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Apache Indian Fact Sheet (Ndee)

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Apache Indian tribe for school or home-schooling projects. We encourage students and teachers to visit our Apache language and culture pages for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Apache pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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   Apache Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Apache"? What does it mean?
Apache is pronounced "uh-PAH-chee." It means "enemy" in the language of their Zuni neighbors. The Apaches' own name for themselves was traditionally Nde or Ndee (meaning "the people"), but today most Apache people use the word "Apache" themselves, even when they are speaking their own language.

Where do the Apaches live?
The Apache are natives of the Southwest deserts (particularly in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas). Some Apache people were also located across the border in northern Mexico. One Apache band, the Na'ishan or Plains Apache, lived far away from the other Apaches, in what is now Oklahoma. Their customs were different from other Apaches, more similar to their Kiowa allies. For that reason, the Americans often called the Na'ishan "Kiowa-Apaches." Here are some maps of the different Apache communities today.

The Plains Apaches are still living in Oklahoma today. Some Apaches from other bands were captured and sent to live in Oklahoma by the Americans in the 1800's, while other Apaches resisted being moved and remain in Arizona and New Mexico today. The total Apache Indian population today is around 30,000.

How is the Apache Indian nation organized?
There are thirteen different Apache tribes in the United States today: five in Arizona, five in New Mexico, and three in Oklahoma. Each Arizona and New Mexico Apache tribe lives on its own reservation. Reservations are lands that belong to Indian tribes and are under their control. The Oklahoma Apaches live on trust land. Each Apache tribe has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Apaches are also US citizens and must obey American law.

In the past, each Apache band was led by its own chief, who was chosen by a tribal council. Most important decisions were made by the council, and all the Apache councilmembers had to agree before an action could be taken. An Apache chief was more like a tribal chairman than a president. Most of his job was mediating between other Apaches. Most Apache tribes still use tribal councils for their government today.

What language do the Apache Indians speak?
Almost all Apache people speak English today, but many Apaches also speak their native Apache language, which is closely related to Navajo. Apache is a complex language with tones and many different vowel sounds. Most English speakers find it very difficult to pronounce. If you'd like to know a few easy Apache words, "ash" (rhymes with 'gosh') means "friend" in Western Apache, and "ahéhe'e" (pronunciation ah-heh-heh-eh) means "thank you." You can read a Apache picture dictionary here.

What was Apache culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here are the homepages of the Jicarilla Apache Nation and White Mountain Apache Tribe. On their sites you can find information about the Apache people from ancient times until today. You can also visit this site about the Apache Jii Festival, which has information and photographs about San Carlos Apache culture for kids.

How do Apache Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Apache children like to go hunting with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play in their daily lives, just like colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys, and games to play. Apache children liked to run footraces and play archery games. Once the Apaches acquired horses, girls and boys as young as five years old learned how to ride. An Apache mother traditionally carried her baby in a cradleboard on her back. Here is a website with Apache cradleboard images.

What were men and women's roles in the Apache tribe?
Apache women were in charge of the home. Besides cooking and taking care of children, Apache women built new houses for their families every time the tribe moved their location. Though it was rare for an Apache woman to become a warrior, girls learned to ride and shoot just like the boys did, and women often helped to defend Apache villages when they were attacked. Apache men were hunters, warriors, and political leaders. Only men were chiefs in the Apache tribe. Both genders took part in story-telling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine.

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What were Apache homes like in the past?
Most Apache people lived in wickiups, which are simple wooden frames covered by a matting of brush and sometimes a buffalo-hide tarp. Wickiups were small dwellings, often the size of a modern camp tent, and an Apache woman could build a new wickiup in two hours if there was enough brush available. Here are some pictures of Indian brush houses. The Plains Apaches and some Lipan Apaches used buffalo-hide tipis as housing instead, which are more spacious and easier to heat than wickiups.

Apache people today do not normally use old-fashioned houses like a teepee or wickiup for shelter, any more than you live in a log cabin. Most Apaches live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you. However, some followers of the traditional Apache religion do live in modified larger wickiups, because their beliefs require them to burn down and rebuild their houses whenever there is a death in the family, which can't be done in an apartment.

What was Apache clothing like? Did the Apaches wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Originally Apache women wore buckskin dresses and the men wore leather war shirts and breechcloths. In the 1800's, many Apache men started to wear white cotton tunics and pants, which they adopted from the Mexicans, and many Apache women wore calico skirts and dresses. The Apaches wore moccasins or high moccasin boots on their feet, and rabbit-skin cloaks in cooler weather. An Apache lady's dress or warrior's shirt was often fringed and decorated with beaded designs. Here is a site about the symbolism of Plains Indian war shirts, and some photos and links about Indian costume in general.

The Apaches did not traditionally wear feather warbonnets, but the Plains Apaches adopted these headdresses from their friends the Kiowas. Other Apache people wore leather or cloth headbands instead. For ceremonies Apache people sometimes wore special wooden headdresses and masks, like these Apache Crown Dancers. Women usually wore their hair long and loose or gathered into a bun. Many young Apache women fastened their buns with hourglass-shaped hair ornaments called nah-leens. We haven't yet found a good photo of a nah-leen to share with you, but here is a photograph of some Caddo women wearing the same type of hair fastener. Apache men often cut their hair to shoulder length (except in the Plains Apache tribe.) Here is a website with pictures of these Indian hair styles. Both sexes liked to wear shell jewelry, especially choker-style necklaces. The Apaches also painted their faces for special occasions. They used different patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration.

Today, some Apache people still have moccasins or a buckskin dress, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear traditional regalia on special occasions like a wedding or a dance.

What was Apache transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
No--the Apache Indians weren't coastal people, and rarely traveled by river. Originally they just walked. There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe, so the Apaches used dogs pulling travois (a kind of drag sled) to help them carry their belongings. Once Europeans brought the horse to America, the Apaches quickly became expert riders and could travel much more quickly than before.

What was Apache food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Apaches were not farming people like their cousins the Navajos. Primarily they were hunters. Apache men hunted buffalo, deer, antelope, and small game, while women gathered nuts, seeds, and fruit from the environment around them. Most traditional Apache people do not go fishing, since eating fish is prohibited in their religion. However, some Plains Apache people did pick up the custom of eating fish from their Kiowa neighbors. Although most Apache people were not farmers, the Apaches still used to eat corn frequently. They got it by trading with the Pueblo tribes and the Spanish, or by capturing it during raids. Favorite Apache recipes included cornbread, sunflower cakes, and acorn stew. Here is a website with more information about Southwest Indian food.

What were Apache weapons and tools like in the past?
Apache hunters used bows and arrows. In war, Apache men fired their bows or fought with long spears and buffalo-hide shields. Here is a website with pictures and more information about Apache Indian weapons.

What other Native Americans did the Apache tribe interact with?
The Apaches traded regularly with other tribes of the Southwest. They particularly liked to trade for corn from agricultural tribes like the Navajo and Pueblo tribes. More often, though, the Apaches were known for raiding neighboring tribes and stealing horses, corn, and other goods. The Apaches had different ideas about war than Europeans did. The Europeans considered a direct attack honorable but thought sneaking in and stealing things was cowardly. But to the Apaches, stealthily raiding another tribe's camp was a brave deed because it meant risking their own lives, but attacking the camp openly would be shameful, because children and old people were likely to be hurt. Apache warriors usually only fought real wars over matters of revenge or defending their territory from invaders, like when they fought against the Mexicans and Americans. At other times, Apache men went on raids primarily to prove their courage.

What are Apache arts and crafts like?
Apache artists are famous for their fine beadwork and basketry. Eastern Apache people sometimes made Southwestern pottery like the Pueblo Indians. Here is a website with many pictures of Apache baskets, and one about the history of Apache pottery.

What is Apache Indian music like?
Music is very important to Apache Indian culture. There are different types of traditional Apache songs for ceremonial, social, and entertainment purposes. Singing together in the Apache language is the most important part of Apache music, but musical instruments such as drums, flutes, and rattles are also used. Drums and rattles are especially used during dances, while flutes are particularly associated with love songs. Some Apache groups also played a sort of fiddle made out of agave stalks. Here is a website with some examples of traditional Apache Indian songs you can listen to, and a YouTube video of Apache singers and dancers performing at Fort Sill.

What kinds of stories do the Apaches tell?
There are lots of Apache legends and oral traditions. Storytelling is very important to the Apache Indian culture. Here is a Jicarilla Apache myth about how fire came to the Apaches, and here are some funny Western Apache folktales about the trickster Coyote swindling people. Here's a page where you can read more about Apache mythology.

What about Apache religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Apache life, and many people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Apache people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Mescalero Apache spiritual beliefs or this site about Native American belief in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy this book of Chiricahua Apache legends, or the charming illustrated legend The Flute Player for a younger child. Or you may enjoy reading this interesting biography of Geronimo, the famous warrior and holy man of the Chiricahuas. If you want to know more about Apache culture and history, two good books for children are The Apache Indians and Apache Children and Elders Talk Together. For older kids, we recommend Culture and Customs of the Apache Indians, a much more in-depth book on Apache culture and family life. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Native American books in general. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my project's bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the report format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Apache Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Apaches

Apache Indian Tribe
An overview of the Apache people, their language and history.

Apache Language Resources
Apache language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Apache Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Apache tribe past and present.

Apache Words
Apache Indian vocabulary lists.

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