Published on January 29, 2012 by Casey
Native American groups have inhabited the territory of New Mexico for thousands of years, many centuries before Europeans reached the Americas. Reminders of their ancient presence are throughout our state: cliff dwellings and pit houses, kivas (underground ceremonial chambers), abandoned cities along ancient trade routes, and symbols etched in rock. Today, New Mexico is home to 22 Indian tribes, including 19 Indian pueblos and three reservations. The centrally located Albuquerque area is the perfect starting point from which to explore our Native American heritage.
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Most pueblos still celebrate and honor their Native American traditions with feast day celebrations, which often include dances in brilliant attire and sacred rituals. Attending one of these events is an excellent way to experience pueblo culture; the corn, deer and buffalo dances are commonly open to the public. Each dance tells a different story and serves a different purpose.
The ceremonial dress worn by the dancers are more than just decorative; the feathers, jewelry and beads all communicate part of the story. Every dance is considered a prayer, not a performance, and as such, outsiders are privileged to observe them. Drums beat with an insistent cadence and the air is filled with the fragrance of piñon smoke. Red chile ristras (strings) decorate many homes, with the chiles destined to add their distinct flavor to stews and sauces throughout the winter. The sights, sounds and smells of the pueblo celebrations are a feast for the senses.
Another way to learn about our Native American communities is to explore their many arts and crafts including silver and turquoise jewelry, pottery, drums, carvings, clothing and weavings. Or try traditional Indian food such as bread baked in an horno (outdoor oven) or fry bread, best consumed on the spot, hot and honey-drizzled straight from the pan. Visitors are fascinated to see that pueblo life is a window to another world and time. Not relegated to history books or museums, this is a living culture that carries on the centuries-old traditions of their ancestors.
Visitors are welcome at some of the reservations for dances and other special events related to Native American culture and traditions. Several hold regular tours and have excellent visitor centers with information about Native American culture and beliefs. Bear in mind that visitors are not allowed on certain days, when special observances are held in private. Call the pueblo or tribal office in advance of arrival to be sure that visitors are welcome on that day.
Always remember that when you visit a pueblo, you are visiting someone’s home. Please observe all posted requests and regulations. When you are on Indian land, you are subject to Indian laws. Here are some Native American culture facts and key tips to remember regarding Native American culture and beliefs when visiting tribal land. It is important to understand that visitors must abide by the laws and rules of the pueblo, and respect its customs and traditions. For example, some pueblos have strict rules governing photography, sketching and tape recording. Those who take the time to visit a pueblo will leave with a precious memory to add to their New Mexico experience.
The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque is a valuable resource for visitors interested in learning more about Native American traditions in New Mexico. The Cultural Center offers information about visiting the pueblos and a calendar of feast days and other events. It also features exhibits of weaving, pottery, jewelry, clothing and photography from each of the 19 area pueblos.