FORT SILL (KFDX/KJTL) – Their homeland, dating back many hundreds of years, includes what is now Southwest New Mexico, Southeast Arizona, and Northern parts of Sonora and Chihuahua Mexico.
So far, they still have not returned to their beloved territory.
As we continue our month-long National Native American Heritage Month series, Curtis Jackson and Darrell Franklin focused here on the Fort Sill Apache Tribe.
When thinking of the Native American Apache tribes, Geronimo might quickly come to mind.
For Fort Sill Apaches, Geronimo is not remembered as a great leader in comparison with their chiefs and other leaders.
“He was a person who got a lot of attention,” said Fort Sill Apache Tribal Historian Michael Darrow, “but he was not a person who was noted by our own tribal members as someone who went out of his way to look after the well- being of the tribe.”
By the time of Geronimo’s final surrender in 1886, and when he was later sent to join the Chiricahua Native Americans, they’d already been exiled to Florida and were now being referred to as Fort Sill Apaches on post.
Darrow: “When they were first imprisoned in 1886, they were told they would not be moved away for more than two years, and they would be put back on their own land in their own territory with their own reservations with everything they would need to prosper and that they would not be moved.”
Darrow said instead, they’d remain prisoners of war for nineteen years, and then in 1914, a portion of the tribe would keep the name Fort Sill Apache after receiving small allotments of land in counties surrounding Fort Sill.
Darrow: “Our tribe existed trying to maintain itself, trying to maintain tribal cohesion, being able to support ourselves with an economy of it being farmers in Southwest Oklahoma.” Today, through convenience stores, hotel and casinos, the Fort Sill Apache Tribe’s able to better help its members, and for the future.
“We don’t have any first speakers or fluent speakers currently,” Cultural Coordinator Naomi Hartford said.
Hartford hopes to help change that at the Fort Sill Apache Tribal Complex, north of Apache.
That’s where, because of Apache Casino Hotel revenue, and grants, members of the community, especially children, can continue to grow and learn.
Hartford: “Our children are our future. If we don’t take the initiative now and create a space for them to come and learn about their culture, then they can’t carry that culture on. They are the center of our people.”
“We lost a lot of things within our tribe when, being held as prisoners of war, we weren’t permitted to do ceremonial dances and that kind of thing,” said Fort Sill Apache Chairwoman Lori Gooday. “So, after we were released, the elders that were there in our community here, they kept that alive.”
Now, Chairwoman Gooday-Ware said it’s vital that they re-teach their cultural and language heritage, for the survival of their Fort Sill Apache Tribe, and so the ways of their ancestors, who gave so much, will live on.
They’re also preserving their culture by having instructors teach them how to make things like traditional dresses, boots, bags and jewelry.
They’re going to start teaching traditional foods too.
If you’d like to learn much more about the Fort Sill Apache Tribal Complex and the incredible history offered there, go to https://fortsillapache-nsn.gov/contact/