The largest of New Mexico's 19 pueblos, encompassing more than 600 square miles and home to over 11,000 people, Zuni still clings to its traditional language and culture, a great part of which includes art. It's estimated that 80% of its families are involved in creating arts, most notably intricate stone inlay jewelry, carved stone animal fetishes, and katsina figures. Visitors to Zuni will encounter a place that's just beginning to welcome travelers, so don't yet expect to find a great deal to do. The Zuni Arts and Visitor Center has begun offering tours, so your best bet is to check in there and ask what's available. They range from visits to the Mission, to directions to places to buy traditional oven bread, to archaeological tours.
Zuni has a rich history. When the Spanish first arrived in the area, approximately 3,000 Zunis lived in six different villages, and they had occupied the region since at least the year 700. One of the main villages amid the high pink-and-gold sandstone formations of the area was Hawikuh. It was the first Southwestern village to encounter Europeans. In 1539, Fray Marcos de Niza, guided by the Moor Esteban (who had accompanied Cabeza de Baca in his earlier roaming of the area), came to New Mexico in search of the Seven Cities of Cíbola, cities that Baca had said were made of gold, silver, and precious stones. Esteban antagonized the inhabitants and was killed. De Niza was forced to retreat without really seeing the pueblo, although he described it in exaggerated terms on his return to Mexico, and the legend of the golden city was fueled.
The following year Coronado arrived at the village. Though the Zunis took up arms against him, he conquered the village easily, and the Zunis fled to Towayalane (Corn Mountain), a noble mile-long sandstone mesa near the present-day pueblo, as they would later do during the 1680 Pueblo Revolt.
At the time, the Zunis had a sophisticated civilization, with a relationship to the land and to each other that had sustained them for years. Today, the tribe continues efforts to preserve its cultural heritage. It has recovered valuable seed strains once used for dryland farming, it's teaching the Zuni language in schools, and it's taking measures to preserve area wildlife that's critical to the Zuni faith.
The Zunis didn't fully accept the Christianity thrust upon them. Occasionally, they burned mission churches and killed priests. Though the Catholic mission, dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, sits in the center of their village, clearly their primary religion is their own ancient one, and it's practiced most notably during the days of Shalako, an elaborate ceremony that takes place in late November or early December, reenacting the creation and migration of the Zuni people to Heptina, or the "Middle Place," which was destined to be their home.
Navajo Indian Reservation
Navajos comprise the largest Native American tribe in the United States, with more than 200,000 members. Their reservation, known to them as Navajoland, spreads across 26,000 square miles of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. The New Mexico portion, extending in a band 45 miles wide from just north of Gallup to the Colorado border, comprises only about 15% of the total area.
Until the 1920s, the Navajo Nation governed itself with a complex clan system. When oil was discovered on reservation land, the Navajos established a tribal government to handle the complexities of the 20th century. Today, the Navajo Tribal Council has 88 council delegates representing 110 regional chapters, some two dozen of which are in New Mexico. They meet at least four times a year as a full body in Window Rock, Arizona, capital of the Navajo Nation, near the New Mexico border, 24 miles northwest of Gallup.
Natural resources and tourism are the mainstays of the Navajo economy. Coal, oil, gas, and uranium earn much of the Navajo Nation's money, as does tourism, especially on the Arizona side of the border, which contains or abuts Grand Canyon National Park, Petrified Forest National Park, Canyon de Chelly National Monuments, Wupatki National Monuments, Navajo National Monument, and Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park; and in Utah, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Rainbow Bridge National Monuments, Hovenweep National Monument, and Four Corners Monument.
The Navajos, like their linguistic cousins the Apaches, belong to the large family of Athapaskan Indians found across Alaska and northwestern Canada and in parts of the Northern California coast. They are believed to have migrated to the Southwest around the 14th century. In 1864, after nearly 2 decades of conflict with the U.S. Army, the entire tribe was rounded up and forced into internment at an agricultural colony near Fort Sumner, New Mexico -- an event still recalled as "the Long March." Four years of near starvation later, the experiment was declared a failure, and the Navajos returned to their homeland.
During World War II, 320 Navajo young men served in the U.S. Marine Corps as communications specialists in the Pacific. The code they created, 437 terms based on the extremely complex Navajo language, was never cracked by the Japanese. Among those heroes was artist Carl Gorman, coordinator of the Navajo Medicine Man Organization and father of internationally famed painter R. C. Gorman. The 2002 movie Windtalkers, starring Nicholas Cage, was based on their story.
Although Navajos express themselves artistically in all media, they are best known for their work in silversmithing, sand painting, basketry, and weaving. Distinctive styles of hand-woven rugs from Two Grey Hills, Ganado, and Crystal are known worldwide.