Research: How hiding in plain sight saved the Jicarilla Apache

Native American history

Research: How hiding in plain sight saved the Jicarilla Apache

Book cover of 'Becoming White Clay' by B. Sunday EiseltNorth America’s Jicarilla Apache tribe cloaked themselves in trade, diplomacy, and intermarriage and nearly escaped incarceration on an American Indian reservation. How they did it has been a mystery of the historical American Southwest – until now.

“In some ways, the Jicarilla still remain invisible,” according to SMU anthropologist Sunday Eiselt.

The Jicarilla Apache, an amalgamation of nomadic tribes that in the 18th century migrated off the plains and settled in the northern Rio Grande of New Mexico, were accustomed to armed resistance, guerrilla tactics and inter-tribal warfare.

They fought alongside the Pueblo Indians in the Revolt of 1680 and later resisted Comanche raiders, sometimes as contract fighters and security guards for the Spanish and American trade caravans. Then quietly, deliberately and peacefully they slipped off the radar of Spanish colonization and U.S. Manifest Destiny until 1888, when the Jicarilla became the last Native American tribe forcibly settled on a reservation.

“This was not an accident of history,” says Eiselt. The Apache, particularly the Jicarilla, were experts at invisibility — not just physically, but also socially and economically. For example, Jicarilla warriors on raids would paint themselves during the journey to the plains with white clay to avoid detection by their enemies.

The protocol beckoned supernatural or spiritual protections to bring the warriors home safely. Just as white clay was a warrior strategy for self-preservation, it stands as a metaphor for the primary message of the book.

“By ‘becoming white clay’ in their social and economic dealings,” Eiselt contends, “the Jicarilla turned the tables on non-Indian expansion and disappeared into the cultural fabric of the Southwest’s Pueblo colonies as other Native Americans were being forced onto reservations.” The Jicarilla, without firing a shot, not only avoided confinement and even extermination for nearly two centuries, they rescued their culture from extinction.

“The Jicarilla essentially colonized the colonies,” says Eiselt, an expert on the Jicarilla. “They became invisible to government authorities because they were always on the move, they intermarried with the Pueblo and Hispanic peoples, and they established long-standing trade with them. They disappeared by becoming essential, an everyday part of the frontier society of New Mexico, which sustained Spanish, Mexican and ultimately U.S. interests.”

Encapsulation of one society within a larger, dominant or more powerful society is a phenomenon known as enclavement. As a strategy it was not new to the ancestors of the Jicarilla. In fact, enclavement may have occurred multiple times as their Athapaskan ancestors migrated from Canada to the American Southwest beginning as early as the 12th century, Eiselt says.

“Few scholars recognize how significant the Jicarilla contribution was to the survival of the traditional cultures of New Mexico,” says Eiselt, whose new book “Becoming White Clay” (University of Utah Press, 2012) is a comprehensive study of one of the longest-lived and most successful nomadic ethnic group enclaves in North America. “There hasn’t been a whole lot of research into the Jicarilla, even though they’ve always been there and their contribution to New Mexican history is almost entirely underappreciated.”

“Sunday Eiselt has produced the definitive work on Jicarilla Apache history and archaeology,” says Ronald H. Towner, University of Arizona. “She uses a strong theoretical approach to enclavement and combines history, archaeology and ethnohistory to not only describe past Jicarilla movements and cultural development throughout the Southwest, but to explain how and why Jicarilla social organization at different scales structured that development during times of warfare, removal from traditional lands and economic stress. Eiselt’s scholarship is second-to-none.”

Written by Margaret Allen

> Read the full story at the SMU Research blog

February 25, 2013|Research|

Research: A new look at the Native American movement

'Hippies, Indians, and the Fight for Red Power' book coverWhen several hundred Native Americans took over the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., on November 3, 1972, it was with the backing of a hodgepodge of supporters ranging  from hippies to Methodists to Hollywood celebrities.

SMU History Professor Sherry Smith’s new book, Hippies, Indians, and the Fight for Red Power  (Oxford University Press, 2012), is the first to examine this alliance that cut across racial, ethnic and class lines.

“I felt this story had not been told,” says Smith, who devoted 10 years to writing the book. “The primary figures in the Red Power movement  – the most important movers and shakers – were Native Americans. But the support they received from non-Indians was a critical, even essential, component in their ultimate successes.”

Hippies looked to Native Americans as symbols of alternative ways of life that were opposite of established society’s values and beliefs, but the hippie-Indian interaction was more textured and complicated than that, Smith says.

“Hippies were among the first non-Indians of the postwar generation to seek out contact with Native Americans, learn about their grievances, and join their call for reform,” she says. “They did so in large and significant numbers, which in turn caught the attention of the rest of the nation.”

To tell the story, Smith interviewed non-Indians involved in the alliance such as Stewart Brand, creator of the Whole Earth Catalog; actor and counterculture activist Peter Coyote, as well as Native Americans such as Joe Sando of the Albuquerque Pueblo Cultural Center. She also relied on sources ranging from the Richard Nixon Presidential Papers to the American Friends Service Committee.

Smith links the interest in Indian affairs in the 1960s and ’70s to cultural events such as the 1962 publication of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which featured one of the first prominent fictional contemporary Indian characters, Chief Broom. In addition, Dee Brown’s 1970 bestseller, Bury My Heart at Wounded Kneeopened readers’ eyes to the root of Native American demands with the first history of the American West told from the Indians’ point of view.

As the 40th anniversary of events such as the Trail of Broken Treaties (Nov. 3-9, 1972) and the occupation of Wounded Knee (Feb. 27-May 8, 1973) approaches, Smith’s book examines a period when Americans supported social justice movements that did not serve their personal interests.

“I was very impressed with those individuals and groups, including the church-based organizations, that rose to the occasion and helped push for substantive reform in Indian policy in the 1970s,” Smith says. “This was not about them, but about others. They had nothing to gain personally, other than a sense that the nation was finally living up to its promises.”

Can it happen again?

“We have become increasingly fragmented in this country,” Smith says. “I think our nation has been in a reactive state for 40 years now, turning away from the turmoil and challenges of the Sixties. But I am heartened by the resurgence of activism. It is certainly possible and even probable that social and economic justice movements will be revitalized.”

> Read more from SMU News

September 26, 2012|For the Record, Research|
Load More Posts