Western Apache - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities . In traditional times, about 40 percent of the diet came from gathered wild plant foods, 35 percent from meat (especially deer), and 25 percent from horticulture. Wild food products included sahuaro fruit, mescal (agave), acorns, mesquite beans, juniper berries, and piñon nuts. Horticulture was practiced in fields often less than an acre in size, with small dams and channels used for irrigation. After the establishment of the reservations a few Apaches took advantage of government allotment programs to develop cattle herds, but those who did often came into conflict with Whites who grazed cattle through a permit system on the reservations. By the 1950s most of the non-Indians who were running livestock on Indian land had been forced off, and the tribes themselves started cooperative herding operations with stock owned by individuals but managed by tribal employees.

Subsistence farming has continued up to the present day only on the Fort Apache Reservation. The White Mountain Apache Tribe has started an irrigated farming operation, and both reservations have a variety of tourist facilities to profit from camping, boating, fishing, and hunting by non-Indians along with lumbering. The Fort Apache Reservation has been more successful in these enterprises than San Carlos because it has more resources and a better climate. San Carlos has developed a jojoba nut industry, and some Apaches mine and sell the semiprecious stone peridot, which is found relatively close to the surface in one area of the reservation. All these activities provide jobs and income for at least part of the population. Other income derives from off-reservation employment, government jobs, small businesses, and public assistance.

Industrial Arts. Traditional activities such as tanning skins, basket making, and the manufacture of cradle boards and pitch-lined water jars are still done on a limited basis. Beadwork, painting, and doll making have been added to the repertoire.

Trade. In the past, Apaches traded with some of the surrounding tribes for a variety of items. Individual handicrafts are still occasionally traded to local stores or sold to dealers, but for the most part the economic system on the reservations is part of the larger American cash economy.

Division of Labor. Although hunting, raiding, and warfare were usually men's tasks, and gathering, basket making, child rearing, and cooking, women's, the division of labor was flexible. Both sexes worked fields and continue to do so. Both work at public gatherings. Both could function in leadership roles and as shamans, although men did so more often. Today both sexes run for and are elected to tribal office. There is, however, marked physical separation of men and women in a variety of contexts, and to preserve their reputations a man and a woman must not be alone with each other.

Land Tenure. Aboriginally, the bands controlled resources within their territories, and farmlands were owned by the individuals who were members of the various local groups. Individuals could will their land to any of their offspring or to their surviving spouse and could also lend land to any of their relatives. Only if they wished to lend land to a nonrelative was approval of local leaders needed. Today land is held in trust by the U.S. government, and individual-use rights are controlled by rules based on a mix of tradition and tribal law.

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