Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/1221apache21.html

Apaches praise 'Missing' for accuracy, language
Associated Press
Dec. 21, 2003
Richard Benke

SANTA FE - Tommy Lee Jones speaking Apache? Word swept through the Mescalero reservation like an early winter wind.

Not only Jones but most characters in the Ron Howard film The Missing speak the Chiricahua dialect of Apache, and most adult Apaches in the audiences have said they could understand every word.

That's what Mescalero Councilman Berle Kanseah and Chiricahua linguist Elbys Hugar intended as technical advisers for The Missing, a tough tale of 19th-century frontier life starring Jones and Cate Blanchett.

The 21st century, particularly popular culture, is killing minority languages.

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

Hugar, a great-granddaughter of Cochise, addressed the cast before shooting. Jay Tavere, a White Mountain Apache, recalled, "This is the first thing that Elbys said to us: 'This is more than a movie; this is for the whole Apache nation.' "

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

The film is set in southwestern New Mexico in 1885, just as the last of the Apache conflicts was ending. Jones' granddaughter - Blanchett's daughter - is abducted by a ragged band of Indians and Whites who sell women into slavery.

New Mexico college student and rodeo competitor Yolanda Nez, a Navajo, plays a captive who is Apache. Her father, played by Tavere, and Jones' character set out to keep the slavers from reaching Mexico.

Eric Schweig plays a brujo, a medicine man gone bad, who leads the slavers.

The border slave trade is historically factual, producer Daniel Ostroff said. Paul Hutton, the University of New Mexico historian who consulted on the film, concurred.

"Indeed, people were being kidnapped all the time," Hutton said last week.

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 is not intended to be 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, N.M., last month, and the tribe has been busing students to theaters in nearby Ruidoso. Two more screenings were held recently for hundreds more students from several tribes who attend Santa Fe Indian School and other tribal schools in the area.

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

Desiree Aguilar, 14, is a natural born native speaker, fluent in Keres, the native tongue of Santo Domingo Pueblo. She watched the film with an analytical eye.

"It was very intense," the ninth-grader said. "It kept you wanting to watch it."

Kevin Aspaas, 8, said he liked the hawk that led Jones' character back to his family.

"I really enjoyed it," said Kevin, who is learning to speak Navajo. "It was a scary and cool movie."

At screenings, Kanseah, Nez and Tavere made comparisons of Navajo and Apache dialects, all of which stem from the Athabaskan root language common to North American tribes.

In the film, Jones' grasp of the language was understandable to Apaches and many Navajos. At one point, Jones says a well-known Apache prayer that ends "for all good things."

"He spoke Apache well enough for every Chiricahua in the audience to understand," said Scott Rushforth, a New Mexico State University anthropologist who attended several screenings.

Today, Chiricahuas are few. Most of them were rounded up and sent to Florida in 1886, then shunted 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 said.