July 12, 2012

Jicarilla Apache Nation


The Jicarilla Apache Nation  is located in the mountains and rugged mesas of northern New Mexico. The Jicarilla people were one of six southern Athabaskan groups who migrated out of Canada sometime between 1300 AD and 1500 AD.

Dulce Lake, Jacarilla Apache Nation, New Mexico
Dulce Lake on Jicarilla Apache Reservation
Photo By Christopher Nicol (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Official Tribal Name: Jicarilla Apache Nation

Address:  Dulce, New Mexico
Phone: 575-759-3242

Official Website: http://www.jicarillaonline.com 

Recognition Status: Federally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning: The Jicarillas were originally two separate bands, the Llaneros, meaning “plains people” and the Olleros, meaning “mountain-valley people.” They call themselves Ndee, meaning “the People.”

Common Name / Meaning of Common Name: Jicarilla (pronounced hek-a- REH-ya) comes from a Spanish word meaning “little basket makers.”

Alternate names / Alternate spellings / Mispellings:

Name in other languages:

Region: Southwest

State(s) Today: New Mexico

Traditional Territory: The traditional American Southwest territory of the Jicarillas covered more than 50 million acres spread across the central and eastern regions of northern New Mexico and portions of Southern Colorado and Western Oklahoma. The Apache arrived in the Southwest from present-day Canada around 1400. By the early 1600s, the Jicarilla were living from the Chama Valley in present-day New Mexico east to present-day western Oklahoma.

 Confederacy: Apache Nations


Reservation: Jicarilla Apache Nation Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land

Jacarilla Apache Nation Reservation Sign
Jicarilla Apache Reservation sign
Photo By Christopher Nicol (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Jicarilla Reservation, established in 1887, is located in northwest New Mexico, west of Chama. 
Land Area:  About 742,000 acres 
Tribal Headquarters:  Dulce, New Mexico
Time Zone:  

Population at Contact: Approximately 800 Jicarilla Apaches lived in their region in the early seventeenth century.

Registered Population Today: The 1992, the Jicarilla population was 3,100. Most tribal members still live on the reservation today.

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

Genealogy Resources:


Traditionally, the Jicarilla knew little tribal cohesion and no central political authority. They were a tribe based on common territory, language, and culture. As much central authority as existed was found in the local group, composed of extended families. Local groups were loosely associated as bands, which made up the tribe. Local group leaders, or chiefs, enjoyed authority because of personal qualities, such as persuasiveness and bravery, often in addition to ceremonial knowledge. Decisions were taken by consensus. One of the chief’s most important functions was to mitigate friction among his people.

Beginning around the nineteenth century, the Jicarilla recognized two distinct bands. The Llanero lived in the eastern Sangre de Cristo Mountains in adobe houses with nearby farms. From the pueblos, especially Taos, they learned pottery and social and religious customs. The Ollero gave up plains life somewhat later. In addition to hunting buffalo, they had picked up some Plains technology, such as tipis, parfleches, and travois.

The Jicarilla Apache Nation is a federally recognized tribe. They have established tribal governments under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (25 U.S.C. 461-279), also known as the Wheeler-Howard Act, and they successfully withstood attempts by the U.S. government to implement its policy during the 1950s of terminating Indian tribes.

The Wheeler-Howard Act, however, while allowing some measure of self-determination in their affairs, has caused problems for virtually every Indian nation in the United States, and the Apaches are no exception. The act subverts traditional Native forms of government and imposes upon Native people an alien system, which is something of a mix of American corporate and governmental structures.

Invariably, the most traditional people in each tribe have had little to say about their own affairs, as the most heavily acculturated and educated mixed-blood factions have dominated tribal affairs in these foreign imposed systems.

Frequently these tribal governments have been little more than convenient shams to facilitate access to tribal mineral and timber resources in arrangements that benefit everyone but the Native people, whose resources are exploited. The situations and experiences differ markedly from tribe to tribe in this regard, but it is a problem that is, in some measure, shared by all.

Apaches were granted U.S. citizenship under the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. They did not legally acquire the right to practice their Native religion until the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (42 U.S.C. 1996).

Other important rights, and some attributes of sovereignty, have been restored to them by such legislation as the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1966 (25 U.S.C. 1301), the Indian Self-Determination and Educational Assistance Act of 1975 (25 U.S.C. 451a), and the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (25 U.S.C. 1901).

Under the Indian Claims Commission Act of 1946, the Jicarillas have been awarded nearly $10 million in compensation for land unjustly taken from them, but the United States refuses to negotiate the return of any of this land.

Charter:  The tribal government was established in 1937 with its own constitution and by-laws. Its first elected tribal council consisted mostly of traditional leaders. 
Name of Governing Body: The Jicarilla Nation is set up as a three branch government with the legislative branch making up the tribal council and executive officers.
Number of Council members:   8, plus executive officers.
Dates of Constitutional amendments: 
Number of Executive Officers:  President, Vice-President


Language Classification: Nadene -> Athabaskan–Eyak -> Athabaskan -> Southern Athabaskan -> Southwestern -> Eastern Apachean -> Jicarilla

Language Dialects: Jicarilla

Number of fluent Speakers: Slightly less than half the tribe are fluent in Jiarilla, mostly elderly people.



Apache Bands and Clans

Social Organization:
For the Apaches, the family is the primary unit of political and cultural life. Apaches have never been a unified nation politically, and individual Apache tribes, until very recently, have never had a centralized government, traditional or otherwise. Extended family groups acted entirely independently of one another.

At intervals during the year a number of these family groups, related by dialect, custom, inter-marriage, and geographical proximity, might come together, as conditions and circumstances might warrant. In the aggregate, these groups might be identifiable as a tribal division, but they almost never acted together as a tribal division or as a nation—not even when faced with the overwhelming threat of the Comanche migration into their Southern Plains territory.

The existence of these many different, independent, extended family groups of Apaches made it impossible for the Spanish, the Mexicans, or the Americans to treat with the Apache Nation as a whole. Each individual group had to be treated with separately, an undertaking that proved difficult for each colonizer who attempted to establish authority within the Apache homeland.

Women were the anchors of the Apache family. Residence was matrilocal, meaning lineage was traced from the mother’s side of the family and newly wed couples usually resided in the village of the bride’s kin. Besides the political organization, society was divided into a number of matrilineal clans.

Apaches in general respected the elderly and valued honesty above most other qualities. The Jicarilla more than most Apaches were influenced by the Plains and Pueblo tribes.

Gender roles were clearly defined but not rigidly enforced. Women gathered, prepared, and stored food; built the home; carried water; gathered fuel; cared for the children; tanned, dyed, and decorated hides; and wove baskets. Men hunted, raided, and waged war. They also made weapons, were responsible for their horses and equipment, and made musical instruments. For boys, training for the hunt began early; the first hunt was roughly equal to a puberty ceremony.

Girls as well as boys practiced with the bow and arrow, sling, and spear, and both learned to ride expertly.

Related Tribes

Traditional Allies: Allies included the Utes and Pueblo peoples. 

Traditional Enemies: The Jicarillas’ traditional enemies included the Comanche, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Navajo. Historically, the Apache made formidable enemies. Raiding was one of their most important activities. The main purpose of raiding, in which one sought to avoid contact with the enemy, was to gain wealth, such as horses, slaves, and honor. It differed fundamentally from warfare, which was undertaken primarily for revenge. Jicarilla war leaders occasionally took scalps but only after the leaders had been ritually purified. Formal warrior societies did not exist. Like hunting, raiding and warfare were accompanied by complex rituals and rules, to which boys were introduced early.

Ceremonies / Dances:

Modern Day Events & Tourism:

The Jicarilla Apache host the Little Beaver Rodeo and Powwow, usually in late July, and the Gojiiya Feast Day on September 14-15 each year, at Dulce, New Mexico.

Apache Museums:

Albuquerque Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico
American Research Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Art Center in Roswell, New Mexico
Bacone College Museum in Muskogee, Oklahoma
Black Water Draw Museum in Portales, New Mexico
Coronado Monument in Bernalillo, New Mexico
Ethnology Museum in Santa Fe, NM
Fine Arts Museum in Santa Fe, NM
Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma
Great Plains Museum in Lawton, Oklahoma
Hall of the Modern Indian in Santa Fe, NM
Heard Museum of Anthropology in Phoenix, Arizona
Indian Hall of Fame in Anadarko, Oklahoma
Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM
Maxwell Museum in Albuquerque, NM
Milicent Rogers Museum in Taos, New Mexico
Northern Arizona Museum in Flagstaff, AZ
Oklahoma Historical Society Museum in Oklahoma City, OK
Philbrook Museum in Tulsa, OK
Southern Plains Indian Museum in Anadarko, OK
State Museum of Arizona in Tempe, AZ
Stovall Museum at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, OK
San Carlos Apache Cultural Center in Peridot, Arizona.

Apache Legends

Art & Crafts: Traditional arts included fine basketry, pottery, and tanned hides. The Jicarilla also excelled in beadwork, buckskin tanning, leather work, pottery, and making ceremonial clay pipes. They made baskets (pitch-covered water jars, cradles, storage containers, and burden baskets); gourd spoons, dippers, and dishes; and a sinew-backed bow. The people made musical instruments out of gourds and hooves. The so-called Apache fiddle, a postcontact instrument, was played with a bow on strings. The Jicarilla used a sinew-backed bow, which was more effective than the Pueblo wooden bow. 

Animals: The Apaches were one of the earliest tribes to obtain horses from the Spanish in the 1600s.

Clothing: The Jicarilla traditionally wore buckskin clothing decorated with beadwork and whitened, Plains-style moccasins. Moccasins were sewn with plant fiber attached to mescal thorns. 

As they acquired cotton and later wool through trading and raiding, women tended to wear two-piece calico dresses, with long, full skirts and long blouses outside the skirt belts. They occasionally carried knives and ammunition belts. Girls wore their hair over their ears, shaped around two willow hoops. Some older women wore hair Plains-style, parted in the middle with two braids. Male hairstyles included a middle part, braids, and bangs with a back knot, Pueblo-style. Men also liked large earrings. 

Housing: Jicarilla Apaches lived in dome-shaped, pole-framed wikiups, covered with bark or thatch and with skins in cold weather. They also used hide tipis when on a buffalo hunt. 

Subsistance: Jicarilla Apaches were primarily hunters and gatherers. They hunted buffalo into the seventeenth century, and afterward they continued to hunt deer, mountain sheep, elk, antelope, rabbits, and other game. They did not eat bear, turkey, or fish.

Wild foods included agave shoots, flowers, and fruit; berries; seeds; nuts; honey; and wild onions, potatoes, and grasses. Nuts and seeds were often ground into flour. The agave or century plant was particularly important. Baking its base in rock-lined pits for several days yielded mescal, a sweet, nutritious food, which was dried and stored.

In the late 1600s they learned farming from pueblos, and by the early nineteenth century they farmed river bottomlands and built irrigation ditches, growing some corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, peas, wheat, and melons. When supplies ran low, crops were obtained from the Pueblos by trade or raid.

Economy Today: Oil and gas resources provide much income. Other important economic assets include sheep, timber, and big game. The tribe and the government provide some employment opportunities. Indians in Dulce live in relatively modern homes or trailers, with water and sewer hookups. 

The Jicarilla Apache also operate a ski enterprise, offering equipment rentals and trails for a cross-country ski program during the winter months. The gift shop at the Jicarilla museum provides an outlet for the sale of locally crafted Jicarilla traditional items, including basketry, beadwork, feather work, and finely tanned buckskin leather.

Tourism, especially for events such as tribal fairs and for hunting and fishing, provides jobs and bring money into the local economies at a number of Apache reservations. Deer and elk hunting are especially popular on the Jicarilla reservation. The Jicarilla also maintain five campgrounds where camping is available for a fee.

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs: Apache religion is based on a complex mythology and features numerous deities. The sun is the greatest source of power. Culture heroes, like White-Painted Woman and her son, Child of the Water, also figure highly, as do protective mountain spirits (ga’an). The latter are represented as masked dancers (probably evidence of Pueblo influence) in certain ceremonies, such as the four-day girls’ puberty rite. (The boys’ puberty rite centered on raiding and warfare.)

Supernatural power is both the goal and the medium of most Apache ceremonialism. They recognize two categories of rites: personal/shamanistic and long-life. In the former, power is derived from an animal, a celestial body, or another natural phenomenon. When power appears to a person and is accepted, rigorous training as a shaman follows. Shamans also facilitate the acquisition of power, which may be used in the service of war, luck, rainmaking, or life-cycle events. Power may be evil as well as good, however, and sickness and misfortune could be caused by the anger of a deity or by not treating properly a natural force. Witchcraft, as well as incest, was an unpardonable offense.

Long-life rites were taught by elders and connected to mythology. The most difficult was the bear dance, a curing rite that lasts for four days and nights and features a bear impersonator, shamans, songs, sacred clowns, and dancing. Another such ceremony is the (young boys’) relay race, actually a combined ceremony and harvest festival. It derives from mythological concepts of sun and moon and also the duality of the food supply. The race is between the Olleros—sun—animals and the Llaneros—moon—plants. Other important ceremonies include the four-day girls’ puberty ceremony, a five-day holiness or curing ceremony, and hunting, cultivation, and rainmaking ceremonies.

Roughly 70 percent of Jicarillas still practice some form of traditional religion. A large number of Jicarillas are Christian. 

Burial Customs: All Apaches had a great fear of ghosts. Jicarilla who died were buried the same day. Their personal possessions were burned or destroyed, including their house and favorite horse. They pictured the afterworld as divided into two sections, a pleasant land for good people and a barren one for witches. 

Wedding Customs:

Apache women were chaste before marriage. Apache culture is matrilineal. Once married, the man went with the wife’s extended family, where she is surrounded by her relatives.

Spouse abuse is practically unknown in such a system. Divorce was unusual though relatively easy to obtain. Should the marriage not endure, child custody quarrels were also unknown: the children remained with the wife’s extended family.

Marital harmony is encouraged by a custom forbidding the wife’s mother to speak to, or even be in the presence of, her son-in-law. No such stricture applies to the wife’s grandmother, who frequently is a powerful presence in family life. The mother’s brother also played an important role in the raising of his nephews and nieces. 

Although actual marriage ceremonies were brief or nonexistent, the people practiced a number of formal preliminary rituals, designed to strengthen the idea that a man owed deep allegiance to his future wife’s family.


KCIE-FM (90.5),   P.O. Box 603, Dulce, New Mexico 87528


Jicarilla Apache Chiefs and Famous People

Catastrophic Events:

Apaches have suffered devastating health problems from the last decades of the nineteenth century and throughout most of the twentieth century. Many of these problems are associated with malnutrition, poverty, and despair. They have suffered incredibly high rates of contagious diseases such as tuberculosis.

Once tuberculosis was introduced among the Jicarilla, it spread at an alarming rate. The establishment of schools, beginning in 1903, only gave the tuberculosis bacteria a means of spreading rapidly throughout the entire tribe.

By 1914, 90 percent of the Jicarillas suffered from tuberculosis. Between 1900 and 1920, one-quarter of the people died. One of the reservation schools had to be converted into a tuberculosis sanitarium in an attempt to address the crisis. The sanitarium was not closed until 1940.

Court Cases:

In Merrion v. Jicarilla Apache Tribe, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Jicarillas in an important case concerning issues of tribal sovereignty, holding that the Jicarillas have the right to impose tribal taxes upon minerals extracted from their lands.

Tribe History:

Ancestors of today’s Apache Indians began the trek from Asia to North America in roughly 1000 B.C.E. Most of this group, which included the Athapaskans, was known as the Nadene. By 1300, the group that was to become the Southern Athapaskans (Apaches and Navajos) broke away from other Athapaskan tribes and began migrating southward, reaching the American Southwest around 1400 and crystallizing into separate cultural groups. Before contact with the Spanish, the Apaches were relatively peaceful and may have engaged in some agricultural activities.

In the mid-eighteenth century, the Apache asked for Spanish protection against the Comanche, who were pressing them from the north and east. Despite a promise to settle down and become Christian, the Spanish refused the request. The Comanche, who had acquired guns from the French (the Spanish did not officially sell or trade guns to Indians), so disrupted Apache agriculture and life on the plains that the Apache migrated into the mountains surrounding the Pueblo-held valleys. One Jicarilla group continued to live as far south as the Texas plains until around 1800.

Having acquired horses, the Apache increased their contact with Spanish and Pueblo settlements. This dynamic included trading as well as raiding and warfare, but the Spanish habit of selling captured Apaches into slavery led to Apache revenge and increasingly hostile conditions along the Spanish frontier, effectively establishing the northern limit of New Spain at about Santa Fe. After 1821, the Mexicans put a bounty on Apache scalps, increasing Apache enmity and adding to the cycle of violence in the region.

In an effort to settle its northern areas, Mexico in the early nineteenth century made large land grants to its citizens. In 1841, one such grant delivered 1.7 million acres of Jicarilla land to two Mexicans. U.S. recognition of this grant was to complicate the establishment of a Jicarilla reservation later in the century.

Following the war between Mexico and the United States (1848), the Apaches, who did their part to bring misery to Mexico, assumed that the Americans would continue as allies. They were shocked and disgusted to learn that their lands were now considered part of the United States and that the Americans planned to “pacify” them. Having been squeezed by the Spanish, the Comanches, the Mexicans, and now miners, farmers, and other land-grabbers from the United States, the Apache were more than ever determined to protect their way of life.

Increased military activity led to a treaty in 1851 that called for the cessation of hostilities on all sides and, in exchange for aid, bound the Jicarilla to remain at least 50 miles from all settlements. When U.S. promises of food and protection went unkept, however, the Jicarilla returned to raiding, and the region was plunged into a spiral of violence. Another treaty in 1855 created agencies: Options for the Jicarilla now included either begging for food at the agency or raiding.

In the 1860s, the tribe escaped confinement at the deadly Bosque Redondo (Fort Sumner) only because the camp failed before they could be rounded up. By 1873 they were the only southwestern tribe without an official reservation. At about this time, leaders of the two Jicarilla bands, the Ollero and the Llanero, began consulting with each other, creating a new tribal consciousness. They sent a joint delegation to Washington, D.C., where they lobbied for a reservation, but in 1883 the tribe was moved to the Mescalero Reservation. Finding all the good land already taken, the Jicarilla began shortly to drift back north to their old lands. In 1887, the government granted them an official home.

Unfortunately, the climate on the new reservation was unfavorable for farming, and in any case non-Indians owned whatever good arable land existed. This, plus the existence of individual allotments and centralized government control, slowed economic progress. The tribe sold some timber around the turn of the century. In 1903, the government established a boarding school in Dulce, the reservation capital, but turned it into a sanatorium in 1918 following a tuberculosis epidemic (90 percent of the Jicarilla had tuberculosis by 1914). The Dutch Reformed Church of America opened a school in 1921.

A major addition to the reservation in 1907 provided the Jicarilla with land appropriate to herding sheep. They began this activity in the 1920s, and the tribe soon realized a profit. Livestock owners and the “progressive,” proacculturation group tended to be Ollero, whereas the Llaneros were the farmers, the conservatives, and guardians of tradition. In the early 1930s bad weather wiped out most of the sheep herd, although by 1940 it had largely been rebuilt. Also by this time the people were generally healthy again, and acculturation quickened.

The postwar years saw a huge increase in tribal income from oil and gas development. With part of this money the tribe bought out most non-Indian holdings on the reservation. Education levels, health, and morale all rose. In the 1950s, a decline in the sheep industry brought much of the population to live in Dulce. The tribe began per capita payments at that time, partly to offset a lack of economic opportunities in Dulce. This action kept families going until more help arrived with the federal programs of the 1960s as well as an increasingly diversified economy. In the 1970s the tribe won $9 million in land claims.

In the News: 

Further Reading:

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