make the trek to Boynton Canyon, still sing, still dance, still break bread, still invite the non-Indian community as well as other Indian communities and, of course, still take a commemorative walk to pay respect to those who would eventually give them a better life.
The public is welcome to join in the commemoration ceremony, visit the Native American artists booths, enjoy the entertainment and break bread with their neighbors,
The festivities will take place below Cliff Castle Casino, this Saturday morning, beginning at 9 a.m.