According to Chiricahua Apache Creation stories, these lands were set in perfect foundation, specifically for Nde, the Chiricahua People. Our creation stories of Ussen, White Painted Woman, Child of Water, Killer of Enemies and Ga-He (the Mountain Spirits), tell us that Chiricahua people have been here in our territory - now the U.S. Southwest and North Central Mexico - from time immemorial. Chiricahua Apache people were created here in our traditional homeland territory. The Chiricahua people and culture predate all other cultures who have attempted to settle this area unsuccessfully.
We believe that any other theory that minimizes Chiricahua Apache occupation in our traditional territory, usually only advocated by dominant society interests, only reflects the land claims issues with which the dominant society has attempted to deny Chiricahua Apaches of their rightful claim to our traditional lands ... Which, in its pristine state, is extremely valuable for its resources: land, timber, water, minerals, plant life, grazing, wildlife and aestetic value.
Our Traditional Homelands
Chiricahua Apaches were among the first and last peoples to resist European and Anglo incursion into their homelands. The response to their resistance was genocide and war. The prolonged Apache wars and systematic theft of Chiricahua homelands resulted in a massive displacement and scattering of our people.
These events were culminated by the removal of innocent Chiricahua Apache women, children and elderly. In 1886, these Apaches were declared prisoners of war and moved first to Florida, then Alabama, and finally to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Many died. Some Chiricahua hid in Mexico. Others scattered to other Apache reservations, and some hid among the Hispanics, or literally hid in the mountains as the warrior masai and others did.
Of five reservations, established specifically for the Chiricahua people in New Mexico and Arizona in the late 1800s, including numerous older reserves in Mexico, none remains today. All United states and Mexican reservations were dissolved. This includes the Fort Sill reservation in Oklahoma, dissolved in 1914 to make way for an artillery base.
NDE-BENAI Chiricahua Territory
The Gila Wilderness, near present day Silver City, NM, is considered the center of the “northern stronghold” and traditional “summer grounds”. The northern sections of Mexico´s Sierra Madre were considered the “southern stronghold” and utilized as “winter grounds”.
The traditional Chiricahua Apache territory extended to the east as far as the Rio Grand valley, to the west as far as the San Pedro River valley, to the south as far as the Yaqui/Bavisque/Papigochic confluence in the Sierra Madre, and to the north as far as the Datil Mountains just below the present day Hwy I-40 corridor. In 1848, the international boundary crosses these traditional lands, dividing our homeland between two countries.
Modern population patterns show the long-term effekt that the Chiricahua had on early European settlement patterns. The major cities found in the Southwest and northern Mexico, all lie at the far reaches of Chiricahua traditional lands, El Paso, TX, Albuquerque, NM, Hwy I-40 corridor, Tucson, AZ, and Chihuahua City, Mexico. Chiricahua Apache peoples may have “lost” ownership of our lands, but we still retain Spiritual Ownership of “every inch” of this land.
Of an estimated population of 20,000 Nde, Chiricahua Apaches, at contact, there are less than 1,200 “prisoner of war” descendants living either on the Mescalero reservation, or on land allotements pruchased from deceased Comanches in Oklahoma. In contrast, the populations of Chiricahua that left the homelands or went underground in two countries exceed 75,000 globally by some estimates. This population lives on and off several Apache reservations, in rural areas and urban centers all over Mother Earth.
Chiricahua Land Stewardship
The collective consciousness of Chiricahua descendants have expressed a sense of loss and longing to return to ancestral lands to revitalize Chiricahua traditions and ceremony. Ancient sacred sites continue to be visited by Chiricahua from everywhere. More compelling, Apaches feel that Apache Sacred Sites are in danger of desecration by pollution from mining, industrial and commercial interests, even recreation. The ecology and general health of this land has been severely negatively impacted.
Chiricahua people believe in the sacredness of the landscape and the environmental, spiritual and social harmony of our Ussen given right to exist on the land of our ancestors. Apaches will continue to advocate for sound environmental decisions to address our concerns for our traditional lands:
- Leave no trace
- Take only what you need
- Respect the land, the animals, the plants, the air, the water, natural processes and their importance and place on earth
This land is where the people originated and all the creation stories tell how the Chiricahua learned their code of ethics, of peace and harmony, from the Mountain Spirits and White Painted Woman near the Sacred Spring of “Red Paint Cave”, when the world was new, in what is now Southwest new Mexico. Oral history tells how the Chiricahua then spread in the Sacred Four Directions from this Emergence Point and Sacred Site.
Our ancestors sacrificed their lives for us. As decendants of these strong and fearless, yet humble people, it is now our responsibility to gather together from all Sacred Four Directions and work for the restauration of our Sacred Native Lands. These land areas are now mostly under the control of the United States government as public domain land. We, the Chiricahua, believed exterminated and therefore distinctively unrecognized, must recover our traditions, so that our posterity will not be permanently jeopardized by acculturation and assimilation. Historically, we have been herded to and fro, taken from lands, which shaped our culture and lifeways, at gunpoint. Even to this day we seem to be “lost” in this country having no place to call our own. It is now time to come forward and unify our Peoples. We must return to our original ancestral lands, our sacred religous and ceremonial sites, where many of our ancestors are buried. We must remember the treaty of 1872 signed by Cochise, the Chiricahua Peoples, and the United States government, which guaranteed our existence in our inherent territory. Let us gather, in consensus as one people, the Chiricahua, to revive our ceremonies and restore our lands and traditions. Let it not be another hundred years before we take this important step toward the unification or our people. Let us humbly pray for blessings from Ussen, the Life Giver, to guide us on this important path to the restoration of the Chiricahua people on our entitled and original lands. Nde Benai, a land set in perfect foundation for the Nde. We remember the stories. Genocide did not work.