American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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San Ildefonso Pueblo

"San Ildefonso" is the name of the Spanish mission established in 1617. The Tewa name for the Pueblo, powhoge, means "where the water runs through." The word "pueblo" comes from the Spanish for "village." It refers both to a certain style of Southwest Indian architecture, characterized by multi-story, apartment-like buildings made of adobe (pueblo), and to the people themselves (Pueblo). Rio Grande Pueblos are known as eastern Pueblos; Zunis, Hopis, and sometimes Acomas and Lagunas are known as western Pueblos. Located roughly twenty-two miles northwest of Santa Fe, San Ildefonso shares a common boundary with Santa Clara Pueblo. The San Ildefonso people spoke a dialect of Tewa, a Kiowa-Tanoan language.

The San Ildefonso Pueblo originally featured two- and three-story apartment-style dwellings constructed of adobe (earth-and-straw) bricks, with pine beams across the roof that were covered with poles, brush, and plaster. Floors were of wood plank or packed earth. The roof of one level served as the floor of another. The levels were interconnected by ladders. As an aid to defense, the traditional design included no doors or windows; entry was through the roof. Three pithouses, or kivas, two rectangular and one round, served as ceremonial chambers and clubhouses. The village plaza, around which the church and all dwellings were clustered, was the spiritual center of the village, a place where all the balanced forces of the world came together. The multilevel dwelling was replaced in historic times at San Ildefonso by oneand two-story adobe houses.

San Ildefonso played a leading role in the 1680 Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish. For years, the Spaniards had routinely tortured Indians for practicing traditional religion. They also forced the Indians to labor for them, sold them into slavery, and let Spaniard-owned cattle overgraze Indian land, a situation that eventually led to drought, erosion, and famine. Popé of San Juan Pueblo, as well as a San Ildefonso official named Francisco and other Pueblo leaders, planned the revolt, sending runners carrying cords of maguey fibers to mark the day of rebellion. On August 10, 1680, a virtually united stand on the part of the Pueblos drove the Spanish from the region. The Indians killed many Spaniards but refrained from mass slaughter, allowing them to leave Santa Fe for El Paso.

The San Ildefonso Pueblo was also a leader in the resistance to the Spanish reconquest under Diego de Vargas. The people of San Ildefonso and members of other pueblos moved to the top of Black Mesa and held out there until 1694, two years longer than most other pueblos. In 1696, the San Ildefonsos staged another uprising, killing two priests; this was the last of Pueblo armed resistance. Although Pueblo unity did not last and Santa Fe was officially reconquered in 1692, Spanish rule was notably less severe from then on. Harsh forced labor all but ceased, and the Indians reached an understanding with the Church that enabled them to continue practicing their traditional religion.

After the Pueblo revolt, and contrary to tradition, the San Ildefonsos relocated to the north. In 1923, when mortality rates rose and prosperity fell, the cacique led a small group of people back to the original southern village. By this time, however, a flu epidemic had reduced part of the tribe, the winter people, to two families, so the other division (the summer people) divided and absorbed what was left of the winter people. This situation gave rise to intense factionalism that greatly affected the pueblo. The traditional summer-winter division was virtually replaced by an ersatz north-south split. Each group, organized around a plaza, became autonomous but incomplete. By the late 1930s, some offices and societies had been discontinued, and some ritual had been forgotten. Secular authority remained in the hands of the north side for decades, and the situation turned violent in the 1930s when kivas were raided and burned.

At San Ildefonso, in contrast with most other pueblos, seasons were traditionally delineated not so much by the solstice as by the actual change in seasons. Formerly a summer and a winter cacique, appointed for life, oversaw the pueblo. Society was divided into two groups, summer (associated with the Squash kiva) and winter (associated with the Turquoise kiva); membership in a group was patrilineal. These groups were further divided into clans. A number of secret societies also existed. For instance, the warrior society was concerned with hunting, war, crops, fertility, and curing. Each society had its own dances and ritual paraphernalia.

 

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