Picuris and Taos Pueblos
Two Pueblos, One Land
By: Phaedra Greenwood
Very few Native American tribes enjoy the luxury of tribal life on the land of their ancestors, but the Eight Northern Pueblos of New Mexico are in this enviable position. Two of the northernmost pueblos, Picuris and Taos, share common roots and the challenge to survive economically and culturally in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Picurís Pueblo is roughly half way between Taos and Santa Fe. Life is quiet here, and the pace is slow. The Picurís tend to be shy of strangers, but if you're respectful they may greet you with the Tiwa phrase, "Mah-waan, mah-waan," which means "Welcome."
According to the 2000 Census, Picurís Pueblo, which historically had a population of 5,000 in 1250 A.D., was down to a population of about 86. At that time three percent of the residents age 25 or older had a bachelors or college degree. Per capita income was $12,492 compared to $21,587 nationally.
Today the population has climbed to 180. In spite of the odds, the Picurís tribe is still fighting for economic and cultural survival. Though English is prevalent, they are struggling to hold onto their native language and oral traditions. They still perform several annual ceremonies that include foot races in the spring, a harvest celebration with foot races and a pole climb, and a procession and dance at Christmas.
Many tribes own and operate casinos, but Picurís owns a posh hotel in downtown Santa Fe. Billed as "a unique cultural experience," this beautiful hotel lives up to its name. According to their website, www.hotelsantafe.com, the building itself demonstrates the science and art of adobe architecture, and is surrounded by totems and Native American sculpture. In 2004, it was listed by Travel andLeisure Magazine as one of the "500 Greatest Hotels in the World," and AAA gave it the prestigious Four-diamond rating.
Entertainment at the hotel includes tribal dances, lectures and storytelling. Their gift shop offers Indian arts and crafts, and their restaurant is known for its Native American and international cuisine. Picurís Pueblo provides the restaurant with fresh buffalo meat from its own herd.
Five New Mexico pueblos maintain bison herds and cooperate to expand the bloodlines. The Picurís herd was started over a decade ago with one female and one bull. By 2002 the herd had increased to 25. This year they have 80 head, not including the calves, maintained on 700 acres of land. The herd is pastured in a field close to the road. Tribal bison herd manager Danny Sam says that it is not safe to walk among them. In June their coats become uneven because they shed; the light brown curly hair peels off like a bad sunburn, exposing sleek brown coats underneath.
Sam has been involved with the bison project since the beginning. "The project has great potential to become a source of income for the tribe, but things have changed," Sam says. Inspection duties used to be performed by state livestock inspectors and the fee was waived, he explains. Then the government got involved because it wasn't satisfied with the inspection standards. Under the state law, bison were considered livestock, but under USDA standards, they are classified as an exotic species. "They're not an exotic species," Sam says. "They're native to this country."
Sam also serves as secretary for the InterTribal Bison Cooperative (ITBC), an organization of 57 tribes from 19 states with a collective herd of over 15,000 bison. They have united in a common mission—to bring back the buffalo to Native American lands. During the 1800s the buffalo were systematically slaughtered to subjugate the Indians by cutting off their food supply. Over 60 million buffalo died leaving only a few hundred. The ITBC website says that the subsequent disruption of the tribes' self-sufficient lifestyle was more damaging than all other federal policies to date.
Members of the ITBC believe that reintroduction of the buffalo to tribal lands will help heal the spirit of both the Indian people and the buffalo. The ITBC website says that the buffalo has always held great meaning for American Indians. "To Indian people, buffalo represent their spirit and remind them of how their lives were once lived, free and in harmony with nature... . To reestablish buffalo populations on tribal lands is to reestablish hope for Indian people."
The ITBC was formed in 1990 to coordinate and assist tribes in returning the buffalo to Indian country. In June of 1991, with the help of the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society, Congress appropriated funding for tribal bison programs. The ITBC coordinates education and training programs, develops marketing strategies, coordinates the transfer of surplus buffalo from national parks to tribal lands, and provides technical assistance to its membership in developing sound management plans.
In 2007, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded $110,000 to the General Assistance Program for Picurís Pueblo to manage specific environmental programs and establish a core program for environmental protection. The tribe will use the funds to attend environmental meetings, write grants, develop a utility department, conduct community outreach, and develop forest and wildlife management plans.
Taos Pueblo, a mile east of Taos, is also moving toward a self-sustaining community, nourishing their deep connection to the land. Their tribal manifesto reads: "We have lived upon this land from days beyond history's records, far past any living memory, deep into the time of legend. The story of our people and the story of this place are one single story. No man can think of us without thinking of this place. We are always joined together."
According to Taos Pueblo's oral history, the genetics of the corn they plant today has been developed from prehistoric times—unique strains that can withstand frost and drought. They practiced crop rotation and developed the first acequia systems. Today the People of the Red Willows, as they are called, collect herbs, hunt and fish in the mountains. They also maintain a large bison herd of 135 head, but this is not a commercial venture.
For many years before the Spanish Conquistadors, Taos Pueblo was a traditional gathering place for Apaches, Utes, and other Plains Indians who set aside their differences to come to Taos for the annual trade fair. Later, trappers and fur traders joined the throngs offering beaver pelts and other furs. When legal trade was opened between Missouri and Santa Fe in 1821, whiskey, gunpowder and guns were traded.
Taos Pueblo has at least three important sources of revenue. Tourism is big because they have something unique to offer. In 1992, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization inscribed Taos Pueblo onto the World Heritage list as "The First Living World Heritage," an outstanding example of a living, traditional indigenous culture that has become vulnerable to irreversible change. The beautiful San Geronimo Church, built in 1850, is a Registered National Historic Landmark.
Though it is closed to the public at certain times, Taos Pueblo receives an average of 90,000 to 100,000 tourists every year. Visitors come to admire and photograph the two multi-storied structures built on the north and south sides of the river, which are believed to be well over 1,000 years old.
When the Conquistadors first discovered the Pueblo in the 14th century, there were no doorways, only ladders through openings in the rooftop. The adobe walls are several feet thick and the outside is re-plastered every year. For spiritual reasons, the Pueblo restricts running water and electricity in the sacred village. Every year Taos Pueblo draws an eager crowd to witness colorful ceremonial dances, the pole climb and foot races. Visitors are asked to pay photography fees if they intend to take pictures, plus parking and admission fees. They are forbidden to take photos on feast days, to photograph the interior of the church or enter any of the restricted areas.
In the 20 0r 30 shops around the central plaza, visitors can buy fresh bread baked in an outdoor horno, CDs of Native American flute music and skillfully made Native arts and crafts, especially Taos drums, for which Taos Pueblo is famous.
Taos Mountain Casino, on the main road to the Pueblo, is a big draw for tourists and locals alike. This spring they celebrated their 11th anniversary. The casino contributes about a third of the Pueblo's annual income.
Another brilliant idea that draws hundreds of tourists is the Taos Pueblo Pow Wow, usually held the second week of July. This energizing and vital event brings together Native American singers and dancers from all over the nation for three days of inter-tribal festivities. Grand entries are held each day along with competitive dancing. The drummers sit in folding chairs around a big drum, singing and pounding out ancient rhythms that seem to rise from the earth itself.
While honoring tradition, Taos Pueblo has also returned to the hope of sustainable agriculture. According to an article in The Taos News by Rick Romancito (March 13, 2008), Taos Pueblo made a leap toward a sustainable future this spring when they fired up a new Biomass District Heating System at the Red Willow Education Center. The Garn heating unit installation was the direct result of a large forest fire in the mountains above Taos Pueblo that left an abundance of "biomass," small-diameter wood about the size of fence posts. Previously the center was dependent on propane. Concerned about the rising cost of gas, the Taos Pueblo Renewable Energy Office, in collaboration with the Education and Training Division, submitted an application for funding to the Clean Energy Grants Program of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. Taos Pueblo was awarded $60,000 and used it to help build the Red Willow Education Center.
The Garn heating unit, of Swiss design, is used in Minnesota for heating schools and hospitals, says Shawn Duran, Education Division Director of the Center. The logs are burned in a unit installed inside a metal tank of water. The hot water flows through a radiant floor heating system that warms the whole building. "It's capable of putting out one million BTUs per hour and it emits very little smoke," Duran says. "One firing holds the heat for 20 hours and could heat three houses. We're planning to hook it up to the greenhouses."
The two large greenhouses close by also utilize innovative heating systems. One has a passive solar heating and cooling system, and the other will have radiant ground and above-ground heating. The Center uses a sun-powered irrigation system and utilizes a water catchment system from the roof. They are also planning an earth-sheltered, passive solar, family-sized greenhouse.
Luis Reyes, chief executive officer at Kit Carson Electric Cooperative in Taos says, "This is good for the co-op because we promote new sources of energy from all different applications: wind, solar, and biomass. The more energy we generate locally, the better. We would like to see more members develop independent energy sources."
In the uncertain times ahead, shared values, cooperation and innovative technology can help sustain not only Taos and Picurís Pueblos, but other communities as well around the state.
Cover Story Pull Quote 1
The Picurís herd was started over a decade ago with one female and one bull. By 2002 the herd had increased to 25. This year they have 80 head, not including the calves, maintained on 700 acres of land.
Cover Story Pull Quote 2
This is good for the co-op because we promote new sources of energy from all different applications: wind, solar, and biomass. The more energy we generate locally, the better. We would like to see more members develop independent energy sources." —Luis Reyes
Cover Story Writer's Byline
Phaedra Greenwood writes from Arroyo Hondo where she is a member of Kit Carson Electric Cooperative. She wrote "Riding with the Buffalo Soldiers," in the May 2008 issue of enchantment.
Posted with permission from Susan M. Espinoza, Editor, Enchantment. For more information please see their website at http://www.enchantment.coop