Most widely known by the name Apache (a word derived from the Zuni ‘Apachu’, meaning enemy) this name refers to a group of culturally related Native Americans. The Apache know themselves by the names Tineh, Dini, Inde, Deman and Haisndayin. Despite this, the monkier Apache has stuck in the minds of most and refers on the behalf of the Zuni to the famed ferocity and pride of this group.
Traditionally the Apache dwelt in the ‘South West Culture Area’ spanning a number of US states such as Texas and Colorado as well as parts of Mexico. Originally they would have spoken related Southern Athabaskan languages forming seven different language groups relating to geographical area. However, since the settlement of Indian populations into reservations linguistic cultures have merged and encountered the ubiquity of the American-English language leading to the breakdown of this classification. All seven Athabaskan languages are listed as endangered and Lipan is thought to be near extinct.
Evidence for the subsistence strategies of the Apache can be found early in their history as it is suggested that these groups were nomadic hunter gatherers, migrating southwards from other Athapascan groups speaking similar languages and operating some similar lifeways in Canada. Later some Apache took up some level of agriculture if they had come into contact with others using this strategy, however this was by no means a given as different Apache groups had quite distinct histories of migration, the Jicarilla Apache for example instead stole horses to hunt Buffalo on the Plains. Largely groups operated mixed economies utilising a number of physical and intellectual resources.
subsistence strategies may have remained diverse amongst the Apache, their reputation as fearsome warriors was far more ubiquitous. This was experienced by those Indian and settler farmers whom the Apache encountered and raided along their migratory route but was most spectacularly displayed post contact with Spanish, Mexican and American adversaries. Not only did the Apache hold off the Spanish and Mexicans advances, they repeatedly raided their colonial outposts during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Furthermore, perhaps the most enduring accounts of the Apache’s bravery and skill come from the Apache Wars of the nineteenth century when they fought for their independence from US rule. Out of these conflicts came the compelling tales of Geronimo and Victorio who escaped reservations and mounted what proved to be acts of final resistance to their subjugation, and acting as a testament to the overwhelmed but freedom loving and proud Apache Nation. Geronimo embodied this spirit and the tragedy of the fate suffered by so many Native American groups when, upon his capture he remarked, “Once I moved about like the wind. Now I surrender to you and that is all.”
Away from the battlefield The Apache were also renowned basket weavers and crafts people, making brightly beaded clothing and adorning much that they owned. In addition they are notable for their musical traditions, most specifically for their playing of the Apache fiddle, Tsii edo’a’tl – ‘wood that sings.’
Today man Apache still live on the original reservations designated to them in their old territiories, for example, the Fort McDowell reservation is still shared by the Mojave and Yavapai of Maricopa County. The Apache are now involved in the US cash economy and earn a living mostly through tribal enterprises such as tourism, saw mills, crafts and Casinos. They face many challenges and like other First Nations are engaged in a constant struggle to protect their lands and culture which have been sadly diminished already. One recent example is the Apache nations staunch opposition to Resolution Copper’s mining project in South East Arizona which willfully endangers the Oak Flat and Apache Leap Sacred sites which are important burial grounds and campsites. The Apache fight goes on and they face it with the same resolve shown by some of their most esteemed ancestors.