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Seal of the San Carlos Apache tribe

The Western Apache live primarily in east central Arizona, in the United States and north of Mexico in the states of Sonora and Chihuahua. Most live within reservations. The Fort Apache Indian Reservation, San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, Yavapai-Apache Nation, Tonto Apache, and the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation are home to the majority of Western Apache and are the bases of their federally recognized tribes. In addition, there are numerous bands. The Western Apache bands call themselves Ndee (Indé) (“The People”). Because of dialectical differences, the Pinaleño/Pinal and Arivaipa/Aravaipa bands of the San Carlos Apache pronounce the word as Innee or Nnēē:.[1]

Language and culture

San Carlos Apache woman, c. 1883–1887, photographed by Randall, A. Frank

The various dialects of Western Apache (which they refer to as Ndéé biyáti’ / Nnéé biyáti’) are a form of Apachean, a branch of the Southern Athabaskan language family. The Navajo speak a related Apachean language, but the peoples separated several hundred years ago and are considered culturally distinct. Other indigenous peoples who speak Athabaskan languages are located in Alaska and Canada.

The anthropologist Grenville Goodwin classified the Western Apache into five groups based on Apachean dialect and culture:[2]: 2 

Since Goodwin, other researchers have disputed his conclusion of five linguistic groups. They do agree that there are three main Apachean dialects, with several sub-groupings:

Some 20,000 Western Apache still speak their native language, and the tribes are working to preserve it. Bilingual teachers are often employed in the lower elementary grades to promote that goal, but many children tend to learn to speak only the widely spoken English, mingled with occasional Spanish, depending on their home languages.

In relation to culture, tribal schools offer classes in native handicrafts, such as basket weaving; making bows, arrows, spears, shields; and cradles for infants. Girls and young women at the elementary and secondary level are taught how to make native regalia from buckskin, in addition to making silver jewelry. In addition, young men often become jewelry makers and are taught skills in this area.

Western Apache bands and tribes

White Mountain Apache

The White Mountain Apache or Dził Łigai Si’án Ndéé "People of the White Mountains" (Spanish: Sierra Blanca Apache'), are centered in Fort Apache Indian Reservation. It is the most eastern band of the Western Apache group. The White Mountain Apache are a federally recognized tribe. Their traditional area ranged from the White Mountains near present-day Snowflake, Arizona, the Little Colorado River in the north over the Gila Mountains south to the Pinaleno Mountains near Safford (Ichʼįʼ Nahiłtį́į́)) and parts of Chihuahua and Sonora, Mexico.[3] They lived near waterways, which they used for their crops, such as along the East Fork and North Fork of the White River, Willow Creek, Black River and the Gila River.[2]: 12  [4]

Cibecue Apache

(Spanish derivation of the autonym of the Apache living in the Cibecue Creek Valley and Salt River Canyon known to them as Deshchíí Bikoh, Dishchíí Bikoh, or Deshchííkoh – “Horizontally Red Canyon” or “Red Ridge Valley”, therefore the Apache living there were called Deshchíí Bikoh Ndéé, Dishchíídn – “Horizonally Red Canyon People” – sometimes shortened to “People of the Red Canyon” or “Red Canyon People”, possibly of Navajo/Zuni ancestry, ranged north of the Salt River to well above the Mogollon Rim between Cherry Creek in the west to Cedar Creek in the east – sometimes they were found even further west on Tonto Creek, in the Sierra Ancha and the Mazatzal Mountains considered to be Southern Tonto Apache land), today all part of the federally recognized tribe of the White Mountain Apache of the Fort Apache Reservation

San Carlos Apache of the San Carlos Reservation

(Tsék’āādn – “Metate Stone People”, lived on both sides of the San Pedro River and in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson), a federally recognized tribe composed of the San Carlos Apache proper and several groups of the Cibecue Apache (excluding the Tsēē Hachīīdn (“Red Rock Strata People”) clan of the Carrizo band), some Tonto Apache, Lipan as well Chiricahua Apache peoples.

Tonto Apache

(autonym: Dilzhę́`é lived from the San Francisco Peaks, East Verde River and Oak Creek Canyon along the Verde River into the Mazatzal Mountains and to the Salt River in the SW and the Tonto Basin in the SE, extending eastward toward the Little Colorado River. They were the most westerly group of the Western Apache.

The Chiricahua called them Ben-et-dine – ‘wild’, ‘crazy’; neighboring Western Apache called them Koun`nde – ‘Those who you don’t understand’, ‘wild rough People’. The Spanish adapted the latter term, referring to the people as Tonto –meaning 'loose', 'foolish' in Spanish. The Dine called the Tonto Apache and neighboring Yavapai Dilzhʼíʼ dinéʼiʼ – ‘People with high-pitched voices’, distinguishing them by language.

Other bands and groups

Often groups of Wi:pukba (Wipukepa) and Guwevkabaya (Kwevkepaya) of the Yavapai lived together with the Tonto Apache (as well as bands of the San Carlos Apache) in bilingual rancherias, and could not be distinguished by outsiders (Spaniards, Americans, or Mexicans) except on the basis of their first language. The Yavapai and Apache together were often referred to as Tonto or Tonto Apaches. Therefore, it is not always easy to find out whether it is now exclusively dealing with Yavapai or Apache, or those mixed bands. The Wi:pukba (Wipukepa) and Guwevkabaya (Kwevkepaya) were therefore, because of their ancestral and cultural proximity to the Tonto and San Carlos Apaches, often incorrectly called Yavapai Apaches or Yuma Apaches. The Ɖo:lkabaya (Tolkepaya), the southwestern group of Yavapai, and the Hualapai (also belonging to the Upland Yuma Peoples) were also referred as Yuma Apaches or Mohave Apaches.[12]

Notable Western Apache

White Mountain Apaches

Cibecue Apache

San Carlos Apaches

Tonto Apaches

Further information: Tonto Apache § Chiefs of the Tonto Apache

See also


  1. ^ Shadows at Dawn – The Peoples – Nnēē / Apache / 'O:b
  2. ^ a b Goodwin, Greenville (1969) [1942]. The Social Organization of the Western Apache. Tucson, Arizona: University of Arizona Press. LCCN 76-75453. OCLC 17996.
  3. ^ "Historia de la lengua y cultura n'dee/n'nee/ndé".
  4. ^ Ian W. Record: Big Sycamore Stands Alone: The Western Apaches, Aravaipa, and the Struggle for Place, p. 56, ISBN 978-0-8061-3972-2, 2008, University of Oklahoma Press
  5. ^ a b Yavapai and Nde Apache
  6. ^ Fort Apache History
  7. ^ a b c Palmer, Jessica Dawn (2013). The Apache Peoples: A History of All Bands and Tribes Through the 1880s. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-7864-4551-6.
  8. ^ The Pinal Mountains
  9. ^ The Apaches of the Aravaipa Canyon
  10. ^ the Guwevkabaya/Kwevkepaya were the only Yavapai who had clans, the clans were probably taken over through contact with their Southern Tonto and San Carlos Apache neighbors and kin
  11. ^ The Rye Creek Projekt Archeology in the Upper Tonto Basin
  12. ^ Timothy Braatz: Surviving Conquest: A History of the Yavapai Peoples, 2003, University of Nebraska Press, ISBN 978-0-8032-2242-7
  13. ^ the Cháchíídn (“red rock strata people”) of Pedro were limited almost exclusively to the Carrizo band of the Cibecue Apaches, and were the only people on the Fort Apache Reservation who were not forced to go to San Carlos in 1875

Further reading