Programs & Services

New Exhibit Reveals Connections and Contrasts

Lifeways of the Southern Athabaskans

Mescalero Apache moccasins, ca. 1860­1900. Buckskin, beads, yellow ochre, Courtesy of John and Linda Comstock and the Abigail Van Vleck Charitable Trust, 1705/12. Photo courtesy of Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.

Linked by a common language, groups of people from different indigenous tribes lived a mobile and hardscrabble life in the American Southwest in the early 19th century. Opening December 10, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture explores this period and these people in the new exhibition, Lifeways of the Southern Athabaskans. The exhibition will remain at MIAC throughout 2018 and end July 7, 2019.

This exhibit is about the different Apachean groups in New Mexico and Arizona, based on the collections of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture collections. In the exhibition, the groups are linked together through language: Southern Athabaskan, hence the title of the exhibit. These tribes/nations are represented in the exhibition: Jicarilla, Mescalero, Fort Sill Apache (Chiricahua), San Carlos, and White Mountain.

“Objects are not grouped based on Jicarilla, Mescalero, or by tribe,” said curator Joyce Begay-Foss, “They are grouped by the way they lived their lives. So, it’s not an exhibit about one very specific group and how they lived, but represents the collective material culture of the Athabaskan people.”

“When you examine all the different Apache groups, there are similarities, but differences between the way in which they constructed baskets and bows and arrows, for example,” Begay-Foss said.

The term “lifeways” refers to how they maintained their material culture utilizing ethnobotanical materials, hunting skills, and horse culture. The Apachean bands in the early 1800s lived a very nomadic and difficult lifestyle adhering to foraging for native foods and hunting game in different weather or elevation conditions of desert and mountainous terrains.

The exhibition also explores the cosmology and their belief systems and how these are reflected in material culture, such as baskets, beaded pouches, beaded awls, hunting gear such as bow quivers, self-bows, and arrows. There is symbolism and cosmology used in their everyday lives that are often overlooked. Many objects are used, some are worn, and that reflects the usage of the people. These objects represent the entire lifespan, from infant to adult.

“We want people to come away from the exhibit with a much better knowledge of the Apachean people and specifically their lifeways, rather than what may have learned in textbooks which is often portrayed in a negative context,” said Begay-Foss.

The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture is open Tuesday–Sunday 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Admission $7 for New Mexico residents with ID. $12 for non-residents, free for children 6 and under. The first Sunday of each month is free for New Mexico residents with ID. Wednesdays are free for New Mexico resident seniors (60+) with ID.

The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture provides a variety of educational programs for adults, families, and organized groups including: summer native youth programs, adult programs, school programs, guided tours, outreach, and online resources.

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