Contesting Anthropological Knowledge of the Jicarilla Apache Nations Origin Story

Dynette Chavez (Jicarilla Apache) earned her BA in Anthropology from Whittier College and came to the APS in the summer...

Upon arrival at the APS for my summer internship I was unsure of what I wanted to research because I knew there would be multiple archives I could have access to. Though I learned that only a limited access to archives was available for the summer because of renovations making many materials inaccessible to both staff and researchers, I decided that I would focus on archives from my Jicarilla Apache Tribe. I originally chose my research to revolve around our language but the archives I looked at weren’t enough to complete a project. Next, I found two archives from American anthropologists who wrote about my tribe's origin story in the 1800s. 

Jicarilla Apache Nation Flag and Tribal Seal
Current Jicarilla Apache Nation Flag and Tribal Seal.

The two archives I looked at were very informative and descriptive about the origin story of where my people came from. As a tribal member of the Jicarilla Apache Nation, I am unaware of the origin story myself because I was never informed about it as a young child until I came across the archives at APS. However, I decided that I would focus mostly on the first book written by Morris Edward Ophler, an American anthropologist who studied my tribe for two years for his research. This material interested me because as I mentioned earlier I wasn't fully aware of what occurred in the creation story. This book contained very descriptive and detailed information about my tribe which I was surprised that it would all be in an archive written by an anthropologist.  

page from Opler book
Page from Morris Edward Opler
Myths and Tales of the Jicarilla Apache Indians Memoirs of the American Folk-lore Society in 1938.

I also questioned who Ophler’s informants were in his research and who allowed him to give this much information which is not meant to be shared with people who aren’t from our tribe. Additionally, one thing I contested throughout my research was how Ophler referred to the origin story as a “myth” and that makes the origin story lose it’s spirituality and meaning to us Jicarilla Apache people. The word “myth” is contested because the origin story is a real story from our people and history. There are various versions of the origin story and it’s important to acknowledge the way it’s told and represented. This research has allowed me to find out that not many tribal members are fully aware of where we come from and our oral histories, as well as how each individual, whether native or non-native, interprets knowledge differently. One important thing I took away from this research is that the archives at APS can help bring history to life that was lost but from a distinctive perspective. Lastly, what I plan to do is go back to my community's cultural center and show them my research so we can begin to look at the various origin stories and let the elders decide which we’d like to use in present time and for the future generations.


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