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Two Yavapai Men Honored: Arizona Living Treasures
Story & Photos by
Pamela Williams

It’s not often that the elders in a community are honored, especially when it comes to a lifetime achievement award. But for the Yavapai people, two senior Yavapai Indian artists, Ted Vaughn and David Sine, have been given such an honor by the state in being named Arizona Living Treasures.

The Arizona Indian Living Treasures Award was established in 1988 in efforts to recognize and honor the lifetime achievements of Arizona tribal members over the age of 60 who have made contributions to the arts.

The program was also designed to educate both non-Indian and Indian communities about the value and need for continual awareness of the diverse and unique cultures as expressed through visual and performing arts. These artists work range from saddle makers to Kachina carvers.

Ted Vaughn is recognized as a Yavapai silversmith and language teacher and David Sine as a Yavapai painter.

David Sine is a 76-year-old full-blood Yavapai. He was born and raised in Clarkdale, but recalls stories of his youth and the history of the Verde Valley as if it were yesterday.

"Medicine people saw things coming and happening today," he said. "They said things would be much better, trouble first, and that we would be taken off our land, but then things would get much better."

Sine was right. The Yavapai-Apache of Camp Verde and Clarkdale were removed from their designated reservation lands and moved to a prison camp in southern Arizona. While gone, white man settled on their property. But today, with casino dollars, the Yavapai-Apache Nation is reclaiming many of these lands through purchases. For Sine, the importance of an education to go along with the responsibility of new money is important.

"I was taught by my grandmother that I couldn’t survive without going to school and getting along with others and to work hard at what I was doing. We knew we had to learn to assimilate to the white-man’s culture for us to get anywhere. We were taught how to fit into society as we couldn’t just live off the land anymore.

"We were always trying to plan how we’d run away - maybe hop a freight train - but kids who were caught were treated pretty roughly. I think the schooling has brought us a hell of a long way compared to where we could be. Without that teaching, we wouldn’t have gotten this far."

Sine attended school at the Phoenix Indian School. During his junior year, he enlisted in the Army as an Infantry Man. He went on to fight in World War II off the Pacific for six years. As most Indians in the service, he served as a scout in the Pacific Islands. Even through a fearful experience that left him wounded at one point, having been shot in both legs, he knew he would survive as his grandmother had given him blessings before he left.

"Grandmother told me I would go and fight somewhere and it would be dangerous, but I would be blessed with our medicine and would return to the land again. After I returned, I went through a purification ceremony in Boynton Canyon."

Upon returning to Arizona at the age of 25, Sine decided he wanted to get his high school diploma so that he could go on to college. He enrolled at Mingus Union High School in Cottonwood, and despite the teasing, finished his degree.

"I knew in order to survive I would need an education," he said. "We didn’t have any money."

After graduation he returned to Phoenix to attend business college and learn accounting. He received his first job in San Carlos, the same area his ancestors were imprisoned in the late 1800s. On the side and during weekends, Sine did his art. Between paintings and murals on churches, the money earned was just enough to help him purchase more paint and canvases. After he retired, he moved back to Camp Verde and began to paint full-time.

The Yavapai-Apache Nation and Cliff Castle Casino have commissioned him to paint many of the murals and paintings on display in their buildings. When looking at Sine’s work, a story is told. Images that appear may simply look like as a series of designs. But the message spoken in a most quintessential form tells of the respect for a time now gone - a genealogical remembrance of ancient cultures.

"My paintings are based upon the region we are in - the art that existed in that time with the Anasazi and the Mogollon," Sine said. "They left these designs to us - designs you will now find in pottery, jewelry and things made. I am trying to interpret to the people a respect for these things so that they can be understood."

His focus, he said, in telling these stories, is to remind his people, especially the youth, of their heritage. "Our young people do not understand why things are done the way they are today. They don’t realize that these things are appreciated around the world.

"I took it upon myself to interpret this so that they would understand what the people who lived upon the land before us meant with these images. Young people today are not getting the interpretations or stories - the legends that were told to us that we based our politics, religion and way of life on. History is an important thing. We must take the best qualities of the past and leave the rest behind."

Ted Vaughn is a 72-year-old Yavapai elder who lives in Prescott. Born in Los Angeles, he moved to Arizona before he was three and attended the Fort McDowell Day School. After getting hurt while riding a half-broke horse, his grandparents brought him to live with them in Prescott. From Prescott he attended the Truxton Canyon Boarding School near Peach Springs. Later he attended Washington Traditional School in Prescott and Prescott High School. Vaughn has only a few memories of his childhood.

Vaughn also left high school to go into the service - for him, the Navy. He spent eight years in the service and was in the Korean War and World War II. But upon retrospect, he feels he wouldn’t have joined if he had the proper guidance as a youth.

"I joined the service to get away from my family," he said. "I wanted my independence. If I had proper guidance I would have gone on to college and finished school. I knew I was poor and couldn’t afford preparatory courses then and I didn’t know about scholarships."

As the Golden Gloves boxing champion in Prescott, Vaughn feels he could have earned an athletic scholarship.

Education continued to remain important to Vaughn though and he earned his G.E.D. after two years in the service. After returning to the states and leaving the service, he worked for Indian Health Service for many years, establishing an x-ray unit on the Hualapai Reservation. He also worked as a cowboy and rancher. Later he became interested in flying. This stemmed from a need to get patients from the reservation to the hospital in a quicker manner.

Vaughn soon began flying a helicopter for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, patrolling the Navajo and Hopi joint-use area. While working on the Hopi Reservation he became interested in silver smithing. He was told to take a class at Northland College where a Hopi man and wife taught. There he learned the Hopi style of jewelry making.

"I learned their style, but I used a high polish on my silver while they used a dull finish. I was doing contemporary work, too. Then when I moved to Prescott again in 1981 after finishing my work with the BIA. I began to study Yavapai mythology and used it in my work."

Today, in addition to doing his silver work he also teaches the Yavapai language to Yavapai in Fort McDowell and in the Verde Valley. Preserving his culture through stories, history and the language has become very important to him.

"In analyzing the words of the Yavapai you begin to decipher the history of the people. We can compare our language to the Paipai in Mexico and the Supai and discover when the Spaniards came by word differences and similarities. There are a lot of new words that have been introduced through time and no words for certain modern technologies. Because the language is oral, it often gets misconstrued."

Documenting the Yavapai language, deciphering meaning and sharing his findings are all a part of his art and contribution to his culture and others for which he has been honored for.

Both men along with 20 other Arizona Indian Native Treasures gathered last month during the Cliff Castle Casino’s National Indian Festival where they were honored by their peers.

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