The N’dee/N’nee/Ndé, more commonly known as “Apaches,” are the peoples indigenous to the southern United States and northern Mexico. In the United States – in Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma – there are a total of nine federally and state-recognized Apache nations or tribes, yet no apache community is recognized as existing in Mexico.
Latina Republic interviewed Juan Luis Longoria Granados, a historian and representative member of the Nación N’dee/N’nee/Ndé from Yaa tu enne, or modern-day Ciudad Juarez, who discussed his people’s history, as well as their present-day organizing to re-form and bring recognition to the indigenous inhabitants of northern Mexico (Mehigu, in the N’dee language) who, to this day, are still not fully recognized by the Mexican government.
Longoria explained that the Nation opts to call itself “N’dee/N’nee/Ndé,” three variations of the word for “people,” rather than “Apache.” Apache, he noted, literally translates to “enemy,” and was the word used by colonizers to describe the N’dee/N’nee/Ndé people.
Long before the Spanish and English settlers arrived in the region now recognized as the “borderlands” between the US and Mexico, the N’dee/N’nee/Ndé people lived nomadically, moving across their territory depending on the season. It is important to understand that for the N’dee/N’nee/Ndé, this movement across space is distinct from the modern Western notion of “migration;” rather, Longoria describes, the entire N’dee bikeyaa, the name for their ancestral land, should be conceived of as a “great house” in which different gonka’ (communities) move from one room to another throughout the course of the year.
Following the Mexican-American war of 1846-48, the way of life of the N’dee/N’nee/Ndé was forever altered. After the signing of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, which established the border of the Rio Grande and Gila River between the two nations, the United States was given “exclusive control” over the “savage tribes” (referring to the N’dee) inhabiting the region, “whose incursions within the territory of Mexico would be prejudicial in the extreme.”
After the treaty was signed, the majority of N’dee/N’nee/Ndé people in Mexico left for the United States, where they established communities within the confines of “reservations” and “tribal lands” – such is the case, for example, of the Mescalero Apache Tribe of New Mexico. “They locked them in reservations, that they then converted into nations […] but this did allow them to preserve more of their culture,” Longoria reflects.
On the other side of the border, in Mexico, the governments of the states of Sonora and Chihuahua enacted genocidal laws, which put a bounty on the heads of the N’dee. These policies led most N’dee/N’nee/Ndé people to go into hiding, further destabilizing and interrupting their traditional practices and community. Longoria added that in Chihuahua, the law offering a reward for killing an N’dee person is still officially on the books in the 21st Century. One of the Nation’s numerous projects is demanding the state that they remove it.
The Nación N’dee/N’nee/Ndé in 21st Century Mexico
In the present, according to Longoria, there exists a community of at least 15 N’dee/N’nee/Ndé families in Ciudad Juarez, 7 in the City of Chihuahua, in addition to communities in Asención and Madera in Chihuahua, and Saltillo, Coahuila. The different communities conduct their own internal censuses, and there are more N’dee people reclaiming their identity every year.
In 2019, Longoria and his community first established the Nación N’dee/N’nee/Ndé. Their decision to auto-designate themselves as a “Nation” was intentional, he describes. While in the US, there exist “first nations” within the “Nation” of the United States, in Mexico the constitution reads that the United States of Mexico form one “undivided nation” and, while there do exist “pueblos originarios” (first peoples), they are not granted the same autonomy as in the US.
Another difference between the N’dee/N’nee/Ndé Nation and the First Nations of the United States is that they don’t use blood quantum to determine membership to their nation. Rather, they rely on their shared oral history, as well as genealogy, often dating back to before the 1900s, after which time records didn’t consistently register if a person was indigenous. Longoria describes: “in our history, all people are N’dee to us. But time and space has created different cultures”, commenting that, while their tradition dating back hundreds of years is matrilineal, they don’t follow that rule as strictly anymore.
The N’dee community in Ciudad Juarez, which Longoria is a part of, has meetings on a monthly basis. The meetings, he describes, “cover different themes, and we give priority to learning our culture, and re-learning our language. We say greetings, goodbyes, and thanks [in the language].”
For over a decade, Longoria has, in addition to supporting his community, dedicated himself to learning the N’dee language, which is no longer spoken in Mexico. He describes: “it’s important because [the language] contains our ideas, our sounds, and it’s the way that we express ourselves.” In his words: “Shíí ndé nishíí – I am N’dee.”
Since 2017, the N’dee/N’nee/Ndé Nation in Mexico has held annual bi-national gatherings with their sibling Apache tribes in the United States (the 2020 gathering, which would have taken place in Ciudad Juarez, was postponed due to the pandemic). Longoria describes “the goal was to reunite us, because the border separated us. But our families are from both sides.”
Fighting For Recognition
“We don’t need them to recognize us because we ourselves know who we are” Longoria stated, referring to Mexico’s National Institute of Indigenous Peoples (El Instituto Nacional de los Pueblos Indígenas). At the same time, recognition from the government would lead to easier access to resources allocated for the preservation of culture – for the preservation of language, of N’dee medicine, to construct traditional homes, and to hold gatherings and ceremonies.
In the future, Longoria hopes that the N’dee/N’nee/Ndé nation will have its own territory. He hopes that, like his ancestors that moved from one area to another, the N’dee community will be able to construct seasonal dwellings that they can return to at different times of the year.
Currently, Longoria and other members of the N’dee/N’nee/Ndé Nation are traveling to different indigenous communities across Mexico to solicit letters of support, which they will use in presenting their case for official recognition to the Mexican government.
The Nation is also part of the Network of Indigenous Peoples in Ciudad Juarez, which is largely made up of communities indigenous to other regions of Mexico, such as Oaxaca, Veracruz, and the State of Mexico, that have migrated to the city to find employment, who also support the N’dee/N’nee/Ndé Nation’s recognition as the indigenous inhabitants of the N’dee bikeyaa.
Follow the N’dee/N’nee/Ndé Nation on their Facebook Page.
Dashiell Allen is a Latin American Correspondent for Latina Republic and a graduate of Reed College where he studied Latin American and Peninsular Spanish literature. At Latina Republic, Dashiell elevates the voices of activists and organizers that work to promote human rights and immigrant rights throughout Mexico. His work contributes to the organization’s mission of breaking stereotypes and bringing attention to underreported stories throughout Latin America.