Gateways and doors (Puertos y puertas)


About 14 miles north of Española, at Velarde, the Río Grande emerges from its massive gorge, then flows south along the foot of Mesa Prieta for some 12 miles until it converges with the Río Chama. The confluence of the two rivers marks the center of Tewa Pueblo settlements, often referred to as the Tewa Homelands. In the present day, Ohkay Owingeh, some 25 miles north of Santa Fe — one of six Tewa-speaking pueblos in the region — occupies this area. The other pueblos are Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, Nambe, Pojoaque and Tesuque. All are living homelands.

Over the centuries, generations of people have arrived and settled in this land. Some remained; some went away; all left a mark on history. The earliest inhabitants settled in villages that clung to cliffs or were situated atop mesas — seabeds of ancient oceans that once covered most of Northern New Mexico. To the north and west of Española, near Abiquiú, are the remains of Poshuouinge, a large Tewa settlement. Just south of Española, on Santa Clara land, the Puye Cliff Dwellings provide a glimpse into the prehistoric past. Just a few miles farther south, near San Ildefonso, one can visit the ruins of another prehistoric Tewa settlement, Tsankawi — a part of Bandelier National Monument.

South of Santa Fe in the Galisteo Basin, the Tano peoples lived and then ultimately disappeared, but not before encountering the earliest incursions by the Spaniards in the mid- to late 1500s. Finally, in 1598 at San Gabriel (now Ohkay Owingeh), a Spanish colony was established by Juan de Oñate, which led to the settling of Santa Fe in 1607-1610.

In this third issue of Land Water People Time, we consider some of the pathways our ancestors traveled, bringing and creating their stories as they settled into this new terrain. The ancients left their mark in the ruins that once housed their families, in the artifacts they left and in the stone writings (petroglyphs) found in abundance on Mesa Prieta and other locales. The Spaniards traveled along ancient trails, shaping new roads, such as the Camino Real de la Tierra Adentro, which connected central Mexico to the northern settlements of Nuevo Mejico. They brought livestock that was new to the area, such as horses, cattle and sheep. They brought new crops and new ways of speaking, writing and praying to the inhabitants of this ancient land. The life of the Native inhabitants changed with this first interruption. The subsequent burdens of subservience to Spanish and Catholic Church rule led eventually to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and the expulsion of the Spanish from Northern New Mexico.

The reconquest of the north in 1692 reestablished Spanish rule, but with concessions from the Spanish Crown that permitted a measure of self-determination for Pueblo peoples. Many of the strictures imposed by Oñate were relaxed, but resentments continued. Through the 18th century, need for survival forged working bonds among Pueblo and Spanish inhabitants, permitting expansion of settlements into the northern rural reaches and giving rise to enízaro communities such as Abiquiú, where the Old Spanish Trail to California was launched. The term enízaro (derived from the Turkish janizary) denoted individuals of non-Pueblo tribal blood. They were mostly Plains Indians captured by other tribes and then sold to Spaniards as indentured servants. As they completed their indentures, enízaro families agreed to forge new settlements led by Spanish landowners.

Each migration in and out brought further connection to a foreign world, plus change and interruption of established ways of living. Mexican independence in 1821 led to relations and trade with the United States along the Santa Fe Trail, and the introduction of new languages and bloodlines — particularly French and English. The U.S. military occupation in 1846 subjected New Mexicans to new laws, languages, standards of measure and forms of governance. The railroads that followed in the late 1800s furthered commerce but led to a loss of land and natural resources to outside interests. In the 20th century, migrations came by railroad, automobiles and planes — and by digital communications in the 21st century. Each influx has brought change to Northern New Mexico and has accelerated the loss of traditional languages and traditions.

The journeys of the past have created a multicultural, complex society in the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area (NRGNHA), composed Santa Fe, Río Arriba and Taos Counties. Some segments of the society are directly linked to the area’s racial and ethnic ancestry. Others arrived via a more circuitous route or as products of multiple pathways. These diversities are part of the strength and beauty of our people.

In the summer of 2017, we celebrated events captured in images of two doorways. In July we marked completion of a Venetian glass mosaic mural surrounding the main entrance of El Museo Cultural in Santa Fe. The mural was created by artist Sam Leyba with Mariel Garcia and is titled Homenaje a la Cultura. It was funded by a grant from NRGNHA. One central figure in the mural is Vicente Romero, a noted flamenco dancer from Santa Fe. The other primary figure is Temaxcaltonzi, the Aztec goddess of healing waters. As the mural suggests, an homage to the cultural legacy of Northern New Mexico should include Spanish lineage and cultural traditions as well as indigenous myths and connections to the natural world.

In August we celebrated the grand opening of the National Heritage Center in Alcalde. The new multicultural center similarly honors and presents the mix of Northern New Mexico cultures. The National Heritage Center is housed in the facility formerly known as the Oñate Monument and Visitor Center, which opened in 1994 and featured a statue of Juan de Oñate on horseback. The presence of the statue so close to the Tewa Homelands and Ohkay Owingeh, though historically accurate, created a severe clash between local Pueblo and Hispanic residents, and in time the facility fell into disuse —though the statue still stands.

The reopening ceremony included the Native dancers Los Comanches de Taos, genízaro dancers from Abiquiú, a blessing from Penitente hermanos from Taos and a cleansing to the four directions by a Mexican curandera. With permission of the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo Council, the pueblo’s flag was flown alongside the flags of the United States and New Mexico. I am reminded that every gateway, every door, encompasses the journey in and opens to the story on the other side. We offer continuance of the story and our shared cultural heritage con permiso y respeto.


Thomas A. Romero is executive director of the Northern Rio Grande Natural Heritage Area. Related to early 17th century Spanish settlers, he was born in Santa Rosa, raised in Santa Fe and resides today in Tesuque. He has worked as a management consultant throughout the U.S. and in Latin America; has been on the board of El Museo Cultural since 1998; and engaged in numerous community planning and service organizations since that time.





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