Category Archives: Native American

Acoma Pueblo

Acoma Pueblo
* Acoma, New Mexico *

I’m not sure how I forgot about this mysterious and heavenly city, “City in the Clouds” as I had studied it extensively in Archaeology and Anthropology courses in University. It took a good travel mate to attract my attention to it as we were travelling across New Mexico. “Aa’ku”, “Hakukya”, “Haak’oh” and “Acoma” are various Native American language names for the Cloud City located 60 miles west of Albuquerque, New Mexico. This Mesa-top City, is three Puebloan culture villages combined into one – (1) Old Acoma or “Sky City”, (2) Acomita, and (3) McCartys. “Acoma” is a Spanish (as well as the Keresan language group Acoma) word for “the place that always was” or “People of the White Rock”. “Pueblo” is Spanish for “village”. A Federally recognized tribe, the Acoma are a Pueblo Native American group who are believed to be descendants from the Anasazi and/or Mogollon peoples of the Four Corners Region (Home to Mesa Verde, Salmon, Aztec, and Chaco Canyon culture groups) as are most of the Pueblo peoples. There are approximately just under 5,000 registered Acoma people existing today as most of their populations were decimated by the Spanish, Catholicism, and Euro-American settlers. They have occupied this area for over 800 years as of this writing making their village one of the oldest continuously inhabited villages in the United States. The Acoma believe they have been inhabiting the village for over 2,000 years. Archaeologists believe that the Mogollon/Anasazi peoples who gave birth to the Puebloans of the Four Corners region who evacuated the area due to severe droughts, and Sky City believed to be one of the locations they relocated to. This mesa that they moved to is a 365 foot high natural mesa, isolated with built-in natural fortifications. This helped the Acoma defend against Plains, Navajo, and Apache Indians because they were a peaceful non-warring society. However they suffered once falling in contact with the Spanish and Europeans. Spanish explorers in search of the 7 cities of Gold, came to them peacefull at first, trying to locate the legends of gold they were told about. The expedition’s leader, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado noted in his journals during their 1540 visit that this Pueblo was one of the strongest places they had encountered. At the time of their initial visit, the only method to access the top of the Mesa, was via an almost vertical set of stairs cut into the rock face. It took roughly 18 years for the Acoma to realize the Spanish had ulterior motives and relations between the two peoples began to disintegrate. The Acoma discovered that the Spanish had wanted to colonize their lands, so in turn ambused Juan de Onate’s men, killing 11 of them to defend their acreage. The Spanish came back to enforce penalty on the attack, burning most of their village and slaughtering over 600 of their people. They imprisoned the rest forcing them into slavery. They amputated the right foot of all men 25 years or older so they could not leave the Mesa. After the Massacre, the Acoma recovered and rebuilt their community, even though they had to pay taxes and tithing to Onate and his Catholic Missionaries. Churches were constructed and Western ways were taught to the Acoma. The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 took its toll on the Spanish, bringing in refugees from other Pueblos, and pushing many Spanish out. Those Acoma that left the Mesa, formed the Laguna Pueblo not too far away. The Acoma then suffered through Westerner diseases brought over such as smallpox and raids from the Ute, Comanche, and Apache. They had to adopt Catholic faith, although also practicing their indigenous faiths in secret.

From 1629-1641 C.E. A Catholic Priest named Father Juan Ramirez was stationed at the Acoma Pueblo constructing the San Esteven Del Rey Mission Church atop the Mesa. The Acoma was forced to build this colossal palace for God moving over 20,000 tons of stone, mud, and straw to the Mesa, making Adobe for the construction. Giant ponderosa pine timber was also hand-carried up to the Mesa from over 40 miles away as 60 foot high wooden pillars hand carved in red and white designs.

The Pueblo Lands Act of 1924 appropriate much of their stolen lands back to them. Protestant missionaries invaded the area bringing alternative faiths to Catholicism as well as Christian influenced schools. The Burea of Indian Affairs forced many of the Acoma children to attend boarding schools, taking the kids from their parents. Much of the ancient ways were lost in process since many elders passed away before the children returned. What children returned often chose Western ways and was no longer interested in ancient traditions. The Church and Acoma village was placed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and by 2007 became a National Trust for Historic Preservation Site. There are roughly 300 two-three story adobe buildings atop the Mesa with exterior ladders accessing the upper levels where residents live. The Mesa is now accessed by a road built in the 1950’s for Hollywood Film sets needing to bring in studio equipment for movie productions. There are less than 30 Acoma who live atop the Mesa today. There are roughly 60,000 tourists each year visiting the site. The village is not permitted to have running water, electricity, nor sewage disposal atop the Mesa in order to preserve ancient traditions. There is a reservation that surrounds the Mesa, roughly 600 square miles, where most tribal members live while the others live in modern day local cities hosting casinos, restaurants, gas stations, and shops. Today, it is believed that many of their ancestral beliefs and traditions are still practiced in secret from Westerners while also practicing Catholicism, the faith that was forced upon them since Euro-American and Spanish contact. They believe in creating harmony between their people and nature. The sun is seen as their creator Deity. Their world is balanced by the mountains, their community, the sun above, and the earth below. Their religious ceremonies revolve around the weather. They utilize kachinas in their rituals. They would worship in their kivas. The Acoma speak both English and Acoma, while their elders may also speak Spanish. There are less than 5,000 Acoma left today. The government is managed by the cacique (head of the Pueblo) and the war captain who manage the tribe until they die. These individuals maintain strong religious connections to all the work they do as tradition dictates. There is also the All Indian Pueblo Council that began in 1598 and helps manage Indian affairs. They manage over 500,000 acres of traditional Acoma lands consisting of valleys, hills, arroyos, and mesas. Tribal councils, staff, and the governor is appointed by the cacique. Besides Government subsidies, their major income is Tourism.

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posuwaegah (outside of Taos, NM)

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Posuwaegeh means “drink-water place” or “place to drink” in the Towa language. the posuwaegeh pueblo is located 16 miles north of Santa Fe and is the smallest of the six Tewa villages. There were 177 Native Americans living there in 1990. Their language is Kiowa-Tanoan. They are believed like all other Puebloan culture peoples to come from the Anasazi of the Four Corners region (Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, Salmon, and Aztec) as well as possibly Mogollon peoples around 1200 CE. This area has been occupied pretty constantly since 900 CE growing into a major political and cultural center. The Spanish occupied the area around 1598 with settlers, founding the colony of New Mexico. They forced the Indians to pay taxes in crops, cotton, and slave labor, forced them to become Catholics, and attacked their indigenous religions. The Pueblos were renamed by the Spaniards with saint’s names and began to construct churches in the area. The region took an active part in the 1680 Pueblo revolt against the Spanish. Today the Pueblo hosts a market, restaurants, casinos, resorts, and a 18 hole golf course just to the east of the over crossing. The overpass is a popular photo spot of the region, as it is decorated with symbols for mountains, clouds, and whirling logs (infinity symbol).

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Taos Pueblo

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Taos Pueblo * Pueblo de Taos * ?a?opháym?p’?h??oth??olbo * *
* Taos, New Mexico * www.taospueblo.com * ca. 1000 C.E./1450 C.E. to Present day *

As a southwestern Archaeologist, I have always been inspired and intrigued with the Taos Pueblo, the only living Native American community that has been designated as both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and as a National Historic Landmark. Aesthetically its a great example of adobe architecture and Puebloan culture. “Taos” was borrowed from the Spanish word “Taos” (t??o) meaning “village”, translating “Taos Pueblo” to “village in the village”. “Pueblo” means “the village” or “in the village” in the anglicized writing of the name, and given the namesake as “Taos Pueblo”, its true name however in the Taos language is “?a?opháym?p’?h??oth??olbo” meaning “at Red Willow Canyon Mouth”. These multi-storied adobe structures have been continuously inhabited for over a 1000 years. As a part of the Eight Northern Pueblos, this community is known for being one of the most conservative, secretive, and private of those in existing Puebloan culture. The village is atop a 95,000 acre sized reservation with over 4,500 inhabitants. The Red Willow Creek (Rio Pueblo de Taos) runs through the village as a small stream flowing into the middle of the community, fed by the headwaters sprung for the from spring and snow melt of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. The pueblo is noted for its multi-storied residential complex, consisting of adobe architecture with reddish-brown mud-clay construction that is divided into two parts by the Red Willow Creek. Most of the Taos buildings originally had few windows or doors and were accessed by square holes in the roof led down by long climbing wooden ladders. Roofs were supported by large cedar logs with layers of branches, grass, mud, and plaster covering it all. The Pueblo wall completely enclosed the village back in the day and much taller for protection (today they are short or missing elements). The north side of the Pueblo is the most photographed and painted buildings in North America as they are representative of the largest multi-storied Pueblo structures still in existence. The walls are several feet thick for defensive strategy, and until 1900 C.E. only accessed from ladders in the roof. Homes usually have two rooms, one for living/sleeping and the other for cooking/storage. Each house is self-contained with no passageways between the houses. In early days, they were minimal with furnishings but today have beds, chairs, tables, counters, etc. There has never been electricity, running water, or indoor plumbing permitted in the Taos Pueblo. Kivas are scattered around the Pueblo utilized for council meetings and spiritual rites.

There is controversial debate on exactly when it was built, but estimated construction is between 1000 C.E. and 1450 C.E. It was designated a National Historic Landmark on October 9, 1960 and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992. The original Pueblo Indians (including the Taos Native Americans) settled along the Rio Grande River after migrating from the Four Corners Region as their ancestry come from the Anasazi people who built the ruins in that area (Aztec Ruins, Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, etc.) forced to move on by a devastating drought in the 13th century of the Common Era. The waters of the Rio Grande River were more dependable. This Pueblo became a trade center for most of the native Populations of the area including the Plains tribes, often hosting a trade fair every fall after the agricultural harvest. Their spirituality was very Pagan, animistic, and shamanistic in belief structure which was almost demolished by Catholicism and Christianity after contact. The first Spanish to arrive was in 1540 C.E. from the Francisco Vásquez de Coronado expedition in search of the Seven Cities of Gold. By 1620 C.E., San Geronimo de Taos Catholic church was constructed, albeit numerous resistance attempts from the local Taos Native Americans. Resistance against the Catholic faith was hardcore at this time. However, as tensions grew between the Euro-American and Spanish settlers invading the area as well as between the Plains Indians and amongst their own peoples, the 1600’s C.E. of this region was in major upheaval and change. Churches were burnt, settlers were killed, priests murdered, and the grand Pueblo Revolt of 1680 (CE) took foot. The Taos people killed all three priests and destroyed the San Geronimo church. It was rebuilt for a third time by the end of the 18th century and relations between the Spanish and Puebloan culture found a level of peace finding strength coming together to defeat another invader, the Comanche and Ute Indian Tribes from the North and East. Resistance towards Catholicism was still strong.

As New Mexico came under control of the United States away from Mexico, officially becoming a territory in 1847 C.E. the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed with a grand peace requested and cherished. This did not last long as another revolt broke out in this Pueblo, when the Taos Pueblo leader “Tomasito” teamed together with the Mexican leader “Pablo Montoya” instigated a rebellion of Native Americans and Mexicans who refused to become part of the United States. They killed the then Governor Charles Bent while marching onto Santa Fe, followed by refuge in the Geronimo Mission Church. The Church was attacked by American troops, onslaught murder of the rebels and taking the others hostage, once again demolishing the church. It was rebuilt a fourth time in 1850 C.E. near the west gate of the Pueblo wall. The ruins can be seen today in the grave yard.

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In the early 20th century, President Theodore Roosevelt took 48,000 acres of land from the Pueblo designating it as the Carson National Forest. This was returned back to the Pueblo in 1970 by President Nixon, and in 1996 an additional 764 acres were given back to the Pueblo covering their sacred Blue Lake – a magical body of water integrated into early Taos Puebloan belief structure.

Today the Taos Puebloan Peoples practice two spiritual practices – the original indigenous spiritual tradition and Roman Catholicism. It is said that the majority of the Taos Indians still practice their old ways even though 90% of their members have been baptized as Roman Catholics. From my experiences however, it is very apparent that much of the old ways have been destroyed by Catholicism. When I asked many Native American vendors in the Pueblo about certain meanings of various stones, symbols, or items (many of which are common knowledge items of lore today) – the response issued that they didn’t know, said there was nothing special about it, or that there was no lore associated with them. This demonstrated to me that either they were keeping secret even that which is common mainstream knowledge, or the general populace in the Pueblo has lost their cultural mythos and lore, which was very saddening to me. In talking to some Puebloan contacts, many say the ancient traditions are still practiced, albeit in secret away from white folk, or that they are now Christian or Catholic in practice. The concept of “community” however has not changed amongst Puebloan culture. Their phrase “we are in one nest” has been the supportive cohesive glue keeping the community together. The other aspect is “family” with high tribute and respect for their ancestors, elders, and parents. Often pictures, photos, or items belonging to ancestors or parents would be found in the homes or shops – a part of ancestral worship in like. Descent is respected from both the father and mother’s side (patrilineal and matrilineal) and although each family lives in a separate dwelling, they come together for family issues, and everyone is available to help care for the children. The elderly teach the young values and traditions of the culture with hopes of securing and preserving Taos Puebloan culture for generations to come.

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