Native American Culture

by Sean N. Bennett

Apache Culture


Apaches originally came from the Athapankan people that historically inhabited present day Alaska and northwestern Canada. Around 1000 A.D to 1500 there was a mass southward migration of Athapaskans people who had broken off from the main group. The Apaches were a part of this off-shoot and would later colonize much of the American Southwest. Within the American Southwest the Apaches lived a nomadic life style easily moving from place to place following water and game.

At the turn of the twentieth century the Apache nation found itself on reservations as with the vast majority of Native Americans living in North America. According to the United States Census Bureau there are currently 63,000 Apaches living in the United states. Most of these Apaches live on reservation in Arizona and in New Mexico. There are however smaller groups in Texas, Oklahoma, and living completely off any reservation. No matter where they live Apaches strive to retain their identity.

Values and Norms

Apache children are taught the value of humility from an early age. This is quite different than the general American culture where there is a competitive nature to be the best instilled in today's youth. It is quite the opposite in Apache culture. For instance: if a teacher spot lights a child for achievements or good behavior, it make them very uncomfortable. They feel it makes look better than others which contradicts their value system. It is much better to quietly and individually complement an Apache away from the group.

Another foundation value in Apache culture is decision making and cooperation. They are taught to work in groups and to make individual decisions that benefit the community as a whole. This value system came into play when the United State Government wanted to store nuclear waste on the Apache reservation. In response to this Joseph Geronimo said:

"Very few of us will be around forty years from now. Our children will be stuck with it. And what would they get for it? Nothing? Our people have made the choice that their traditions and culture is the most important thing in the world, and Grandmother earth is not for sale at any price".(Melody,p. 91)

This type of value system and feelings still reside in many of the Apaches today. It is clearly seen in their land management and conservation efforts.


The Apache are a devoutly religious and spiritual people. According to them the universe is full of power. This power transcends everything we come in contact with such as: people, animals, elements, ideas, etc. This power can be used for good, breathing life into the world around us, or bad, bring disease and death. The Apaches believed that there are special individuals that were gifted with the use of this power. If these special individuals used this power for good they were call Shamans, and reversely, if they used it for evil they were called Witches. This spirituality was interwoven into their every day life. In describing his own religion Geronimo an Apache Shaman said this:

"We had no churches, no religious organizations, no Sabbath day, no holidays, and yet we worshipped. Sometimes the whole tribe would assemble to sing and pray; sometimes in a smaller number, perhaps only two or three.... Sometimes we prayed in silence; sometimes each one prayed aloud; sometimes an aged person prayed for all of us". (Melody, p. 19-20)

Many present day many Apaches have adopted christian beliefs. Along with this the deep spiritual connection and rituals are still a major part of Apache life today.

Sense of Self and Space

Apaches have a deep sense of freedom and connection to the earth. This is rooted in their nomadic history of living off the land. This conviction to freedom and connection to the land kept them resisting the policies of the United States Government. In fact is the Apaches were some of the last Native Americans to conform to the United States policies. Even after being place on the reservation, Apaches continued to fight for their own self government. Today Apaches on the reservation have won the right to have their own tribal government.

Communication Style and Language

There are two main dialects of the Apache language which are Eastern and Western Apache. The Western Apache dialect closely resembles the Navajo language. With this in mind Apaches that speak the Western dialect have a hard time understanding the Eastern dialect and vis versa.

-When asked a question many Apaches may take longer to responded. This wait time allows them to carefully reflect produce an answer.

-Apaches are comfortable with silence. This may make them seem rude or incompetent when they do not respond to a question. This, however, is usually never the case. They may intentionally not respond because they have assessed the situation and feel it more appropriate to remain silent.

-As a sign of respect many Apaches may not look an authority figure in the eye when they are talking to them. This is often misinterpreted as being disrespectful.

Food and Feeding Habits

Historically Apaches were hunters and gatherers. This entailed the men taking on the responsibility of hunting large and small game. They hunted a wide variety of animals from lizards and hares to deer and buffalo. The women also contributed to feeding the community by gathering fruits, nuts, and roots. According to Melody the women's contribution to the food stores was as high a 40 percent. (Melody,p.12) Raiding was also used as a method to obtaining food and supplies. This practice was the main cause of conflict with other Native Americans and non Native American settlers.

Recently there has been a shift from the historically simple low fat diet of the Apaches to a refined highly processed food. Processed food is high in calories and fats. This has cause a nationwide increase in obesity and type two diabetes. This is especially present in the Native American population. According to the American Diabetes Association an estimated 30 percent of all Native Americans and Alaskan Natives have type two diabetes. They have also seen a 68 percent increase in diabetes from 1994 to 2004 in American Indian and Alaska Native youth aged 15-19 years. These finding are attributed to the current American life style and diet. There are numerous theories why Native Americans have such an affinity to developing diabetes, though findings are inconclusive.

Time Consciousness

Relationships and Social Organization

Most of Western society lives in what is called a paternal society, meaning that they trace their ancestry through their father's side of the family. Apaches on the other hand live in a Matrilineal society where they trace there ancestry back through their mothers side of the family. Families that were connected by common ancestor were considered a clan. Along with being a Matrilineal society also meant that husband would join the wife's family and clan. The husband was expected to contribute in providing for his in-laws and their clan. Members from the same clan are not allowed to marry each other. Divorce is allowed if a couple is incompatible or infidelity is involved.


Education and Learning

At the turn of the twentieth century when the majority of Apaches were living on reservations, came the mandatory education of Apache youth in boarding schools. Many Apache families found it difficult to except the new American school system because it was completely foreign to their way of life. Traditionally Apache children are taught through modeling and through trial and error. They are uncomfortable in demonstrating a skill until it is mastered. This style of thinking is opposite of traditional American way of teaching, where demonstration is used as a tool to master certain subjects. Boarding schools with traditional American way of teaching were not effective. This however, started to change in 1968 when President Lyndon B, Johnson proposed that to the United States should not try to assimilate Native American into mainstream society, but allow them to govern themselves. Since then and in recent years education has been geared more toward Apaches culture and way of thinking though large improvements are still needed. This fact is apparent by a recent article done in the U.S News stating that only 51 percent of all Native American seniors graduated in 2010.

However, many who have graduated for high school, have gone on to attend college at Arizona State University. Many of them return to the reservation to build businesses and support their communities.

Work Habits and Practices


As a Registered Nurse (RN), it would be important to recognize:

1.That your Apache Indian patients may not look at you when you are talking to them. This does not mean that they are not listening. It is a sign of respect and that they are listening.

2. Apache culture is comfortable with silence. They may not respond immediately to questions a Healthcare professional asks them. Be patient for a response.

3. Be considerate of the whole family when giving care to an Apache patient. They have very tight knit family structure.

See Also



Native American Complications

The Match Between Apache Indians’ Culture And Educational Practices Used In Our Schools: From Problems To Solutions

Apache Indian Language

Graduation Rates Dropping Among Native American Students

Melody,M,E.(2006). The Apache, Indians or North America. New York: Chelsea House Publishers


Melody,M,E.(2006). The Apache, Indians or North America. New York: Chelsea House Publishers

External Links


Sean N. Bennett, RN, MSN - Assistant Professor - Utah Valley University - Orem, Utah

D. Griffin Briem, Rn

Salt Lake Temple