Legendary New Mexico: New Mexico’s 19 Pueblos

Historic Route 66
This November 2014 photo provided by the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association shows the view from the road to Sky City at Acoma Pueblo, N.M. The pueblo is one of more than two dozen tribal communities along historic Route 66. (Lisa Snell/American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association via AP)

Each of the 19 Pueblo tribes in New Mexico are a sovereign nation. At one time Pueblos tribes reached into what now is Colorado and Arizona where they established dwelling and trade centers similar to those located at Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico and Mesa Verde in southwestern Colorado.

Below is a brief introduction to each Pueblo in New Mexico:

Acoma Pueblo

The Acoma Pueblo, believed to have been established in the 12th century, is considered the oldest, continuously inhabited, community in the United States.

Sky City is the heart of Acoma Pueblo’s history. Today only about fifty tribal members live year round in the city and is very difficult to get to as the mesa it rests upon, has sheer faces.

Originally the only way to get to Sky City was by a hand cut staircase carved into the rock.

Tribal members today mostly live in four places. There is the San Estevan del Rey Mission which was completed in 1640 and three thousand tribal members live in Acomita, McCarty’s and Anzac.

You can get a tour of Sky City from native Acoma guides to learn more on Acoma’s living history and culture.

There is a debate in regards to the meaning of word Acoma. Some believe it comes from the Keresan word for “the people of the white rock” – aa’ku meaning white rock and meh meaning people. Others believe aa’ku comes from the word haaku meaning “to prepare” because of the imposing defensive position of Sky City.

Jemez Pueblo

The Jemez Pueblo is located 55 miles northwest of Albuquerque where you can find its modern Pueblo village known as Walatowa.

The Pueblo came from the four corners area in the late 13th century.

When Europeans made contact with them in 1541, the Jemez Pueblo was one of the largest and most powerful. Their villages were made of stone structures more than four stories high with thousands of room. All of these dwellings make up some of the most significant archeological ruins in the United States.

As much as 70 percent of the nearly two thousand Pueblo members were living on reservation land as late as the 1970’s. Residents continue to grow chili peppers, corn and wheat and speak their native language to preserve their heritage.

Jemez is the only remaining Towa speaking Pueblo.

Jemez potters are known for their elaborate carving designs. Today jemez bowls, seed pots, wedding vases, figurines, and ornaments are collected all over the world.

Cochiti Pueblo

The Cochiti Pueblo located southwest of Santa Fe and home to about fifteen hundred members.

The Cochiti speak Keres which it is spoken by several different Pueblos in New Mexico. The Cochiti preserve this language by creating their own spelling system and have created a Keres school. Helen Cordero is one of its most revered members and revived a popular storyteller pottery figurine in 1964.

The Pueblo celebrates the annual feast day for its patron saint, St. Bonaventure, on july 14th.

The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is located on the Cochiti Pueblo and offers visitors a chance to observe, study, and experience the geologic shape and natural landscapes.

The cone-shaped tent rock formations are the products of volcanic eruptions and are over a thousand feet thick and vary in height from a few feet up to 90 feet.

Isleta Pueblo

The Isleta Pueblo is located some fifteen miles south of Albuquerque.

In the 15th century the Spanish arrived and changed the native name from ‘Shiewhibak’ to ‘Isleta’ – or ‘little island’.

Isletan Tiwa, one of two varieties of dialects spoken in the southern Tiwa language, was reintroduced to Isleta elementary students after the school’s transfer from federal to Tribal control. In 2016 the Kellogg Foundation awarded a grant of $148,000 to develop a dual language Tiwa-English program for young children at the school.

In January of 2016, more than 90,000 acres were returned to the Pueblo via a trust from the federal government, increasing its size by 50 percent.

The St. Augustine Church has stood on Pueblo’s ground since 1613.

Sandia Pueblo

Located in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains north of Albuquerque, the Pueblo of Sandia covers nearly 23,000 acres of what is considered, sacred land.

With roots going back to the 1300’s, the Tiwa speaking Pueblo’s full name is “Tuf Shur Tia”  otherwise known as “green reed place”.

According to the Pueblo, the lineage of tribal members can be traced back to the Aztec civilization.

At one time, it was considered the largest Pueblo with 3,000 people, that has since been reduced to just under five hundred.

The Pueblo was vacated for a brief time around the revolt of 1680, that’s when residents took shelter at the nearby Hopi Pueblo. It wasn’t until the mid 1700’s when members returned to their land.

In it’s modern day existence, Sandia is home to the Bien Mur Indian Market Center, considered one of the largest Native American owned and operated stores in the southwestern United States.

Their prominence in business also includes the Sandia Casino and Resort as well as other properties which employ over 2,000 residents of Albuquerque and surrounding areas of both Native American and non-Native American descent.

Santa Ana Pueblo

Located just north of Bernalillo sits the Pueblo of Santa Ana whom has occupied the area since at least the late 1500s.

This Keresan-speaking people have close ties and a tradition of cultural exchange with nearby Zia and San Felipe Pueblos.

Covering nearly 73,000 acres along the Rio Grande, parts of the Pueblo were initially established in that area for agriculture including tribally grown blue corn products, plants and food. Over time the Pueblo has since transformed itself into a hub for attracting fun and conventions, with businesses offering as well as a hotel and golf courses.

Today Santa Ana artists create traditional jewelry, pottery, ceremonial clothing and embroidery.

Laguna Pueblo

Laguna Pueblo is located 45 miles west of Albuquerque and is the largest Keresan speaking Pueblo.

Route 66 and the Interstate run through the heart of the 42 square mile Pueblo lands which house six villages: Encinal, Laguna, Mesita, Paguate, Paraje, and Seama. 3,800 Pueblo members leave in these communities and each one celebrates its own feast day of St. Joseph on September 19th.

Historians believe ancestors have lived on the Pueblo since 1300 A.D.
When the Spanish found this Pueblo in the 1500’s, they discovered a sophisticate self-governed system. The current Pueblo location was started in 1699 after the Pueblo Revolt.

Laguna artists in the 1970’s got back to the traditional craft of pottery making using red, yellow and orange geometric designs that are similar to that of the Acoma Pueblo. Today, Laguna keeps traditional ways while bringing in innovative designs into their paintings and jewelry.

Nambe Pueblo

The Nambe Pueblo is located 20 miles north of Santa Fe and is almost 20,000 acres. They are a member of the eight northern Pueblos and their feast day is on October 4th.

The Pueblo has existed since the 14th century and are from the Tewa ethnic group of Native Americans. Nambe means “people of the round earth” in the Tewa language.

The Nambe Pueblo has been known for its amazing agriculture and production of traditional textiles. Current artists are learning the traditional forms and producing high-quality Nambe work. The pots crafted today are black on black and white on red designs, similar to the Taos and Picuris Pueblos.

Traditional kilt and cotton belt production has been revived, making stunning modern-day tribute to the Nambe Pueblo.

Santo Domingo Pueblo

The Santo Domingo  Pueblo, also known as the Kewa Pueblo, is located on the Rio Grande, twenty-five miles southwest of Santa Fe and is one of the largest Pueblos.

The Pueblo is near the ancient Cerrillos Turquoise Mines and have been making fine jewelry for centuries.

They are incredible traders of their work, like their Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon ancestors,  trading their jewelry as far away as Central Mexico.

The Pueblo was established in the 15th century but the current Santo Domingo Village was built after a terrible flood in 1886.

They have a feast day every August honoring the Pueblo’s patron saint, St. Dominic, drawing visitors from all over the state to enjoy the festivities.

Today artists continue to create unbelievable beaded jewelry which it is prized worldwide.

San Felipe Pueblo

San Felipe Pueblo, located about 35 miles north of Albuquerque on the Rio Grande River, is considered culturally conservative. The Pueblo is a Keresan speaking people and recognized for preserving traditional customs and values.

The Pueblo has a very strong ceremonial structure and practice of traditional rituals. Its feast day is  May 1 when hundreds of men, women, and children participate in traditional green corn dances which by the end of the day the plaza is worn down into a bowl from a day of dancing.

There is not a lot of historical information about art in San Felipe, but current artists have again started creating beautiful beadwork and heishi. Heishi are small disc or tube shaped beads made from organic shells or ground and polished stones.

San Felipe’s population is about 3,100 and in 1591 was named by Castano de Sosa after a Jesuit who was martyred in Japan.

Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo

Juan de Oñate established the first Spanish capital city in New Mexico near the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo in 1598 and was previously identified by non-Pueblo members as San Juan. Located 25 miles north of Santa Fe on the Rio Grande, the Pueblo is one of the largest Tewa-speaking Pueblos with 6,748 members.

The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was the first successful rebellion against the Spanish where Ohkay Owingeh religious leader Popè actually led the revolt.

Today the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo is home of the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council and the Oke-Oweenge Crafts Cooperative headquarters.

The cooperative exhibits pottery, weaving, and paintings of the eight northern Pueblos. The main focus of Tewa village is the redware pottery.

Taos

When it comes to the most recognizable Pueblo in New Mexico, the most iconic is Taos.

From their stacked adobe houses and horno’s, still used for cooking, Taos Pueblo continues to use traditional methods of living and educating others on how they have survived.

For nearly a thousand years at the feet of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and a hour and half northwest of Santa Fe, with other than a few modern amenities, life in the Pueblo mirrors what it did hundreds of years ago.

Taos Pueblo is the only living Native American Pueblo that is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark.

The Church of San Geronimo, or San Geronimo de Taos, is a prominent mission for the hundred and fifty members living in the Tiwa speaking Pueblo.

Through their art, the Taos people help keep the Pueblo alive. For artists, living and creating art in the Pueblo, enables them to directly pass on the craft to the youth.

From historic battles with Spanish Conquistadores to winning modern-day struggles with the U.S. Government and reclaiming sacred mountain land including Blue Lake, the Pueblo of Taos continues to thrive and survive.

Santa Clara Pueblo

The Santa Clara Pueblo may have some of the most stunning landscape as any place in New Mexico.

Located along the Rio Grande near Española, the Pueblo has been on the same site since the early 15th centuries.

The ancestral home of Santa Clara is where you can find the Puye Cliff Dwellings, a historical and archeological landmark located near the modern Pueblo.

The Santa Clara Pueblo has a strong tribal government and economy. They have kept many of their ancient traditions while bringing in a modern culture.

The Pueblo is know for education – both heritage and modern.

There are dances and festivals that are open to the public. In June, St. Anthony’s Feast Day features Comanche dances and in August, harvest and corn dances are performed in honor of the patron saint, St. Claire.

Picuris Pueblo

The Picuris Pueblo was once the largest Tiwa Pueblo but now it is one of the smallest with a little more than three hundred members.

The Picuris is located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains 24 miles southeast of Taos. The Pueblo is located near two important mountain passes which is what made it a larger and prosperous Pueblo. It also had an impressive seven to eight story structure that the Picuris lived in.

Today, it is one of the most remote Pueblos.

Pueblo members have restored by hand the 200 year old adobe church, San Lorenzo de Picuris located at the center of the Pueblo.

Some Picuris artists continue to make the stunning micaceous clay pottery that is attributed to the Picuris and Taos tribes. Micaceous clay pottery are recognized by their almost metallic shimmer.

The Pueblo’s annual San Lorenzo Feast Day is August 10th.

Pojaque Pueblo

Pojaque Pueblo, located outside Santa Fe, was once almost destroyed by war and disease but survivors returned to the land evicting squatters rights. Actually, since the Pueblo revolt in 1680, the Pueblo has been abandoned three times.

Since the Pueblo was federal recognized as a tribal reservation in 1936, Pojaque has seen a rebirth of its culture, business and economy in recent decades. It is known for the Poeh Cultural Center.

The Pueblo’s traditional spelling “Po-suwae-ge” means “the water drinking” or “gathering place”.

The Poeh has provided arts education to native artists of many Pueblos and tribes.  Pojoaque’s traditions are preserved and celebrated through teaching of their native language at Poeh. This has sparked a growth of traditional and modern Native American arts.

Pojaque has seen an economic revival since the opening of the Buffalo Thunder Resort.

Tesuque Pueblo

Dating back to 1200 A.D., the Tesuque Pueblo is ten miles north of Santa Fe and is listed on the national register of historic places.

The name Tesuque is a Spanish variation of the Tewa name, Te Tesugeh Oweengeh, meaning “village of narrow place of the cottonwood trees”.

The Tesuque people played an integral role in the Pueblo revolt of 1680 as two of the Pueblo members were messengers, spreading word of the uprising throughout the territory.

Tesuque has a population of 800 people. While the population maybe small, the Pueblo covers more than 17,000 acres.

Tesuque treasures its traditions and culture despite pressure from the outside. Working hard to embrace and remember the ancient customs, Tesuque artists make handcrafted figurines with colorful designs and are in high demand from collectors.

Zuni Pueblo

The Zuni Pueblo is about 150 miles west of Albuquerque near the Arizona border.  Zuni’s population is more than 10,000, it is the largest of the 19 Pueblos in New Mexico and are the only Pueblo to speak the Zuni language

The Zuni people have farmed the land along the Zuni river for thousands of years growing corn, beans, and other vegetables. Archeologists have evidence that the Zuni Pueblo has lived on this land for 1,300 years.

In 1540, Spanish explorers ran into the Pueblo while they were searching for the seven golden cities of Cibola; not finding gold, the Spanish did find turquoise and silver.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission Church was constructed on the Pueblo in 1629, and life-size murals of kachinas are painted on the walls of the church.

The mountains, forests, and deserts surrounding the Zuni Pueblo form their cultural and religious traditions. The Zuni people are famous for mosaic patterned jewelry, needlework and stone carving.

Zia Pueblo

The Zia Pueblo is about 35 miles north of Albuquerque as it overlooks the Jemez River. While the Pueblo maybe out of the way, everyone in New Mexico knows its symbol.

The Zia is the official state insignia appearing on the state flag, adopted by the new mexico legislature in its salute.

Zia Pueblo was almost wiped out during the Pueblo Revolt losing, 600 people.

Ancestors have lived on this land since the 13th century. Once considered to be one of the largest Pueblos, the population had fallen to less than a hundred at the turn of the 20th century.  It now stands around 700.

Zia members have a strong sense of identity, known as a Pueblo focused on agriculture and livestock.

Some Zia painters have gained popularity with their watercolors. Their pottery is unpolished redware with a white slip and often produced with a bird motif.

San Ildefonso Pueblo

Due to drastic hot and cold temperature swings, the original San Ildefonso Pueblo left their villages at Mesa Verde and Bandelier for the Rio Grande, north of Santa Fe, where they have been since before 1,300 A.D.

In 1694, on top of the nearby Black Mesa, across the Rio Grande from San Ildefonso, the Pueblo held off Spanish soldiers during the reconquest of New Mexico.

Today the Pueblo is known as an art community Pueblo of about 1,500 people.

It was the home of the late Maria and Julian Martinez who developed the world-renowned black on black pottery with black matte designs.

At the time Martinez’s were making their mark, San Ildefonso was an agriculture-based Pueblo with a shrinking population. The potter style revived the economy and cultural life of the Pueblo. Now San Ildefonso’s economy is centered around the production of traditional arts and crafts.


Learn More from The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center