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Culture & Customs of the Apache Indians

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San Carlos Woman at Sunrise Ceremony, Courtesy of Sheldon Nunez-Velarde.jpg

San Carlos Woman at Sunrise Ceremony, Courtesy of Sheldon Nunez-Velarde.jpg

Written for high school students and general readers alike, Culture and Customs of the Apache Indians links the storied past of the Apaches with contemporary times. It covers modern-day Apache culture and customs for all eight tribes in Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma since the end of the Apache wars in the 1880s.

Highlighting tribal religion, government, social customs, lifestyle, and family structures, as well as arts, music, dance, and contemporary issues, the book helps readers understand Apaches today, countering stereotypes based on the 18th- and 19th-century views created by the popular media. It demonstrates that Apache communities are contributing members of society and that, while their culture and customs are based on traditional ways, they live and work in the modern world.

1. Velarde Tiller, Veronica E., Culture and Customs of the Apache Indians. Santa Barbara, Calif., Greenwood Press/ABC-CLIO, 2011. 172p. index. (Culture and Customs of Native Peoples in America). ISBN 13: 978-0-313-36452-5.

Also available as an Ebook

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Reviews

This book meets the goal of the series it is a part of—to provide resources for students and the general public that will help abolish the harmful stereotypes and images of Native American peoples that have fostered adverse political and legal decisions against them and to show how these tribes are surviving and indeed thriving in current society. Equally important is the series’ emphasis on providing insight into the tribes’ cultures and customs at a time when these roots of civilization are being buried deeper and deeper.

The book is at times basic (probably intentionally for its targeted audience), but covers much ground, giving historical and contemporary treatments of thought and religion; language, art, music, dance, and dress; modern lifestyle, housing, employment, and education; social customs, gender roles, marriage, children, and cuisine; tribal governments and economies; and contemporary issues. Presenting this information in a readable and well-organized fashion, the author helps the reader along with pictures, a chronology, a select bibliography, and an index. This work is highly recommended for its intended audience.
—Karen D. Harvey, American Reference Book Annual

Veronica Velarde Tiller’s latest book offers an insightful and engrossing account of Apache spiritual, artistic and social life in Twenty-First-Century America.

Far from serving up dry historical narrative or a catalog of museum artifacts, the book begins with a concise, meaningful summary of the history of the various Apache tribes. But the book clearly emphasizes the cultural and social experience of the Apache people living today. The book’s illustrations reflect this emphasis: where one may have expected to see archival portraits of notable Nineteenth-Century Apache leaders, all of the book’s photo illustrations are recent–many of them cherished family photos or candid snapshots of daily activities and community events in Apache country. These images convey a genuine sense of warmth and familiarity that older historical photographs often cannot.

Discussing Apache spirituality and world view, the author does more than simply describe traditional Apache ceremonies and practices; she explains in detail the symbolism and meaning of each ceremony–the essential “why” that makes spiritual practice understandable. I am intrigued by the Apache sense of balance with the physical and spiritual worlds, of “living with the sacred in every moment, having gratitude, and recognizing the sacred and mysterious powers in all things.” Also intriguing is the cosmic symmetry, balance and order of the Four Directions, the embodiment of those qualities in Apache Crown Dancers, and the contrasting antics of the Sacred Clowns, who embody the precept that “humans have agency over their lives, can make right and wrong choices, and do not always reflect the precision, predictability, and unity as represented by the Crown Dancers.”

The book canvasses the expression of Apache culture through art, music, dance, dress, cuisine, and perhaps most importantly, the persistent vitality and richness of the Apache language. The author deftly summarizes the social and economic life of Apache communities, addressing serious problems with remarkable candor and frankness, such as the tragic effects of the recent influx of methamphetamine. She concisely outlines the essential nature and functions of Apache tribal government and the trust relationship between the Apache tribes and the federal government, all without bogging down in legalese.

Dr. Tiller’s richly informative and carefully referenced work effectively dispels stereotypes, both old and new, and presents a meaningful and compelling portrait of the Apache people and the resilient social, cultural and spiritual life they cherish.

In Culture and Customs of the Apache Indians, the Apache people do much more than simply introduce themselves. They welcome you to their communities and invite you into their homes.
Review by Russell Kearl

Jicarilla Apache historian, Veronica Velarde Tiller, presents a universe of information regarding the culture and customs of the five Apache Nations and tribes of the Southwest that gives the high school student a view of the philosophical foundations of Apache life that are embedded in the natural environment and natural resources. She explains that “[t]he Creation story or emergence story of how man and his universe were created is the foundation for the religion of the Apaches,” and illustrates the ways in which the belief systems that emerge have contoured and fastioned the culture and customs that have assisted the people to endure centuries of assault on their life ways, and at the same time, reach the highest pinnacles of success in the development and use of their natural resources to bring the greatest benefit to their people.

The author sets the course for the student’s journey through Apache history and contemporary life by pointing out that young Apache people share the same modern resources, information and otherwise, and confront similar challenges of other students. However, she also explains the role of age-old customs and traditions that are central to the development one’s identity as an Apache person, such as the Puberty Feast for the adolescent girl in which she is initiated “into her new role as a person who gives life through birth, who is responsible for her children, and who has a myriad of duties and responsibilities as a valuable member of her family, her clan, her band, her tribe and her marriage” should she choose to marry. The reader is informed regarding the life-long influence of customs like these and the significant role they play not only in the individual’s life but in the maintenance of social mores and norms that recognize “the female forces in the supreme and sacred equation to balance all life and energy forces for all time,” and dictate “that neither the male nor female is better, stronger, smarter, or more important than the other.” Her explanations place these experiences in the contemporary, “real world,” of Apache life and remove the stereotypical view of them as merely superstitious practices of a vanishing society.

The text provides the student with a full view of the historical and contemporary context of the U.S. government’s relationship with the Apache people and the consequent impact and challenges presented. Additionally, the content furnishes an excellent launch pad for the student and teacher to explore and research further the complex world of Apache life.
Review by E. Blanchard.

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