In a way uniquely his own, Basso was always able to let the material he was studying maintain its own integrity and shine through his penetrating analyses.
The above quote, from the National Museum of the American Indian curator Cécile R. Ganteaume, comes from a deep tribute to Keith Basso, formerly professor at the Universities of New Mexico and Arizona, who passed away August 4 at the age of 73.
Basso was known for his work with the Western Apache, particularly his study of language and place names from local perspectives, which he explored and celebrated through many books and articles. Ganteaume explains the significance of his work:
Basso was extremely well versed in Western Apache history, religion, language, and culture, and put his knowledge at the service of Apache people. He provided expert testimony in numerous state and federal legal proceedings involving tribal members. Among the many works for which Basso is well known are his essays dealing with Western Apache place names. Stemming from his related field research, Basso worked with the White Mountain Apache Tribe to linguistically remap their reservation and to restore for all tribal members Apache place names for special features in the natural landscape. These toponyms not only have deep cultural significance, but, as Basso revealed, moral meaning as well. Honored to be asked to be involved in the remapping project, Basso once explained, “I began to see how superimposing an Anglo language on an Apache landscape was a subtle form of oppression and domination.”