Arizona: White Mountain Apache


The White Mountain Apache use the term Dilzhę́’é to refer to the Bylas, San Carlos, and Tonto Apache. The Tonto Apache once occupied a vast territory that extended from Flagstaff down into Mexico. These Apache were hunters and gatherers who migrated with the seasons. Today, only 140 people live on the Tonto Apache Reservation, 85 acres halfway between Flagstaff and Phoenix.  

The White Mountain Apache are the direct descendants of the original tribes that lived in this area. Once nomadic, the people now occupy permanent dwellings and live on the 1.7-million-acre Fort Apache Reservation in east-central Arizona. 


The Apache dominated much of northern Mexico, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas for hundreds of years. Some Apache lived in the mountains, while others lived on the plains. Some hunted big game, while others existed by farming or gathering wild plants. Their main shelter, a circular brush lodge with a fire at the center, fit their nomadic lifestyle. The Apache got their name from the Zuni word for “enemy.” They were in frequent conflict with the Pima, Papago, and the Pueblo Indians as well as the Plains peoples. 

Clans, social units based on female-inherited leadership, were at the center of the Apache political and economic structure. The Apache had a series of great leaders who helped the Apache resist colonial intrusion into their traditional territories far better than any other group of Native people in the Southwest. Examples are: Cochise, Mangas Coloradas, Victorio and Geronimo. Read more here.

Cochise said to the U.S. government, “I do not think you will keep the peace. Once again you tell me we can stay in our mountains and our valleys. That is all we wish. We do not want to fight and kill Whites, and we do not want the Whites to fight and kill us. We want nothing but to live in peace. But I do not believe you will allow us to remain on the lands we love. I warn you, if you try to move us again, war will start once more. It will be a war without end, a war in which every Apache will fight until he is dead. Prove to me that I am wrong; prove to me that this time I can trust you.” 


Today most of the Apache live on five reservations: three in Arizona (the Fort Apache, the San Carlos Apache, and the Tonto Apache Reservations); and two in New Mexico (the Mescalero and the Jicarilla Apache). Approximately 7,000 people live on the Mescalero and Jicarilla Apache reservations. 

The White Mountain Apache Tribe has nearly 15,000 enrolled members located in nine major reservation communities, with more than 13,000 living on the Fort Apache reservation. Major employment consists of a timber mill, re-manufacturing plant and livestock. The tribe operates a casino and one of the largest ski resorts in the Southwest. About 39% of the reservation population lives in poverty. 62% of the workforce is unemployed, and the average annual income is $38,000.