American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Tesuque Pueblo

"Tesuque" is a Hispanicization of the Tewa word tecuge, which means "structure at a narrow place" or "dry, spotted place." The word "pueblo" comes from the Spanish for "village." It refers both to a certain style of Southwest Indian architecture, characterized by multistory, 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. The Tesuque Pueblo is located nine miles north of Santa Fe, on the Tesuque River. Tesuque Indians spoke Tewa, a member of the Kiowa-Tanoan language family.

Especially after 1821, the Pueblos underwent a steady acculturation. Toward the late nineteenth century, the United States reintroduced religious repression. The government and Protestant missionaries branded Indian religious practices as obscene and immoral, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs forcibly removed Indian children to culture-killing boarding schools. As part of the effort to retain their traditions, Indians more deeply embraced customs once seen as alien, such as Catholicism. By the 1880s, railroads had ended the traditional isolation of most pueblos. Instead of treaties, the United States recognized old Spanish land grants of pueblo land. Ironically, this put them outside official treaty rights and left them particularly open to exploitation by squatters and thieves.

Tesuque ran out of water in the early twentieth century as a result of diversions by recently arrived Anglo settlers. A series of dams and basins restored much of their water by 1935. Partly because of lobbying from the All Indian Pueblo Council, Congress confirmed Pueblo title to their lands in 1924 by passing the Pueblo Lands Act. The United States also acknowledged its trust responsibilities in a series of legal decisions and other acts of Congress. In the late 1950s, the Tesuque Pueblo received no tribal income other than the interest from funds on deposit with the government. Since the late nineteenth century, but especially after the 1960s, the Pueblos have had to cope with onslaughts by (mostly white) anthropologists and seekers of Indian spirituality. The region is also known for its significant art colonies at Taos and Santa Fe.

At Tesuque, a summer and a winter cacique, appointed for life, oversaw the pueblo. Society was divided into two patrilineal groups, summer (associated with the Squash kiva) and winter (associated with the Turquoise kiva), which united in times of crisis and for the welfare of the Pueblo. These groups were further divided into relatively weak and ill defined 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. Numerous life cycle rites, as well as songs, crafts, communal activities such as maintenance of irrigation canals, prayer retreats, and performing dances, also ensured that one spent one's life "becoming" a Tewa.

The Tesuque Pueblo originally featured apartment-style dwellings of up to five stories 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. Pithouses, or kivas, 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.


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