The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture’s exhibit “Lifeways of the Southern Athabaskans” is an illuminating look at the Apache tribes that have been part of the Southwest, and New Mexico in particular, for hundreds of years.
More than 100 objects, including basketry, beaded clothing and hunting and horse gear dating from the late 1880s to the present, are on display in this show that highlights the cultural traditions and Apache customs of the Jicarilla, Mescalero, Fort Sill (Chiricahua), San Carlos and White Mountain tribes.
“All of the objects in the exhibit are part of the museum’s collection,” explains MIAC’s director of education and the show’s curator Joyce Begay-Foss (Navajo), who planned the exhibit for five years before its opening in 2017. “We had to borrow some of the photos from the Library of Congress and other museums. People want to know what Native people looked like a hundred or more years ago.”
What may surprise exhibit visitors is how important women have been to the Apache, which was a hunter/gatherer and nomadic society for many years. Women set up the dwellings and took them down when the tribe needed to move. They made clothes, cradleboards for the babies, baskets and pottery. They planted crops and cooked the food. A four-day-long ritual for girls entering puberty is still practiced by the Apache.
In addition to participating in ceremonies, women also fought side-by-side with men in battle. One of the Apache’s most celebrated warriors is Lozen (1840-1889), a Chiricahua Apache who helped Victorio and his band of Apaches flee from American forces that had appropriated their homeland in the late 1870s.
Men assumed the role of hunter. Using bows and arrows, they pursued elk, deer, antelope, buffalo and an array of small critters.
Horses were an essential part of Apache society, transporting people and household items. A pair of rawhide shoes that were worn on the animal’s front hooves are on display.
A number of objects in the exhibit show how much the Apache depended on the exchange of goods with members of other tribes and traders of European descent, including an Apache violin that was modeled after a European instrument.
“Lifeways of the Southern Athabaskans” runs through June 2, 2019.