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American Indian Film Gallery

Cultures of Apache tribes and Hopi tribes

Emalie Schaefer, Author

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Apache Southwest Indians

The Western Apache of Arizona are comprised of four different groups, the White Mountain Apache, San Carlos Apache, Tonto Apache, and Yavapai Apache.  They speak various forms of the Apachean dialect which is a part of the southern Athabaskan language group and are related to Athabaskan speakers of Alaska, western Canada, and the Northwest Coast.

The Apache are relative newcomers to what is now the southwestern United States, having arrived sometime during the 16th century. This group of Athabaskan speakers split into sub-groups and became the Western Apache, Chiricahua, Mescalero, Jicarilla, Kiowa-Apache, Lipan, and the Navajo.

Traditional Apache homelands encompassed Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas.  They even journeyed into what is now Mexico. Their nomadic lifestyle allowed them to roam to hunt and gather food.  At times they raided other tribes for their corn, horses, and cattle, and afterwards, they would quickly disappear into the mountains.  Because they were always on the move, they were independent of the U.S., Mexican, and Spanish governments for about 300 years.  The introduction of the horse by the Spanish enabled the Apache to expand their territory and their network of trading and raiding.

The different bands of Apache were made up of extended family groups and had matriarchal and clan systems of organization. The bands were led by a headman who was chosen for his leadership abilities. Geronimo, the notable Apache chief, led several bands of Apache for a number of years. The roles of Apache men and women were divided along gender lines where men were the hunters and warriors and women took care of children and household duties.  Boys and girls on the other hand were taught the skills of both in preparation for unseen situations that the future could bring and thus be able to adapt and survive.

Religion played an important part of Apache life and is embedded in ancient beliefs, mythology, and their relationship with the natural world.  They express their spirituality through prayers, songs, dances, feasting, and other ceremonies.  Apache medicine men play an integral role in religious and ceremonial practices. 

The Western Apache today still maintain their traditional, cultural, and religious practices, and live a traditional way of life, but they also live a modern American life.

Informative video on the Apache Indians. This video does contain ceremonial dances.(Daggett, Avalon. Apache.Video. Avalon Daggett Productions. American Indian Film Gallery. 1953, medium.)

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