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What is the Apache Tribe?

By S. Ashraf
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Apache tribe is the general name given to a group of Native American tribes from the southwestern United States that are culturally related to each other. Historically, the many branches of the Apache tribe controlled land that extended from central Texas through central Arizona and from northern Mexico to the southern Great Plains. Apache tribes now occupy land only in parts of Oklahoma, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. There are more than 50,000 members of the Apache tribe, and they are divided into six regional groups: Mescalero, Jicarilla, Chiricahua, Lipan, Plains Apache and Western Apache. In addition to having similar cultures, these groups are tied together by speaking a common language, southern Athabaskan.

Mescalero Apache tribe members live on a reservation located in southeastern New Mexico. The Jicarilla Apache tribe also lives in New Mexico primarily on its own reservation in the northwestern part of the state. Chiricahua Apache tribe members inhabit the New Mexico and Arizona border region. Most of the Chiricahua live on the Mescalero Reservation, but a small band moved to Oklahoma after the tribe was released from being prisoners of war in the 19th century and is now known as the Fort Sill Apache tribe.

The number of members of the Lipan Apache has been decreasing, and the few that remain live either on the Mescalero Reservation or in Texas. Plains Apaches reside mostly on a reservation in southwestern Oklahoma. Western Apaches live on several reservations and are the only group of Apaches still living within the boundaries of Arizona.

Even though the tribes' members are U.S. citizens, each of the Apache tribes has its own laws, government and police and runs its own services. In the past, Apache bands were led by a chief chosen by a tribal council. In modern times, most of the Apache tribes still govern themselves through a system of tribal councils. Almost all Apaches speak English, but many continue to speak their native language as well. Although most tribe members live in modern apartments or houses, some live in modified traditional housing because their religious beliefs require houses to be burned down and rebuilt following a death in the family.

Economic support for the Apache tribes comes from a variety of sources. The development of mineral resources, tourism, cattle and timber provide sources of income for the tribes. Gaming from casinos is another major source of income and jobs creation.

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Discussion Comments
By umbra21 — On Oct 05, 2011

@irontoenail - The various groups within the Apache tribe might have their own unique cultures, though. Even if they are linked by a common language. It sounds like the regions they inhabited were far enough apart to have created some differences.

And I doubt any one of those groups has many more than a few thousand to them. Not to mention that the 50,000 mentioned in the article might not all be living in Apache communities. So, it might still be quite difficult to maintain cultural mores and language and so forth.

By irontoenail — On Oct 05, 2011

50,000 people is a huge amount relative to the numbers of people in other tribes that I've heard of. They seem lucky to have more than a couple of thousand members.

And I suspect that of those few thousand, quite a few have much less Indian ancestry than ancestry from other cultures. It always seems to come up in the news that people suddenly rediscover their heritage when the tribe comes into money through the casinos.

I know that's very cynical. But, it is really good to see that there are still a few tribes around that have the large numbers that are necessary to preserve customs and language.

By BoniJ — On Oct 04, 2011

I remember the Apache Indians as being a fairly war-like tribe. I don't know if the tribes fought against each other or against other tribes.

I have never heard of the custom where they burn down the house when someone dies. The article says that all the Apache Tribes speak the same language, even though they lived quite a distance from each other. They must have visited each other often to keep the language from changing.

It's too bad that their numbers are dwindling. I wonder what is causing this? They do get to govern themselves on the reservation through a tribal council. That's a good thing!

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