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New Mexico's Rich Native American History

By Elizabeth R. Elstien

New Mexico has a diverse ethnic culture with numerous Native American tribes. From prehistoric Clovis culture to early nomadic tribes, Pueblo settlements and Spanish invasion, the native history of this Southwest state is vast. Come find out about the tribes and events in the Land of Enchantment.

Tribes Abound

There are 19 federally recognized Pueblo tribes and five non-Pueblo Native American tribes in the State of New Mexico. Pueblo tribes include: Ohkay Owingeh, Acoma, Cochiti, Jemez, piuris, Sandia, Santo Domingo, Taos, Zia and Zuni. Other tribes are Navajo Nation, Apache (Jicarilla, Fort Sill and Mescalaro) and Ute Mountain. Larger tribes include Navajo Nation (the tribe is spread across New Mexico, Arizona and Utah) of which over 100,000 live in New Mexico and the 10,200 members of the Zuni Tribe. Traditional religions have taken on some Christian beliefs over the years of Spanish conquest in the Southwest. While many of the pueblos or villages are small, tribes welcome visitors, as long as their cultures and religions are respected.

See Firsthand

There are many archaeological sites to learn firsthand about Native American history in New Mexico. A personal favorite is Chaco Culture National Historical Park in remote Nageezi. Although the road in is long, it's well worth the visit. Drive in, view the visitor's center and walk around the archaeological remains of ceremonial structures (kivas) and living areas of the early Pueblo peoples -- an ancient center of trade and administration in the Four Corner area. Hike in and climb up to view even more remains not as well seen. Another notable site is Village of the Great Kivas on Zuni Pueblo. This is a fascinating site showing the rise of Zuni culture through its ceremonial structures and its incredible pictographs and petroglyphs (ancient drawing and writing or storytelling).

Experience Tribal Life

There are many chances to experience tribal dances and ceremonies live and in person. Many are open to the public, but that does change, so call before attending any event. The Navajo Nation holds its annual Navajo Nation Fair in October with competitions in singing and dancing, rodeos, parade, and sales of arts and crafts at the Shiprock Fairgrounds. Tesuque Pueblo has their San Diego Feast Day in November where you can see Flag, Buffalo, Corn, Comanche and Deer dances right at the pueblo. December at the Old Acoma Pueblo (known as Sky City) has dances, luminarias, and Christmas festivals, while Santa Clara Pueblo has Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe Feast Day full of dances and food.

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