The Apache People are several tribes in the Southwestern United States that are culturally and linguistically related. Their language is related to that of the Athapaskan Peoples of Alaska. It is believed by Westerners that a large group of People left the general Alaska-Western Canada region approximately 700 to 900 years ago and eventually made their way to the American Southwest. Part of this group remained in what is today the region of Northern Arizona and New Mexico, establishing the Dine (Navajo) culture/ society.
For unknown reasons, some of this group continued further south or southeast and formed their own societies/ cultures. The Apache and Navajo Peoples are not considered to be the same, by either themselves or Westerners, but do consider each other to be cultural cousins. Marriages between the groups were common and still are.
The Apache people as a whole were nomadic and known to be exceptional raiders. Their ability to move and be highly successful within the desert and mountain regions of the desert is legendary among both Westerners and other Native Americans. They borrowed from nearby tribes for material concepts and then added to these ideas. One example is their basket making—learned from O’odham Peoples—Apache baskets became some of the finest ever constructed in the Western Hemisphere. Even from the Spanish, they acquired the horse and became more proficient riders and herdspeople than the original owners.
Arriving a relatively short time before the first Spanish settlers of the 1600’s, the Apache People were never conquered by the Spanish or later Mexican people, though fierce fighting sometimes occurred for nearly 200 years. The arrival of the United States Government in the late 1840’s, as claimants to this land, could not vanquish their will for self-determination. The last small band of Apache, led by Geronimo (Goyathlay) famously let go of their independence in September of 1886, the last Native American group to do so. Cochise, their penultimate leader, was perhaps the greatest Native American who ever lived with regard to leading the resistance against Western Civilization’s onslaught toward dominating all Indigenous People.
Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona are the homelands to eight federally recognized Apache tribes. The People have been losing speakers of the language, have been hemmed in by reservation boundaries, and their culture has been pushed to make room and adopt the outside cultural ways. Their lives are no longer just their own, yet they still reach inside to bring out what they can and move forward as Apache People.
A number of great issues face Apache societies, reservations, and families. Perhaps the greatest one, however, is the same one that faces all the Original Peoples of North America today—the loss of many of their elders who speak the language so critical in passing down traditional ceremonies, songs and life-way stories. Youth have steep odds; however, some are quite successful in school, or perhaps an endeavor such as art and may leave the reservation for college or to broaden their experiences, or to find employment far from home.
Those who find a Western World version of success have the opportunity to become a highly regarded ‘minority’ in the greater U.S. society and may stay far from the reservation. The ‘brain’ and ‘talent’ drain of the best of the Peoples from the homelands happens, but perhaps this is shifting. Some of the next generation does find inspiration and hope to return to their homelands to teach, mentor, work in health and elder care, or start their own business.