Native Skeptic

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Apache Crown Dancers 1887:

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Warrior Spirit of Geronimo

There are many obvious differences between the past and present. However, there are also some things that haven't seemed to change much and take thoughtful consideration to notice. I still see classes of warrior societies today in our military or professional full-contact competitive athletes (martial artists included).

For me, Geronimo personifies a part of this with the Apache warrior spirit. When I see his image, I don't just see the worn look of a man scorned and bitter. I witness the embodiment of American Indian rage. I recognize the idea that we, as people, will always be free. I see the wild nature of man and the untamed heart. But, I also see infamy and vengeance.

Living in a world where Apache children’s scalps were worth $25, women $50, and men a cool hundred dollars, it's hard to judge the actions of people during that time. 

The things that happened historically, such as the atrocities committed against people, often speak more about the culture of the time than those performing the acts.

I think about the samurai and their struggle to transition to a more civilized society during the early 17th to mid-19th centuries (Discovery Channel 2011). The Japanese warrior class of society that were for so long highly revered, living in a technologically driven world that no longer needed their special trades. Military tactics, armor, swords, bows and arrows, were eventually no match for the advancements in military weaponry. Once we got a hold of this whole science thing and technology got to a certain state of acceleration, cultures were affected so rapidly that societies had to adapt quickly by learning the latest discoveries and harnessing the potential to stay competitive and successful. It didn’t take long for a whole way of life to be redefined by a country and deemed to be “outdated, backwards” and ultimately, “unacceptable.” In 1876, the Japanese government even banned the samurai from carrying a sword, their trademark weapon. (Discovery Channel 2011). One of the major factors of contributing to the downfall of the samurai’s way of life that often gets mentioned is “urbanization.” Historically, it's a common trend for nations to subvert the cultures of old for the greater good of advancing the society overall. The government gave the retired samurai a deal to attain land and establish themselves as farmers (Grabianowski, Ed. 2014). The samurai, once proud defenders and personal bodyguards of lords and emperors, were eventually stripped of their high-class status and thrown out to live on the street and figure out a new way of life amongst the commoners.

That story sounds familiar. The end of isolationism and the oncoming wave of urbanization brought many American Indians to live on reservations and inspired the creation of boarding schools which were instilled to weed out any trace of tribal culture in order to help “civilize” Indian children as a part of this urban progression. 

The historical accounts of Geronimo often sound like the plot line for every Kung-Fu, revenge movie. A whole family gets wiped out, a surviving member seeks vengeance for the lives that were lost, and goes out on a rampage in the process. Very much fitting the role of the “anti-hero.”

The way the term "power" is often used is interchangeable with “knowledge of.” And like power, great knowledge carries with it great responsibility. For it is indifferent to good and bad, moral and immoral. Because these things are determined by us collectively and how we choose to use them. 

Being in such a hostile world, produced a being...just as hostile. 

When I see Geronimo’s image, I don't just think about the legends told to me as a kid. I recognize the man, the name, and see warfare personified. I think of the tribal nature of people, mobs and gangs. Images of people coming together in resistance spring to mind. I think about what it was like when I was a young adolescent constantly looking for opportunities to prove myself amongst my peers, or people I looked up to. Adverse effects from the overflow of hormones like heightened states of aggression. Ah, to be a teenager coming of age again.

"Masked Geronimo" by Noah Nez. Spray paint on canvas.
Gangs bring plight to their own communities by committing crimes in, and against, the people living in them. Reminds me of the people living next to the Taliban. Or should I say, trying to live next to the Taliban. Armed with ideology, they too use that as a means to commit crimes against their own people and whole communities. Much to say, a great deal of people over there don't like the Taliban either. Much as the neighbors of gang members don't appreciate the constant intimidation and unknowingly being placed in the line of fire, being caught in between a turf war. Nobody likes their neighborhood to be transformed into a battlefield. Victims of collateral damage have more than enough reason to condemn. Geronimo brought a great deal of suffering to people, including his own. Even still, many Apache people have not forgiven him and many never will.

Art has seemed to always be there as my filter to which I see things through. Some of my fondest memories of early childhood involve movies and video games. One of the things that has greatly influenced my world perspective and the subject of Geronimo, is cinematography

American Indian history IS American history.

We Shall Remain is an unprecedented mini-series that re-establishes Native history as an essential part of American history. 

Three hundred years of United States history, that most Americans have never heard of, gets summed up in five 90-minute documentaries and helps to illustrate these historically significant moments. 

An unprecedented five-part television event depicting Native people’s fight for their homeland and to withstand extinction. These stories aren’t just another non-Native filmmakers interpretation. This collaborative effort is informed at every level by Native advisers, scholars, and filmmakers as well.

As noted in the behind the scenes portion of the movie page, the filmmakers worked closely with Chiricahua Apaches in southern New Mexico in preparation for the movie. In addition to that, Producer, Writer, and Director Dustinn Craig is White Mountain Apache/Navajo.

Craig’s documentary I Belong To This was included in the four-part series, Matters of Race, produced by Roja Productions for PBS. Other projects include two short films and a thirty-minute three-screen production titled Home for the Heard Museum’s Native People of the Southwest exhibit in Phoenix, Arizona (PBS 2008c) (Vision Makers Media 2014).

The fourth installment of the We Shall Remain series is titled, Geronimo. We get a glimpse of not just the man, but the realness of the day and the situations that many American Indians faced. Here, we have a depiction of Geronimo that rarely gets portrayed by historical accounts and popular culture. 
"Born around 1820, Geronimo grew into a leading warrior and healer. archfiend, perpetrator of unspeakable savage cruelties. the embodiment of proud resistance, the upholder of the old Chiricahua ways. stubborn troublemaker, unbalanced by his unquenchable thirst for vengeance, whose actions needlessly brought the enemy’s wrath down on his own people" (PBS 2008a).

There's no glory in the acts committed by Geronimo against his own people. But, one might also argue that those kinds of acts should never be committed against anybody, friend or foe. It takes me back to the kind of thinking that comes from strategic warfare. For instance, take the "Art of War" by Sun Tzu. Businessmen love it because of its' cutthroat mindset like one of a military general. It fits in with their whole, "it's just business, it's not personal" mentality. It's not all formations and flanking battlefield tactics. But, a great deal of it focuses on using intimidation and other aspects of psychology against an opponent. Such as, sacrificing some for the greater good for an even greater cause. "The ends justify the means." Something I first really got to know in an ethics course. The philosophical argument never really sat well with me, even now as I think it. There's a feeling of uneasiness that I associate with it, even though I am aware of certain cases when the conditions are such that I would agree.

"Elvis Geronimo" by Noah Nez.
So, whether it's his name or his image, that's what I see. This is why I depict him in the thick frames. It's not to make him look cool. I'm poking fun at the posers trying to tap into the current popularity of nerd culture by simply dressing the part, and at the same time, thumb my nose at the idea of this mythical, heroic Geronimo we are so often told about, especially as Apache kids. We are also guilty of making heroes out of people who did some rather unheroic things. I put the mask over his face like a bandit would back in the day, or as the terrorists and gang bangers do now in modern day. I have had some people tell me that I am not supposed to draw him in these ways, but then again, there are others that say I am not supposed to draw him at all! So, I prefer the dirty looks that I get and being told I am not supposed to do such things, over the mindless praises from those purely concerned about aesthetics.

“By any means necessary.” Malcolm X 

This is not to say that I am left in some state of disillusion. There are plenty of other people that I admire for different reasons that are flawed in their own ways, like Malcolm X or Nelson Mandela. They both did some acts in their younger years that seem out of place from the way history might present them. Malcolm X often gets pegged as the militant Black Nationalist member of the Nation of Islam. But there is another side to his story about how he turned his life around after his pilgrimage to see the Holy City of Mecca for himself. Mandela is praised around the world. But he took part in some pretty heinous acts against other people in his younger years as well. 

There was a time in my personal life that I became more interested in being aware about certain things that seemed to hold more weight to them. There’s so much garbage in the world now that we live in an information age with the internet. Things can easily become overwhelming. 

There's a dark side to human nature. So there's a dark side to human history. We don't gain anything from remaining willfully ignorant to the things in the world that we might consider to be ugly. War is ugly. We like to glorify it, but down in the thick trenches of reality, we know it's anything but glorious. Hopefully, there are more individuals that take the time to ask why I depict things in the way that I have chosen to do. 

So, what does the name Geronimo mean to you?



Discovery Channel. 2011. What Brought About the End of the Samurai as Warriors? (Culture and Society). Can be accessed at: 

Grabianowski, Ed. 2014. How Samurai Work: The End of the Samurai. (Pg 8). Can be accessed at:   

PBS. 2008a. We Shall Remain. Can be accessed at: 

PBS. 2008b. Geronimo. About the Film. (Ep. 4). Can be accessed at: 

PBS. 2008c. Geronimo. Behind the Scenes: Featured Cast and Crew. (Ep. 4).. Can be accessed at:

Vision Maker Media. 2014. Bios. Can be accessed at: