Apache Cultural Preservation
The Restoration of the Ponderosa Pine Tree
By Jesus Carrasco
The Ponderosa Pine Tree is a tree that is commonly found in the Southwest which is the home of many Apache tribes. This tree was used by the Apache in many aspects of their life. Many ponderosa pine trees were lost over time due to fires and other natural causes. Now many Apache groups and organizations today are still trying to replant the ponderosas that were lost. The Apache are trying to replant the ponderosa pine trees because they have an interdependent relationship with the land, recent events in history such as the settlers’ urbanization of Apache land have caused the ponderosa pine tree to decrease in number, and the Elk/Chino Well Fires caused the destruction of many ponderosa pine trees.
The Apache have an interdependent relationship with the land because they use the land in every aspect of their culture and economic success. They have their own stories, traditions, and a, “sense of their own identity as connected to the land and local environment” (Ball).[i] They develop who they are and what they stand for thanks to the environment. Everything that is related to their culture relates to the environment. The environment serves to tell their history and story of who and what they did in their lives. Every part of the environment serves as part of their religious beliefs. For one example they refer to Mt. Graham as, “a home of the Mountain Spirits” (Ball).[ii] With so many religious symbols they have the environment serves to be home of many spiritual entities of the Apache tribe. The land on which the Apache live is a, “place [that] becomes the primary referent for all formulations of meaning and value within the culture” (Ball).[iii] Without the land itself they basically have lost all of the meaning and value of their culture.
They would lose any economic gain they had as well. The land provided the necessary materials that the Apache needed to make weapons. They needed the weapons so they could hunt. If they could not hunt or make weapons then they could not trade with other tribes. The Apache would lose many resources needed for survival and economic gain since they could not trade. This would come to pass with arrival of the settlers.
Recent events in history have caused the ponderosa pine tree to decrease in number because settlers took Apache land and urbanized it. During Geronimo’s time as Apache chief, he and the other Apache fled from the settlers. They were chased from place to place so they could avoid being moved to a reservation or being killed. The Apache would seek refuge in places that they could still practice their customs and ways of life. The place the sought refuge in was, “by a stream. There was not much water in the stream, but a deep channel was worn through the prairie, and small trees were beginning to grow here and there along the bank of this stream” (Geronimo).[iv] Even though they were on the run from their ongoing battles with the settlers the Apache still tried to live by their traditions. Eventually they would be caught and be put in a reservation. Geronimo stated that they were, “prisoners of war in this Reservation, [and] we [did] not get such good rations” (Geronimo).[v] The Apache fought many battles to keep their sacred land but they ended up losing the war against the settlers.
Due to their loss they had lost many resources including the ponderosa pine tree. Over time the settlers would urbanize there way of life and destroy a lot of the environment that the Apache had lived on for so many years. Urbanization causes many resources from the land to be tainted with pollution. This is because, “produce chronic problems for both people and the environment over the long term” (Torrey).[vi] Urbanization pollutes water channels that the Apaches use and the water channels are the source of life for the ponderosa pine trees. There is also the change in climate and air pollution that is produced by big bustling cities. With the climate changing to something that the ponderosa pine trees are not suited to living in, they could die. Then there is air pollution which could make the trees wither due to taking bad chemicals from the air. The destruction of the environment meant that many ponderosa pine trees would be lost in the process making the total amount of trees drop very significantly. Since the passing of the UNDRIP the Apache have gained rights to parts of their homelands on reservations. The Apache have now begun the replanting of many ponderosa pine trees that have been lost.
The Elk/Chino Well Fires caused the destruction of many ponderosa pine trees because it became a wildfire that engulfed most of an Apache reservation. In the year 1996 there were two fires that happened in the Mescalero Apache Tribal forest. They were known as they Elk and Chino Well Fires. The fires, “devastated all vegetative cover on approximately 4,257 acres” (Elk/Chino).[vii] The destruction of this much land caused massive amounts of ponderosa pine trees to be destroyed as well. With the destruction of the trees came the destruction of many seeds that the trees produce. This would start the process for many Apache natives and organizations to take action.
In the year 1998 the Mescalero Apache Tribal forest was, “being planted with 200,000 ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir seedlings by tribal members and the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs” (Noble).[viii] They planted two years after the fire because it would take many years before the seeds would become old enough to produce many new seeds. The ponderosa pine trees only produce seeds when they reach the age of about, “45-60 years” (Fagan).[ix] Since the Apache have an interdependent relationship with the land, modern Apache natives such as Christy LaPaz Jr., who is chair of the Tribal Resource Committee, “looks forward to the day when his grandchildren will benefit from the trees” (Noble).[x] The Apache want these trees to be replanted because they hope that one day future generations will be able to carry on the many traditions that they have been doing for many years. Most of the Apache traditions rely on the land and their very history and identities do as well. The land has always been their home and, “good land stewardship will be the only way to ensure their long-term future” (Noble).[xi] They will continue to look after their land and the tress for many more years to come to keep their traditions alive.
The Apache replanted the ponderosa pine tree because they have an interdependent relationship with the land, recent events in history such as the settlers’ urbanization of Apache land caused the ponderosa pine tree to decrease in number, and the Elk/Chino Well Fires caused the destruction of many ponderosa pine trees. The ponderosa pine tree plays a big part in Apache history, culture and everyday life. This tree has helped make weapons and their very homes. If the Apache did not help replant the ponderosa pine trees then they would have lost a big part of their culture and economic success. They would not be able to continue some of their traditions without this tree. They must continue to replant this tree so that future generations can one day indulge in the culture of their ancestors and so that the tree can continue to support the Apache.
[i] Martin W. Ball, “’People Speaking Silently To Themselves’: An Examination Of Keith Basso's
Philosophical Speculations on ‘Sense Of Place’ In Apache Cultures," American Indian Quarterly 26, no. 3 (2002): 462
[ii] Ball, “People Speaking Silently,” 465
[iii] Ball, “People Speaking Silently,” 463
[iv] "Origins Of The Apache Indians." Origins Of The Apache Indians (2009): 1.
[v] “Origins Of The Apache Indians,”
[vi] Barbara B. Torrey, "Urbanization: An Environmental Force to Be Reckoned
With," Urbanization: An Environmental Force to Be Reckoned With. Population Reference Bureau
[vii] "Elk/Chino Well Fire Restoration | American Forests," American Forests
[viii] Craig Noble, "New Mexico: Mescalero/Apache Tribal Reforestation," American Forests 104.2
[ix] Damian Fagan, "Ponderosa Pine Tree," DesertUSA, Digital West Media Inc.,
[x]Noble, "New Mexico: Mescalero/Apache Tribal Reforestation,"
[xi]Noble, "New Mexico: Mescalero/Apache Tribal Reforestation,"