“I was no chief and never had been, but because I had been more deeply wronged than others, this honor was conferred upon me, and I resolved to prove worthy of the trust.“
Family Life in the Mescalero Tribe
The Mescaleros are one of several indigenous American peoples who make up the larger Apache Tribe. A nomadic people, the Mescaleros once populated areas in what is now the southwest of the U.S. and Northern Mexico. Today, the Mescalero Tribe, which consists of Mescalero, Lipan, and Chiricahua people, live on a 463,000 acre reservation in the state of New Mexico. While no longer nomadic, many of the traditions of family life in the Mescalero tribe are still observed today.
Like many other indigenous American societies, Apache society was matrilineal, and both property and lineage were passed on through the mother. In family life in the Mescalero tribe, men who married became members of their wives’ family household. If a husband’s behavior was unacceptable, a woman could divorce him by simply removing his belongings from the house. It was common for several extended families to both travel together and live in close proximity to one another, sharing resources and cooperating when defense became necessary.
Even while traveling, married couples maintained their own residences, called wikiups. Women were often responsible for constructing the homes, as well as decorating them. Their homes were constructed of natural materials, including the tanned hides of the animals they hunted for food. In addition to construction work, women also collected agave, nuts, and other vegetables. Many were also hunters of smaller game such as rabbits and antelope, as well as warriors during battles.
While most tasks were carried out by both men and women, men usually designed and made hunting tools and defensive weapons, while women typically designed and made clothing. Great pride was taken in clothing in family life in the Mescadero Tribe, which was often intricately beaded and played an important role in social ceremonies.
Special Ceremonies Celebrating Family life in the Mescadero Tribe
Two special ceremonies were observed for all Apache children. When a baby was old enough to no longer need to be carried on the traditional cradleboard, they were given their first, and often only, haircut by the shaman to bring good luck. At two years of age, in the moccasin ceremony, children were given new shoes and clothes before walking eastward. The purpose of the ceremony was to help the child begin a favorable journey through life.
Grandparents had the important role of teaching young people both practical skills, such as tanning hides, and acceptable cultural behavior. Cooperation was highly valued and children were discouraged from rivalry. The contributions of grandparents were honored during another important ceremony which marked the passage of young girls into womanhood.
For eight days, the young women wore ceremonial buckskins and refrained from contact with water. The men built a ceremonial tipi while a feast was prepared for a celebration of her success in learning her tribal language and mastering social values such as kindness, good manners, and fortitude. Both a medicine man and a medicine woman participated in saying prayers and advising her concerning the many aspects of her future family life in the Muscadero Tribe. This ceremony is still practiced today.
Religion and Politics in Family Life in the Mescadero Tribe
The center of the religion of the Apache people was a Creator that was neither male or female, but a presence manifested by natural phenomenon such as the sun, wind, and rain. There were also important legendary cultural figures, both male and female, in the form of The Twin War Gods and White Painted Woman.
Politically, the leader of the group was typically male. His leadership was based on his ability to persuade others. However, individuals and families were ultimately free to decide for themselves whether to follow his suggestions. Families or groups that disagreed were also free to leave the group. Today, there is a tribal government separate from that of the U.S. government.
The gender equality of family life in the Muscalero tribe is reflected by the fact that the tribe has already had two female Presidents, while the U.S. has not yet had one female president. In 1959, Virginia Klinekole was elected as the tribe’s first woman president. After her term as president, she was elected to the Tribal Council, where she served until 1986. After the death of popular leader Wendell Chino, who served as president for 43 years, another woman, Sara Misquez was elected.
Parents all over the world continue to teach their children the importance of many aspects of family life in the Muscalero tribe, such as kindness, cooperation and respect for the knowledge and experience of community elders. These values contribute to mutual understanding between all members of the family of man.
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