Joyce Herald, Curator Emerita of Ethnology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, has been researching the Jicarilla Apache since 1968, after receiving a grant for material culture research. Herald began her research by studying Jicarilla Apache basketry, and after conducting years of field work on the Reservation, interviewing contemporary Jicarilla weavers and tribal artisans, she wrote several articles that have appeared in the American Indian Art Magazine.
"Over the years, I became quite interested in a lot of the artwork, and in things worn by the Jicarilla Apache people. One of the most compelling pieces of ceremonial clothing is the Keesda cape."
The Keesda ceremony is a coming-of-age feast celebrating a young girl's coming of age. During the ceremony, which lasts four days, the girl must wear the traditional clothing, and a young brave is chosen to dance with the girl at one point during the ceremony.
The day the photo ran in the Daily Times, Benally called to claim it, saying it was taken 25 years ago after she won the title of Jicarilla Centennial Princess. She was on her way to compete for the nationwide Miss Indian USA title in Washington, and she wore the traditional Keesda clothing for the photo.
Benally said the Keesda outfit had been in her family for 40 years at the time the photo was taken, and that her grandmother had made it from scratch, purchasing the buckskin and sewing the beadwork onto the dress.
Herald, who was curator of the Denver Museum for 30 years before retiring in 2003, came across the Daily Times articles and photo while doing Internet searches concerning the Keesda outfit. She plans to include Benally's photo, along with detailed information on the Keesda ceremony and clothing, in her American Indian Art Magazine piece, which will run in the publication's January issue.
"The outfit has really become a symbol of Jicarilla Apache women. It's not only worn when the girl is initiated, but you'll now see it worn at events such as high school graduations, weddings, rodeos and powwows," said Herald. "It's part of a renewal of cultural symbols, and that this renewal is happening is really a beautiful thing."
Herald said each Keesda outfit differs slightly and reflects personal styles, but the basic outline and form, including the beaded edge, fringe and leggings, follow the traditional design, with the cape being the most important part of the outfit.
Cookies Vicenti, who works at the Jicarilla Cultural Center in Dulce, thinks that the increased use of the Keesda outfit by Jicarilla women is a positive development.
"The wearing of the clothes, of the buckskin, it's like a blessing. Not just for the women, but it blesses everyone," she said.