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New Mexico Native American experiences

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Did You Know … ?

  • Zia Pueblo is the birthplace of the Zia sun symbol seen on the New Mexico state flag.
  • In pueblos, when originally built, entry to homes was via the roof.
  • During World War II, Navajo Code Talkers communicated secret strategy using the complex Navajo language.
  • Approximately 80% of the Zuni workforce is involved in creative arts.
  • Pueblo people still live in ancestral homelands, having never been forcibly relocated, as were many other tribes.

Multiple sovereign governments

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 10% of New Mexico’s 2 million people are American Indian — or about 200,000. Although those 200,000 individuals are in the state’s census statistics, each of the state’s 23 tribes maintains a separate sovereign government.

Nineteen of the tribes belong to the Pueblo culture, characterized in part by settlements with large multistoried adobe houses that may be hundreds of years old. The other four tribes are three Apache groups and the Navajo Nation.

The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque is a good starting point for learning about the unique Pueblo culture. The center also operates tours to select pueblos, but any thoughtfully designed and operated tour to the pueblos or to the Apache and Navajo reservations deserves consideration. Museums and crafts centers at the reservations also play an orientation role.

Visitors gravitate to the Native American experience in New Mexico for several reasons. For one, they are interested in the arts and crafts for which many tribes are known, including jewelry, pottery and rugs. They admire the work where displayed and buy treasures to take home.

Tourists also come for ceremonial dances and rituals, for feast days, for handicraft fairs and for powwows and rodeos — when those events are accessible for the general public.
Other visitors are attracted by the outdoor activities that many reservations offer, such as boating and hiking, fishing and hunting. Additionally, about two-thirds of tribes operate casinos, sometimes with hotels carrying high-end brand names and offering luxury services.

An added attraction is the scenery, meaning the natural environment of canyons, mesas and mountains, plus the sandy or reddish adobe pueblo communities whether seen from a distance or at close range.

Each of the 23 tribes sets rules for accessibility, fishing or hunting licenses and photography permits. Some groups allow no photography whatsoever. It is always wise to confirm with each tribe its accessibility on planned travel dates, along with the parameters for the proposed visit. Tourism is important to New Mexico’s Indian tribes, but the groups strive to balance that interest against their desire to protect and preserve unique cultures and ways of life.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Fish and camp at the Cochiti Lake, at the Cochiti Pueblo. The lake also is good for kayaking and windsurfing.
  • Eat traditional foods at the Acoma Pueblo or at others of the Indian sites.
  • Ski or ride a snowboard down the slopes at Ski Apache at Ruidoso.
  • Pitch a tent and camp at the Zuni Pueblo, or at a few other tribal sites including that of the Mescalero Apache tribe.
  • Hike on Navajo Nation lands, with appropriate permits. Also, shop for Navajo rugs at the reservation or at one of the tribe’s monthly auctions.
  • Where available, attend the feast day festivities at one of the state’s pueblo sites.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Take photos but be conscious of the varying rules about photography instituted by each of the state’s tribes.
  • Buy pottery made by artisans at any of several pueblos, such as Acoma, Nambe, Ohkay Owingeh and Zuni. Buy leatherwork at Taos Pueblo. At San Idlefonso Pueblo or Zia Pueblo, discover and visit artists who sell from their homes.
  • Visit the Jemez Pueblo’s ancestral village site, Giusewa, at the Jemez State Monument. Or at Santa Clara Pueblo, participate in the locally operated guided tour to the Puye Cliffs Ancestral Tewa Ruins.
  • Drive the Jemez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway. Or follow the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway showcasing top archaeological sites.
  • Fish at one of the five mountain lakes on Jicarilla Apache Nation lands. In addition, more than half the pueblos offer a chance to fish. Ohkay Owingeh Trout Lakes offer year-round fishing, and Sandia Lakes at Sandia Pueblo provide another example.
  • Pull up your RV and camp at the Jicarilla or Mescalero Apache tribal sites or at one of several pueblos offering that option.

Things to do for Authentics

  • See traditional Indian dances on weekends at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. Use the visit to learn about the state’s 19 Pueblo Indian tribes. Similarly, there are many cultural centers and museums at pueblo sites, too.
  • Gaming is an option at casinos on several of the pueblos. Take your pick.
  • Play golf against the backdrop of New Mexico’s scenery. The Pojoaque Pueblo promises a challenging game at its Towa Golf Course.
  • Book one of the one-day packaged tours, offered at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, to visit one or more of the pueblos.
  • Also, several tribes offer tribal tours on their lands. Choose one that appeals to your interests or fits your schedule.
  • Shop at the large Bien Mur Indian Market Center at Sandia Pueblo. Or, if the timing is right, shop at the Santo Domingo Arts and Crafts market, held on Labor Day weekend at Santo Domingo Pueblo.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the New Mexico Tourism Department at www.newmexico.org