Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/families/education/articles/1216learnapache-ON.html

Apaches praise 'The Missing,' send students to learn about language
Associated Press
Dec. 16, 2003

SANTA FE, N.M. - Word swept through the Mescalero reservation like an early winter wind that characters in the film "The Missing" spoke a dialect of Apache.

Most adult Apaches in the audiences have said they could understand every word of the Chiricahua dialect - and the children suddenly wished they could, too.

That's what Mescalero councilman Berle Kanseah and Chiricahua linguist Elbys Hugar intended as technical advisers for the Ron Howard film, a tough tale of 19th century frontier life starring Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchett that has been in theaters for about three weeks.

Television and popular culture are killing minority cultures, starting with language, Kanseah said.

"There's a generation gap that's growing," he said, suggesting Apaches aren't the only ones facing it. "We need to enforce the home and not lose our way of life, which is our language."

It was the first film that any of them could remember in which Apache was spoken well enough on screen to be understood. Usually, Westerns were dubbed in Navajo, a related language, said supporting actor Steve Reevis, a Montana Blackfoot who has worked several films but never spoke Apache before "The Missing."

The film is set in southwestern New Mexico in 1885, just as the last of the Apache conflict was ending. The Jones character's granddaughter, Blanchett's daughter, is abducted by a ragged band of American Indians and whites who sell women into slavery in Mexico. Jones and co-star Jay Tavere set out to keep the slavers from reaching Mexico.

The slavers are led by a "brujo," a medicine man gone bad, played by Eric Schweig.

Apaches appreciate the film for showing them as they were - the good and the bad, family oriented, generous, faithful to their religion and good-humored. The brujo played by Schweig is not intended to be Apache, though he speaks Apache, the producers say.

Many Apaches have gone back two and three times to see "The Missing," Kanseah said. The producers gave a screening for 500 Mescalero students in Alamogordo last month, and the tribe has been busing students to theaters in nearby Ruidoso. Two more screenings were held here Sunday for hundreds more students from several tribes who attend Santa Fe Indian School and other tribal schools in the surrounding area.

"It made me feel proud," said Megan Crespin, 8, a third-grader from Santo Domingo School. Her tribal name is Moonlight.

Kevin Aspaas, 8, a Navajo student said he liked the hawk that led Jones back to his family. He is learning Navajo and said a few words in his native tongue.

There aren't that many Chiricahuas left. They were rounded up and sent to Florida in 1886, shunted back to Alabama, Oklahoma and finally to the Mescalero homeland in south-central New Mexico in 1913.

"There are only about 300 people who are fluent in Chiricahua today," Tavere told the audience Sunday.