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Documenting intercultural friendships

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Standing near a canoe, Dr. Veronika Ederer answers questions from students at the North America Native Museum in Zurich. (Submitted Photo)

A fictitious friendship between a “Mescalero Apache chief and a white immigrant,” written by a German author in the 19th century, is what Dr. Veronika Ederer, a cultural anthropologist, said inspired her to document authentic stories of friendships.

Ederer, who is from Germany, first visited the Mescalero Apache Reservation, 70 miles southwest of Roswell, in 2013 and has since witnessed Apache coming of age ceremonies and even was allowed to participate in a traditional mescal, agave plant, roast at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park south of Carlsbad.

“I decided to write a book about real friendship stories,” Ederer said after another visit in 2014. “And it was just an idea that started with little stories I was just told when I visited the museum, or when I talked to somebody, and it developed that there are a lot of those stories. … I cover about 9 or 10 stories in my book, but there are hundreds. …”

Ederer will be presenting the process of writing these friendship stories between Mescalero and Chiricahua Apaches with white people this Sunday at the Historical Society for Southeastern New Mexico’s (HSSNM) archives building at 208 N. Lea Ave. The free monthly Sunday Funday program is from 3 to 4 p.m.

Currently, Ederer lives in Switzerland and teaches gifted children — part of her profession for about 15 years — about Native American cultures.

Since her arrival to the Southwest in mid-July, Ederer has visited national parks, museums, archives and more in Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Northern New Mexico. She will spend time in Roswell before going back to Arizona, and then will be returning to Mescalero Reservation and Ruidoso for the remaining time. She’ll return home and back to work in early October.

A conversation with her colleague, Lynda Sanchez, an author who has also written about the Apaches with historian Eve Ball, led to a connection with HSSNM where she has been collaborating with and exploring the archives and other Roswell sites with Janice Dunnahoo, HSSNM’s chief archivist.

Her mission in studying “how the real Native Americans, the real Apaches lived” began when she was a teenager, when she bought sweets to eat to motivate herself to read Karl May’s books about the Wild West. Ederer explained his books as densely descriptive since he was paid per page, and “old fashioned” by the time she read them.

She said the fact that May’s accounts were not firsthand was apparent since the image he painted of the Mescaleros was likened to the Plains Indians.

In her own collection of friendship stories, Ederer has finished the first three chapters on the Mescalero Apaches, Chiricahua Apaches, the two lineages combined and is finishing the fourth chapter.

“The reason why I wrote the book was that I just had enough of those war stories,” Ederer said. “Of course, yeah, there were fights and the Apaches fought and the white people fought, were killed … but I would like to see the other side of war.

“There have been people, despite what has happened before, that Apaches and the white people were just willing to be friends and I think those are important stories to be told. …”

Saving her specific stories for Sunday, Ederer said these friendships that she will talk about influenced changes for the Apaches in history, as well as more modern ones.

Dunnahoo said “… They need to come hear a European teach them about Mescalero Apaches because she has done such intensive studies and knows more about them than people living 70 miles away.”

The publishing date for the friendship stories book is to be determined, but Ederer is planning on releasing a cookbook, which will feature 85 Native North American recipes in 240 pages “from the Arctic to the Southwest” with information to educate readers about how food was collected, cultural significance and more.

She said the cookbook is planned to be finished next year and both of her books will be published in German.

For Americans that are not native, Ederer said it is important for them to “be aware that there is a culture who was there before and a lot of names, and food, and the landscapes are just part of that.”

The academic study of Native Americans in German-speaking countries is “rare” and Ederer added there are about 20 researchers and only four to five teaching at universities.

“… And the good thing is that usually in German-speaking countries you don’t have Native American kids in the class, so the culture you talk about is like unknown to everybody,” Ederer said. “… That’s a good example for teaching about a foreign culture, accepting foreign rituals, language, morals, whatever and then you can say, ‘This is a culture that is so strange to every one of you, but look at those cultures which are here in your country. There could be strange things, too, but they’re just different.

“They’re not bad or good, or whatever, so talking about a culture that is so far away for them makes them — hopefully, open to other cultures and just accept that they are different. …”

Special projects reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.