Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/1221apache21.html
Apaches praise 'Missing' for accuracy, language
Dec. 21, 2003
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,
"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
"It made me feel proud," said Megan Crespin, 8, a third-grader from Santo
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
"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
"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
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
"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