Death in Pueblo and Athabascan Cultures

Funerary practices and beliefs about death are more about the living than the dead. They provide some insights into the cultures of the people. The several Pueblo cultures and the Athabascan cultures (Navajo and Apache) live in close proximity to one another in New Mexico and Arizona. These cultures, in spite of their geographic proximity, have very different beliefs about death and how to deal with dead bodies. Some of their funerary customs and beliefs are discussed below.  

Athabascan Culture:

The Athabascan-speaking people – the Navajo and the Apache – migrated from the area north of Edmonton, Alberta.

In the late 1300’s and early 1400’s groups of hunting and gathering Athabascans began arriving in the Southwest from the far north in Canada. These were the ancestors of the Navajo and Apache peoples. While there are some scholars who feel that the Navajo and Apache could have begun arriving in the Southwest as early as 800 CE and some who feel that it was as late at 1500 CE, most tend to place their arrival between 1200 and 1400.

When the Spanish entered New Mexico, they recorded that the Tewa referred to one of the neighboring tribes as Navahú, in reference to large areas of cultivated lands. This is in reference to the Navajo practice of dry-farming in arroyos, and cañadas (canyons). The Tewa also referred to these newcomers as Apachü which means strangers and enemies. The Spanish would later refer to these people as Apache de Navajó meaning the Apaches with the great planted fields.

Among the southwestern Athabascan groups there is a fear of death and of dealing with both the bodies and the possessions of dead people. Among the Jicarilla Apache, for example, there is a great effort to keep children from seeing a dead person. In addition, children do not associate with other children who have family members who have recently died until the family has been cleansed by the proper ceremonies. There is a concern that children may be marked by the aura of death.

With regard to the Chiricahua Apache, at death the spirits begin a four-day journey to the spirit world. For the Chiricahua,  open burial sites are very dangerous between the moment of death and the time when the grave is covered. During this time the spirit of the deceased is loose and free. It is thus able to cause mischief or harm.  Funeral rites are expected to expedite the spirit’s journey.

Traditionally among the Navajo, the body of a dead person was left on the ground in the hogan (home) which was then abandoned or the body was immediately buried. The body was allowed to decompose because the memory, thoughts, and descendents are the part which lives on. The idea of putting someone in a coffin or putting chemicals in the body to preserve the corpse is viewed with disgust by traditional Navajo.

At death, the personal property of a Navajo is buried with the corpse or it is destroyed. Traditionally, the name of the deceased is not mentioned for one year following death. After this year, the name of the deceased is rarely mentioned.

When a Navajo who has lived a full and long life dies, there is no period of mourning as it is felt that the spirit is ready to travel to another world. There is no dread of touching or handling the corpse of an old person.

With regard to life after death, this is an issue of little concern for most Navajo. They feel that they will find out when they die and in the meantime this is something they have no way of knowing anything about and therefore they should not waste time thinking about it. The Navajo cultural orientation is towards life, toward making this life happier, more harmonious, and more beautiful.

For the Navajo, birth and death are seen as opposites: one cannot exist without the other. Life is a cycle. It reaches its natural conclusion in death at old age. It is renewed in each birth. Death before old age is considered to be both unnatural and tragic. Death before old age prevents the natural completion of the life cycle.

Pueblo Culture:

In northern Arizona and New Mexico there are several Indian nations who traditionally lived in compact villages. The Spanish used the word pueblo which means “town” in referring to these people. The Pueblo people are not a single cultural tradition, but are in fact several distinct cultures. They share some features – farming, housing – and are very different in others.

Among many of the Pueblos, food is placed with the body of the deceased. If the deceased had lived a good life, then little food was left with them as they would need little sustenance in traveling straight to the afterworld. On the other hand, if the deceased had not been particularly virtuous then they would need more food for their difficult journey.

Among the Keresian-speaking Pueblos of the Rio Grande area, death is viewed as a natural and necessary event: if there were no death, then soon there would be no room left in the world. After death, both the soul and the guardian spirit leave the body, but remain in the home of the deceased for four days. Then they journey to Shipap, the entrance to the underworld. The virtue of the deceased then determines the assignment to one of the four underworlds. Those who enter the innermost world become Shiwana (rainmakers) and return to the villages in the form of clouds.

Among the Zuni, the spirit of the dead lingers in the village for four days. During this time the door to the deceased’s home is left open to permit the entry of the spirit. On the morning of the fifth day the spirit goes to Kothluwalawa beneath the water of the Listening Spring. Here the spirit becomes a member of the Uwannami (rainmakers). Members of the Bow Priesthood become lightning makers who bring water from the six great waters of the world. The water is poured through the clouds in the form of rain. The clouds are the masks worn by the Uwannami.

Among the Hopi, a mask of cotton is placed over the face of the dead to represent the cloud mask which the spirit will wear when it returns with the cloud people to bring rain to the village. Four days after burial the spirit leaves the body and begins a journey to the Land of the Dead. They enter the underworld through the sipapu (sacred hole) in the Grand Canyon where they meet the One Horned God who can read a person’s thoughts by looking into the heart. Those who are virtuous follow the Sun Trail to the village of the Cloud People.

In the Hopi burials, clothing, water, and piki (a special bread) is often placed with the corpse. In many cases the Hopi will use a quilt as a burial shroud. The grave is then sealed with rocks.

When a kikmongwi (chief) dies, the staff which has symbolized his authority during his life is buried with him. In addition, his body is painted with symbols for important ritual occasions.

Among the Hopi, the spirits of children who die before they are initiated into a kiva return to their mother’s house to be reborn.

For the Hopi, the ancestors are important to their culture and they strongly feel that the physical remains of the ancestors should be treated with respect. Ancestors maintain a spiritual guardianship over the places where they are buried and they are not to be disturbed by archaeologists.

The Hopi see the clouds which bring water to their villages as ancestors and thus they petition their departed ancestors to return and to bring with them the life-giving rain. In this way, the Hopi view death as a return to the spiritual realm and from this comes more life in the form of rain.

Among most of the Pueblos, life after death is the same as before death: the deceased journey to a town where they join a group with which they were associated in life. Only the Hopi express the idea of punishment after death.

At Cochití, when a person dies, an ear of blue corn with barbs at the point is placed in the corner of the room where the death occurred. This ear of corn represents the soul of the deceased which will linger in the area for a while.

The Pueblos: 1700 to 1725

In 1680, the Pueblos of New Mexico revolted against the Spanish and drove them from the region. A decade later, however, the Spanish returned and began their re-conquest of New Mexico. In 1696, eleven Pueblo villages along the Rio Grande revolted again against the Spanish, but the revolt was quickly crushed. By 1700 the Spanish were again firmly entrenched in the region and for the next generation the Pueblo people had to adjust to the Spanish, their strange religion, and their insistence that the Pueblos totally submit to Spanish rule.  

Conflicts with the Spanish:

Adjustment to the return of the Spanish and their priests was not always peaceful. In northern Arizona, the Hopi attacked and destroyed the Spanish occupied village of Awatovi in 1700. The Spanish priests and their male converts were sealed in a kiva and then suffocated by having hot ground chilies poured in through the roof opening. The women and children were taken to other Hopi villages. Some of the Hopi survivors from Awatovi were taken in by the Navajo where they founded the Tobacco Clan.  

In 1703, three of the Spanish soldiers sent to protect the priest at Zuni were killed by the Zuni. The soldiers had been living with Zuni women.

In 1706, the Spanish re-established Galisteo Pueblo and re-named it Nuestra Señora de los Remedios. They forced 90 Indians to live in the pueblo.

Also in 1706, the Franciscan friar noted that the mission at Cochití Pueblo had a bell without a clapper. He wrote:

“The Indians took all the clappers away, to make lances and knives.”

In 1719, Spanish authorities tried a Taos man for having drunk a beverage made with peyote. The Spanish felt that peyote was associated with black magic and that it gave visions to witches.


During this re-adjustment period, some Pueblo villages were abandoned; some were relocated; some older village sites were re-occupied; and some new villages were established.

In 1700, the Zuni re-occupied the village of Halona (present-day Zuni Pueblo). At this same time, the pueblo of San Felipe on top of Black Mesa was abandoned and a new pueblo was constructed at the foot of the mesa.

In 1702, a group of Tewa from New Mexico sought refuge among the Hopi in Arizona. The Hopi chief did not fulfill the promise of land until they demonstrated their prowess. The Tewa defeated a Ute attack and were given a site on First Mesa where they built the village of Hano.

That same year, the Jemez returned to their valley and resettled on an earlier village site.

In 1706, the people of Picuris pueblo, decimated by disease and warfare, returned to their pueblo from their exile in Kansas. They had fled their homeland during the Pueblo Revolt of 1696.

In 1709, the Spanish government approved the purchase of land at the mouth of the Río Jémez by nine Indians from Santa Ana Pueblo. The seller was Spanish colonist Manuel Baca. In order to regain their farm lands which had been lost through the Spanish land grants, Santa Ana Pueblo had started to buy these lands back from the Spanish settlers. First, they had to wait until the settler was ready to sell the land, and then they had to petition the Spanish government for permission to buy it. Then all parties had to agree on the price, the land’s boundaries, and the terms of the sale.

In 1716, some of the people who had fled from Jemez following the Pueblo Revolt of 1696 returned to the village from Walpi in Hopi country.


In 1700, Pueblo pottery began to change in shape and decoration. Previously, the Pueblo potters had used a lead glaze, but this process was abandoned and the potters began to substitute pigments made from ores which were rich in iron or manganese. This produced a dark brown to black look.

The potters at Acoma Pueblo began making a type of pottery known as Ako Polychrome. The Ako Polychrome jars have a top-heavy, mushroom-shaped upper body with a wide bulge at about the middle of the jug. There is a very short neck and a tapered underbody. A range of small motifs, including feather clusters, was used for decoration.

An example of an Ako Polychrome jar can be found

at Fenimore Art Museum.


The potters at Santa Ana and Zia developed a new style of pottery which archaeologists call Purname Polychrome. Many of the jars have a motif consisting of a cluster of bird feathers. Many of the jars from Zia have a band of red or black arcs around the circumference below the main design area.

At Zuni, Potters began using concave bases for jars, a style which may have been borrowed from the southern Tewa. The new style of pottery, which is decorated with red and black matte mineral paints, is known as Ashiwi Polychrome.

Invading Mexico in the 1880s

In the 1880s, the American wars against the Apache Indians ignored the border between the United States and Mexico, and the American military often ignored Mexico’s sovereignty in their eagerness to kill Apaches. This was a time when the American press often urged genocide against Indians, particularly against the Apache. Many of the military intrusions into Mexico were made in response to alleged raids by Mexican-based Apache groups.  

In 1881, a small war party of Lipan Apache attacked and looted the house of an American settler in Texas, killing two people. The army followed the party into Mexico where the Apache were surprised at their mountain camp. Six Apache warriors were killed and a small boy and a woman were captured.

In 1882, Apache warriors under the leadership of Juh and Geronimo raided the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona to capture the Chiricahua Apache band led by Loco. This band had stayed on the reservation when the Chiricahua had broken free the year before. Loco and his people were forced to the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico. The army struck the Apaches near the Arizona-New Mexico border and then battled them again 20 miles into the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Nineteen Apache, primarily women and children, were killed in the two battles.

A war party of 25 Chiricahua Apache warriors, under the leadership of Chatto, crossed into Arizona from their stronghold in the Mexican Sierra Madre Mountains in 1883 and raided a charcoal camp near Fort Huachuca, Arizona. The raiding party then moved northeast across the southeastern corner of Arizona, covering 75-100 miles a day. They crossed into New Mexico where they killed a federal judge and his wife and kidnapped their young son to be raised as an Apache warrior. During their raids, the Apaches killed 26 Americans. They managed to escape back into Mexico without being seen by any American soldier.

In response to the raids, an American army unit of 320 men under the command of General George Crook crossed the boundary with Mexico in search of “hostile” Chiricahua and Warm Springs Apache. The expedition’s principal guide was Tzoe (called “Peaches” by the Americans), a Cibecue Apache who had been a part of the hostile bands. In addition, a number of Apache and Yavapai scouts accompanied the Americans.

The Americans managed to surprise the Apache in their mountain stronghold. Consequently, a number of the Apache leaders-Geronimo, Naiche, Chihuahua, Chato, Bonito, Nana, Loco, Mangas, and Kahtennay-agreed to return to the reservation in Arizona.

In 1885, two bands of Chiricahua Apache left the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona.  Tiswin was a traditional Native alcoholic beverage which had been forbidden by the American government. In open defiance of the government’s prohibition, the Apache had brewed up the tiswin (a kind of beer or wine), got drunk and had fled into Mexico. One of the bands was led by Naiche and the other one by Chihuahua. There were about 140 people in the two bands, including 35 men and 8 boys old enough to fight.

One raiding party of ten warriors slipped back into the United States, carried out raids for a month in an area patrolled by 83 companies of soldiers. They killed 38 Americans, captured a number of horses, and escaped back into Mexico with the loss of only one warrior.  

In the Bavispe Mountains of Sonora, Mexico, Chihuahua’s band encountered U.S. troops. While the warriors diverted the troops, the women and children hid in a cave. However, the army found the women and children. They killed some, and then forced the survivors, including the wounded, to walk several hundred miles to Fort Bowie, Arizona. At the Fort, food was simply thrown on the ground for the women and children, implying that the prisoners were no more than animals. The women, including the wounded, were forced to dig latrines.

What many histories record as the final intrusion into Mexico during the 1880s Apache Wars came in 1886 when the Chiricahua Apache surrendered to the United States Army in Mexico on the condition that they would be held as prisoners for two years and would then be allowed to return to their own land. Instead, they spent the next 27 years as prisoners of war in prisons in Alabama, Florida, and Oklahoma.

Apache Oil in the 1970s

The reservation for the Jicarilla Apache Tribe was established in New Mexico by Executive Order of President Grover Cleveland in 1887.  Following the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, the tribe adopted a formal constitution that provided for the taxation of members of the tribe as well as for non-members of the tribe who were doing business on the reservation.

In 1953, the tribe entered into a series of agreements with oil companies to provide oil and gas leases. The oil companies approached the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior about these leases and negotiated them with representatives from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The BIA then presented the finalized lease agreements to the tribal council, which was expected to approve them without debate.  

Under the terms of the leases, the oil companies were supposed to pay royalties to the tribe. These royalties were not to be paid directly to the tribe, but were to be collected on behalf of the tribe by the BIA. The BIA was less than diligent about collecting royalties.

During the 1970s, Americans became acutely aware of the country’s dependence on foreign oil and the importance of oil to their daily lives. During this time, many American Indian leaders became more aware of the value of the oil and coal resources on their reservations. In 1975, the Council of Energy Resource Tribes (CERT) was established to improve reservation conditions, to gain inventories of resources, to serve as a clearinghouse, to use resources on reservations rather than exporting them, and to supply information on the environmental impact of resource development. Twenty-five tribes were included in CERT. CERT informed the Federal Energy Agency (FEA):

“If our energy resources are to be developed at all, they are to be developed with our informed consent and participation. ”

According to CERT:

“Historical and economic forces have combined to create these problems for the people of America and the world. We have combined to see that these same forces, which we have dealt with before under many forms other than energy, do not cause the United States to react in its historical pattern of wasteful and unlawful exploitation of Native American resources for immediate needs.”

In 1976, the General Accounting Office (GOA) found that an oil well on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation in New Mexico had been flaring gas for six months without approval. The U.S. Geological Service (USGS), the agency responsible for monitoring the oil wells, was unaware of the flaring as their inspectors had not been out in the field. USGS relied upon industry to inform it of problems.

The Jicarilla Apache filed suit against oil producers on their reservation, noting the failure of the Department of the Interior to exercise its fiduciary responsibilities. Had the Secretary of the Interior simply ordered the oil companies to perform as required by their leases this lawsuit could have been avoided. While the tribe was successful in its litigation, the Department of Interior opposed the tribe in the litigation. As the tribe’s trustee, the Secretary of the Interior would not approve the settlement agreements until the tribe agreed to dismiss their claims against the Secretary.  

In 1976, the Jicarilla Apache enacted a tax ordinance to impose a severance tax on mineral development companies. The tax, which was on oil and natural gas severed, saved, or removed from tribal lands, was only 29 cents per barrel and had little impact on consumers. However, New Mexico’s newspapers were filled with derisive letters and editorials criticizing the idea of a little Indian tribe taxing non-Indians.

Major oil companies responded to the Jicarilla Apache tax by filing suit against the tribe, claiming that they were not subject to tribal jurisdiction and should not be subject to double taxation by the tribe and the state. The District Court ruled against the tribe finding the tribal tax to be “illegal, unconstitutional, invalid, and void.” The tribe appealed.

In 1979, the ruling of the District Court was overturned by the Tenth Circuit Court which found that the tribe had the inherent power under tribal sovereignty to impose taxes on the reservation. The oil companies responded by appealing immediately to the U.S. Supreme Court. CERT and the Navajo Nation filed briefs supporting the Jicarilla Tribe.

In 1982, the Supreme Court in Merrion v. Jicarilla Apache Tribe ruled that the tribe could both receive royalties on oil and gas leases as a property owner and tax oil and gas companies as a sovereign power. According to the Court:

“sovereign power, even when unexercised is an enduring presence that governs all contracts subject to the sovereign’s jurisdiction, and will remain intact unless surrendered in unmistakable terms.”

The Court also said:

“The power to tax is an essential attribute of Indian sovereignty because it is a necessary instrument of self-government and territorial management.”

The Court also ruled that the way in which a reservation was established – by treaty or by executive order – did not affect the tribe’s sovereign power. The Court noted that only the Federal Government may limit a tribe’s sovereign authority.

Immediately following the decision by the Supreme Court, the BIA proposed new regulations which would have severely limited the ability of Indian tribes to impose severance taxes. The tribes complained about the proposed regulations and the BIA eventually dropped them. The very fact that the BIA proposed these new rules, however, showed that the BIA was more concerned with the welfare of the oil companies than with the welfare of Indians.

Looking toward the future, the Jicarilla Apache Tribe in 1977 bought the interest of Palmer Oil Company on the reservation. The Jicarilla Apache became the first tribe in the country to own and operate producing oil and gas wells on its reservation.

Ancient America: The Birth and Death of a Pueblo

In 1245 CE, the Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloan) began construction on the Sand Canyon Pueblo in Colorado. The pueblo is located at the head of a canyon with most of the construction below the canyon rim. The pueblo would grow to 420 surface rooms, 90 kivas, 14 towers, and an enclosed plaza. A massive stone wall enclosed the village on the southwest, west, north, and east provided protection against attack and also controlled and limited access to the spring at the center of the village. The enclosing wall was at least one story tall and had very few access openings.  

A number of towers abutted the outside face of the enclosing wall. These towers were in positions providing panoramic views of the landscape west, north, and northeast of the village. They also allowed villagers in the towers to safely monitor the exterior face of the enclosing wall for possible intruders. The towers also provided them with advantageous locations for launching arrows at attackers just outside the village.

It appears that the massive stone wall that enclosed the houses and public buildings was constructed first. The construction of this wall would have been a major community project. It also would have been done by people who did not yet live there.

Archaeologists feel that the construction of the town was pre-planned. Architecturally, the pueblo was laid out in 14 discrete roomblocks, each of which had residential and storage rooms associated with a kiva.

It would have an estimated population of 400-600 people. With regard to subsistence, the residents were heavily dependent on corn and domesticated turkeys. The wild animals most frequently consumed were cottontail rabbits.

In 1277, all construction appears to have stopped at Sand Canyon Pueblo. The abandonment of the pueblo had begun. The residents were now consuming less domesticated turkey and more cottontail rabbit, deer, and pronghorn. Corn was still an important part of their diet and there was no indication of dietary stress. However, the regional drought which started the year before may have reduced the agricultural yield. With crops diminishing or failing because of the drought, the villages were probably forced to consume their maize stores. Since domesticated turkeys were fed maize, the failed crops would have also led to diminished turkey flocks. Archaeologists feel that the low frequencies of turkey bone suggest that few turkeys remained near the time of village depopulation.

Many of the villagers began to emigrate, probably planning to return when the climate improved. It is estimated that from one-fourth to three-fourths of the population emigrated. Those who stayed were forced to use a hunting and gathering strategy which meant that they were now competing with other communities for these resources. Foraging parties travelled away from the village and then returned to the safety of the village whenever possible, bringing whatever provisions they had been able to procure.

In 1280, Sand Canyon Pueblo was attacked and many villagers perished. At least 35 people were killed and were not formally buried.  

One middle-aged man was killed by a face-to-face blow delivered by a right-handed assailant. He was on the roof at the time he was killed. In another roomblock, an adolescent male (12-15 years old) was killed in a kiva by being struck from behind, perhaps while attempting to flee. This individual was scalped. Another man, about 20 years old, was killed on a rooftop by being struck from behind. An eight-year-old child was killed by being struck from behind and was scalped.

Many individuals may have been killed by arrows with stone projectile points that were then retrieved from victims. Wood-tipped arrows may have also been used and these would have left no visible traces for later archaeologists to find. Recent research suggests that wood-tipped arrows were widely used at this time.

Who attacked the village? Archaeologists have concluded that the attackers were residents of one or more Pueblo settlements from within the Mesa Verde region. The attack does not appear to have involved non-Pueblo invaders.

Some of the abandoned kivas were burned. This was not a simple task, but a labor-intensive process requiring a great deal of time, perseverance, and determination.  The roofs of the kivas were set on fire as a part of a closing ritual. This could have been done by villagers who were away from the village when it was attacked or by a delegation of emigrating survivors who returned after the attackers had departed.

In summarizing the reasons for the abandonment of Sand Canyon Pueblo, archaeologists have concluded that these reasons include: (1) overexploitation of natural resources; (2) high population levels, and (3) overdependence on one crop. This left the Ancestral Pueblo residents of the region catastrophically vulnerable to the vagaries of weather and climate, which resulted in social turmoil, massive relocations of population, and far-reaching, permanent changes in Pueblo culture.  

President James Polk and the Indians

James K. Polk was the dark horse who became President of the United States in 1845. Polk set four goals for his administration and two of these had major implications for American Indians: (1) the acquisition of the Oregon Territory, and (2) the acquisition of California and New Mexico. Polk himself had little direct contact with Indians, but the policies established during his administration had long-lasting ramifications for Indian tribes and Indian people.  

During Polk’s presidency, the concept of Manifest Destiny became popular. In 1845, the New York Democratic Review wrote about

“our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.”

In 1846, Senator Thomas Hart Benton said:

“It would seem that the White race alone received the divine command, to subdue and replenish the earth, for it is the only race that has obeyed it-the only race that hunts out new and distant lands, and even a New World, to subdue and replenish.”

Indian Administration:

President Polk appointed William Medill as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Medill felt that Indians must be “civilized” and they had to be instructed in morality, religion, and the work ethic. Medill considered Indians to be ignorant, degraded, lazy, and possessed of no worthwhile cultural traits.

In 1846, Congress created the Smithsonian Institution to fulfill the terms of the will of James Smithson. The Smithsonian was given custody of all federal government museum collections, including collections of Indian artifacts. The Smithsonian’s regents encouraged the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to collect items which illustrated the history, manners, and customs of the Indians.

In a lecture at the inaugural meeting of the Smithsonian Board of Regents, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft pointed out that it was the task of museums to preserve the full array of artifacts produced by each Indian nation before these nations disappeared. He told the Regents:

“It is essential to the purposes of comparison, that a full and complete collection of antiquarian objects, and the characteristic fabric of nations, existing and ancient, should be formed and deposited in the Institution.”

The law creating the Smithsonian also stated that

“all collections of rocks, minerals, soils, fossils, and objects of natural history, archaeology and ethnology [made by or for the government], when no longer needed for investigations in progress shall be deposited in the National Museum.”

In 1846, St. Louis Superintendent of Indian affairs, Thomas H. Harvey, heard complaints from the Plains tribes about non-Indians wantonly destroying the buffalo. He alerted Washington to these complaints and asked for a general council with the Indians to negotiate peace treaties. He also called attention to

“the necessity of buying out a road or roads to the mountains, and paying the Indians through whose country they might pass, such compensation as the government might deem proper.”

In describing Indians in 1847, one Indian superintendent said:

“I consider them a doomed race, who must fulfill their destiny. …I will further remark that I fear the real character of the Indian can never be ascertained because it is altogether unnatural for a Christian man to comprehend how so much depravity, wickedness and folly can possibly belong to human beings… I have never been fully convinced of the propriety or good policy of admitting and acknowledging the right of Indians to the soil.”

The 1848 annual report of Indian Commissioner William Medill stressed the belief that Indians must make way for the superior race of civilized people. He characterized Indians as wedded to savage customs, prejudices, and habits; as finding labor repugn¬ant. Medill felt that education and Christianization were needed.

One of the far-reaching changes in Indian administration came in 1849 when the Office of Indian Affairs (now the Bureau of Indian Affairs) was transferred from the Department of War to the newly created Depart¬ment of the Interior.

Oregon Territory:

Since 1818 the Oregon Territory (which includes present day Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and parts of Montana and Wyoming) had been jointly administered by the United Kingdom and the United States. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 set the new boundary at the 49th parallel and thus the United States acquired sole administration of the territory. The new boundary cut across many traditional Indian territories, placing part of their people under American jurisdiction and part of them under British jurisdiction.  


Indian nations were not consulted about the new boundary. International law recognized that Indians held title to their land, but sovereignty was granted to the European nations – the United Kingdom and the United States, in this case — because of the “right of discovery.”

Congress passed the Oregon Organic Act in 1848 which established Oregon Territory and set the stage for statehood. The Act included five provisions dealing with Indians. The Act:

1. indicated that lands were not to be taken from the Indians without their consent and affirmed the rights of person and property for Indians.

2. granted 640 acres to occupied mission sites at the time of its enactment.

3. created the office of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the territory.

4. extended the Ordinance of 1787 to all of Oregon Territory which included the philosophical idea that Indians are to be dealt with in utmost good faith.

5. appropriated $10,000 for the purchase of presents to the tribes.

California and New Mexico:

Following the Mexican War, the United States acquired California and New Mexico through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Under this treaty, ratified in 1848, the United States acquired what would become California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and parts of Colorado and Wyoming.

California Territory

The acquisition of New Mexico by the United States brought new dangers to the Pueblos. Under Spanish and Mexico rule, the Pueblos had adopted Catholicism and had combined this with their own religious practices without any loss of the basic fabric of their life. With the American administration, however, they were faced with proselytizing Protestant Christians bent on imposing their own religion upon the Indians.

Pueblo Weaving

For more than a thousand years, American Indian agriculturalists have been living in villages in what is now Arizona and New Mexico. When the Spanish first encountered these villages, many of which had multi-story apartment complexes built from stone, they referred to them as “pueblos,” the Spanish word for village.  

Europeans have grouped these diverse people together under the designation Pueblo Indians based on a few common traits: they are agriculturalists who grow corn, beans, and squash; they built permanent villages with a central plaza; and most have kivas (underground ceremonial centers). They are not, however, a single people, tribe, nation, or group: the peoples grouped together as Pueblos speak six mutually unintelligible languages and occupy more than 30 villages in a rough crescent more than 400 miles in length.

NM Pueblo Map

The map above shows the current Pueblos in New Mexico. Not shown are the Hopi Pueblos which are in Arizona.

The Pueblos are generally divided into two major groups: (1) eastern (Tanoan and Keresan speakers) with a permanent water source which enables them to practice irrigated agriculture, and (2) western (Hopi, Hopi-Tewa, Zuni, Acoma, Laguna) who rely on dry-land agricul¬ture.


Acoma Pueblo is shown above.

Zuni Pueblo 1850

An 1850 sketch of Zuni is shown above.

The Pueblos have a long tradition of weaving. For many centuries prior to the European invasion of North America, Pueblo weavers were making cloth which was traded over long distances. Fabrics were woven from a variety of different plant materials-both domestic and wild-and it was not uncommon for human hair, dog hair, and wild animal hair to be incorporated into fabrics. The important plant materials used for weaving textiles included milkweed, hemp, mesquite, cliff rose, willow, yucca, agave, stool, and bear grass. In addition, both feathers and fur were also used in weaving. Bird feathers were used in making warm blankets.

One of the plant fibers used for weaving was, and sometimes still is, yucca which can be processed to produce a linen-like fabric. Among the Zuni, the central leaves of the yucca plant were gathered and each leaf was folded into a piece that was about 10 centimeters (3.5 inches) long. These pieces were then placed in a pot of boiling water together with some wood ash. The skin would then be removed from the leaves and chewed (generally by the children). After this, the fibers could be separated and straightened. After the fibers had dried-usually by hanging them in a storage room-they would be soaked in cold water and then rubbed between the hands to soften them. The softened fibers would then be pulled into a fluffy mass which would allow them to be spun and woven like cotton.  

Pueblo weavers used two basic types of looms. The back strap loom was used to make sashes and belts. The vertical loom was used for producing larger fabrics, including blanks, ponchos, and cloth for making dresses and shirts. The vertical loom can be anchored on a ceiling beam on the top and then on four floor anchors on the bottom.

The backstrap loom is attached to an interior wall and then tension is maintained by a backstrap which allows the weaver to change the tension in the loom by changing the position of the body. The cloth produced using the backstrap loom is narrower than that produced with the vertical loom.  

Pueblo Sash

Shown above is a sash.

The development of loom weaving in the Southwest coincided with the introduction of domesticated cotton. By 425 BCE, the Hohokam in Arizona were raising cotton and trading it widely. By 700 CE, the Ancestral Puebloan people (sometimes called Anasazi by archaeologists) were growing cotton in New Mexico. Upright looms appear shortly after this.

By 1260 CE, the Hopi village of Homol’ovi was the center of cotton trade between the Hopi and other tribes in the Southwest. Homol’ovi had 200 rooms and had an estimated population of about 200 people.

At Zuni Pueblo, men traditionally spun and wove cotton. The cotton they used, however, they did not grow themselves, but obtained from the Hopi.

Among the Hopi, weaving was a traditional male activity. Hopi cotton cloth was a highly valued trade item among Indian people in the region. Hopi textiles, including the coarse white cotton lengths used for kilts, sashes, and shawls, was traded throughout the Southwest and south into Mexico.  

According to the Hopi oral tradition, it was Spider Woman who taught the Hopi how to weave cotton in the ancient time. The efforts of the weaver are therefore viewed as a manifestation of the creative power of spirituality. Weaving is not seen as an act in which one creates something by oneself; it is seen as an act in which one uncovers a pattern that was already there.

After sheep were introduced to the area by the Spanish, wool began to replace cotton in Pueblo textiles.  

Chaco Culture National Historic Park

More than a thousand years ago, the Ancestral Puebloans constructed a number of larges pueblos in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. The ruins of these ancient pueblos came to the attention of the Americans shortly after the United States and Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe in 1848 which gave the United States governmental jurisdiction over much of what is now the Southwest. While the United States claimed that it was acquiring this territory in order to bring peace and stability to the region, the intrusion of the Americans into the region actually increased the cycles of violence with the Navajo.  In 1849, Lieutenant Colonel John M. Washington led a putative expedition against the Navajo. On a detached reconnaissance, topographical engineer Lieutenant James H. Simpson entered Chaco Canyon and located ten ancient Ancestral Puebloan pueblos.  

Chaco Map

The map of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park is shown above.  

The Initial Discovery:

As Lieutenant Simpson led his reconnaissance expedition through Chaco Canyon, he noted the characteristics of the pueblos and, with the help of his Navajo and Mexican guides, he gave them names. Lieutenant Simpson was actually the first to designate the canyon as “Chaco” which appears to be from the Spanish transliteration of the Navajo name for Chacra Mesa which was Tzak aih meaning “white string of rocks.”  

Pueblo Pintado (Spanish for “painted village) was named by their Mexican guide Carravahal. Others in the party suggested naming it Montezuma’s Pueblo, Red Pueblo, Great Pueblo, and Pueblo of the Rats. Lieutenant Simpson counted 54 “apartments” on the ground floor and estimated that it must have originally been three stories high.  Archaeologists would later find that the L-shaped pueblo had 135 rooms, 19 kivas ceremonial underground structures), and 1 great kiva.

Pintado map

Pintado 2

The name Montezuma’s Pueblo reflected the idea that these large structures must have somehow been built by the Aztecs under the leadership of Montezuma. The mistaken idea that Aztecs under Montezuma built many of the ancient villages in the southwest continues to persist, even though the archaeological findings show that these villages were built long before Montezuma.

Wijiiji (named Weje-gi by Carravahal which means “Greasewood House” from the Navajo word for the greasewood plant) which measured nearly 700 feet in circumference.

Wijiiji 2

Wiiji 1

Wijiiji is shown above.

Pueblo Una Vida (Spanish for “One Life”) measured 994 feet in circumference. Archaeologists would later determine that the pueblo had about 160 rooms and that construction began sometime in the 800s. The pueblo also has four kivas and two great kivas.

Una Vida

Una Vida is shown above.

Hungo Pavi (the meaning of this name is unknown) measured 872 feet in circumference.

Hungo Pavi

Hungo Pavi is shown above.

Chetro Ketl, a name which Carravahal said means Rain Pueblo. The pueblo measured 1,300 feet in circumference and Lieutenant Simpson felt that it was once four stories high.

Chetro Ketl

The large kiva at Chetro Ketl is shown above.

Pueblo Bonito (Spanish for “Beautiful Village”) which was 1,300 feet in circumference and was once four stories high. Archaeologists would later determine that this pueblo was inhabited from the 850s through the early twelfth century. Over a million sandstone blocks were carved for its construction.

Pueblo Bonito 1

Pueblo Bonito Doorway

Pueblo Bonito is shown above.

Pueblo Bonito has over 350 ground rooms, 32 kivas, and 3 great kivas.

Pueblo del Arroyo (Spanish for “Village by the Wash”) which Lieutenant Simpson estimated at 1,000 feet in circumference. It differs from the other great houses in Chaco Canyon in that it was not built near the northern cliff face and is oriented to the east rather than to the south. The building was originally four stories high and had 125 ground floor rooms and 17 kivas. Archaeologists would later determine that initial construction began about 1060.

Pueblo de Peñasco Blanco (Spanish for “Rocky White”) which was 1,700 feet in circumference. According to Lieutenant Simpson:

“there is a regular alternation of large and small stones, the effect of which is both unique and beautiful.”

This is the westernmost great house in Chaco Canyon. Archaeologists would later identify irrigation canals and a system of fields associated with this site. The oval ground plan is unlike the D-shape of many of the other great houses in the canyon. Peñasco Blanco has four great kivas. Construction of this pueblo began in the early tenth century.

Penasco Blaco

Penasco Blanco Map

Peñasco Blanco is shown above.


The ruins in Chaco Canyon were seen by some non-Indians was a resource would could be mined for ancient artifacts which could be sold to collectors. In 1877, the Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories noted that holes had been poked through the exterior walls of Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon by vandals searching for artifacts.

Hyde Exploring Expedition:

The next major American group to explore Chaco Canyon came in 1896. At this time the Hyde Exploring Expedition began what would be four summers of archaeological excavations at the ruins.  The Expedition was under the auspices of Frederick Putnam of the American Museum of Natural History. Rancher-turned-archaeologist Richard Wetherill and George Pepper, a student with no experience outside of the classroom, led the expedition. A number of Navajo men were hired to do the digging.

During the next four seasons, the Hyde Exploring Expedition excavated 190 rooms at Pueblo Bonito and sent thousands of artifacts to the American Museum of Natural History. At the end of their first season, they shipped an entire freight car filled with artifacts back to New York.

Edger Hewett, the president of New Mexico Normal University, became concerned that the artifacts from Chaco Canyon were being transferred to New York. He accused the Hyde Exploring Expedition of selling artifacts and vandalizing the Chaco sites. While the charges were found to have no merit, the Department of the Interior ordered the Hyde Exploring Expedition to stop excavations in 1901.

National Geographic Society:

In 1921, the National Geographic Society sponsored an archaeological excavation at Chaco Canyon under the leadership of Neil M. Judd. According to the National Geographic announcement of the expedition:

“This expedition hopes to discover the historic secrets of a region which was one of the most densely populated areas in North America before Columbus came, a region where prehistoric peoples lived in vast communal dwellings whose ruins are ranked second to none of ancient times in point of architecture.”

The National Geographic Society directed Judd to completely excavate a promising great house in Chaco Canyon. Judd and his team selected Pueblo Bonito and spent three years excavating the pueblo. Judd published his research in 1927.

University of New Mexico:

From 1935 through 1970 the University of New Mexico excavated at Chaco Canyon. The work was directed by Edger Hewett and focused primarily on education students in archaeology. Very little of this work has ever been published.

Chaco Canyon National Monument:

In 1907 Congress created the Chaco Canyon National Monument to preserve the numerous Ancestral Puebloan (“Anasazi”) ruins in the area. In 1980 the National Monument was re-designated as the Chaco Culture National Historical Park. At this time an additional 13,000 acres was added to the park. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987.


The Navajo and Oil in the 1920s

Traditionally the United States has assumed that any mineral and energy resources found on Indian reservations should be developed by non-Indian private enterprise and that Indians should benefit as little as possible from these resources. The role of the federal government in developing these resources has been to help private enterprise obtain mineral and energy resources from Indian nations. One example of this can be seen in corporate attempts to develop oil resources on the Navajo Reservation in the 1920s.  

First, some background: the administration of Indian reservations in the United States comes under the Department of the Interior. The Bureau of Indian Affairs-which was called the Indian Office in the 1920s-is a part of the Department of the Interior. Both the Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs are political appointments.

In 1921, Albert Fall, the former Senator from New Mexico, was appointed Secretary of the Interior by President Warren Harding. Fall was hostile to Indian rights and felt that large tracts of Indian land inhibit progress. Fall would later become involved with the Teapot Dome scandal and would be jailed for his misconduct in oil leasing.

In 1921, prospectors combed the Navajo reservation looking for promising places for oil. However, the San Juan Navajo council did not wish to consider any oil and gas leases. In an effort to force the Navajo to issue the oil leases, the assistant commissioner of Indian affairs ordered the Indian agent to call the council together again, but once again they refused all petitions for leases. The oil companies refused to accept the Navajo decision to deny them access to the potential oil reserves. Once again the oil companies appealed to the Indian Office to look out for their interests and in response the Indian Office ordered another meeting with the San Juan Navajo. This time the oil company promised to hire Navajo for all unskilled work. Reluctantly, the Navajo agreed to a lease.

The following year, the Indian Office ordered the agent for the San Juan Navajo district to summon a council to consider more oil leases. The Navajo unanimously said “no” to any more leases, but the oil companies immediately submitted new applications with the Indian Office. The Indian Office then informed the agent that they wanted the leases approved and recommended that the agent ask the Navajo to delegate to him the authority to negotiate the leases. Again the Navajo were assembled and great pressure put on them to agree to the oil leases. The Navajo agreed to grant one lease for Tocito, but refused all others.  

In response to the discovery of oil on the Navajo Reservation and the refusal of the Navajo to agree to leases with oil companies, in 1922 Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall ruled that Indian reservations which were created by Presidential Executive Order (as opposed to those created by treaty) were open to oil exploration. This removed Indians from any control over the leasing of these lands and deprived them of all but one-third of the royalties from oil leases. The ruling also made Indian title to these lands uncertain with the presumption that these reservations were “merely public lands temporarily withdrawn by Executive Order for use by Indians.”

Concerned about the need for oil companies to develop wells on Navajo land and the opposition of the Navajo to these oil wells, in 1923 the federal government unilaterally replaced the traditional Navajo council of elders with a Grand Council composed of government-selected individuals. While the new council was to be composed of delegates elected by each of the six jurisdictions on the reservation, delegates could be appointed if there was no election. The Indian Office could also remove or replace any delegates, particularly if these delegates opposed any proposals by the federal government.

All members of the Council were Navajo who had been educated off of the reservation. The Council could meet only in the presence of the Indian agent for the Navajo Tribe. With regard to this new form of government, former Navajo chairman Peter MacDonald noted:

“For the first time in the history of the Navajo Nation, the idea of a single leader was created. A twelve-member tribal council was established whose representa¬tives were to replace the traditional extended family leaders.”

The new Council, the only Navajo government recognized by the U.S. government, quickly signed leasing permits with non-Indian companies. It was clear that the United States did not want a self-governing Navajo Nation, but wanted a puppet government which could be called at its behest to negotiate on behalf of the tribe in matters of property. The new council had been established to serve the interests of the oil companies and thus did not respond to the needs and problems of local communities.

Chee Dodge, a wealthy stockman, was elected as Chairman. A split soon developed in the council. Dodge, a Catholic, felt that the royalties belonged to all of the Navajo and should be used to buy land for the impoverished Navajo stockmen. Another group, under the leadership of Jacob C. Morgan, a fundamentalist Protestant missionary, felt that traditionalists such as Dodge were not qualified to lead. Under Dodge’s leadership the council gave the Indian agent the power of attorney to negotiate and sign all leases on behalf of the tribe.

The oil leases did generate some money for the Navajo, but this money was collected by the federal government and supposedly held for them in the Treasury Department. In 1926, the Navajo found out that money from their oil leases had been earmarked to build a bridge across the San Juan River at Lee’s Ferry. The bridge was not intended for Navajo use, but it would open up a convenient automobile route to the Grand Canyon for tourists and would thus greatly benefit the Fred Harvey Company which owned the concessions in the national park.

The Navajo also found out that they had been charged for several off-reservation bridges, for bridge repairs, and for building a road from Gallup, New Mexico to Mesa Verde, Colorado.

In 1926, the Navajo Tribal Council voted to set aside 20% of its oil revenues to purchase land. The following year, Chee Dodge, the Chairman of the Navajo Tribal Council, asked the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for $1 million to buy land. The money was to come from the royalties paid for Navajo oil and mineral leases. This was not taxpayer money, but money generated from private corporations. However, Congress, who controlled all tribal funds including royalties, balked at releasing the money.

In 1928, Congress authorized $1.2 million for Navajo land purchases. This action had strong opposition from the New Mexico Congressional delegation.

In 1929, the Navajo requested information on their oil royalty figures. They found that the government had failed to monitor production or obtain accurate royalty figures. Part of the problem stemmed from keeping oil records in two different offices: production and royalty reports were kept in the San Juan area superintendent’s office while operations registers were at the Bureau of Mines office in Shiprock. Furthermore, the oil companies set up sophisticated internal operations to allow them to buy and sell crude oil to themselves and thus to juggle figures at will. While it was obvious that the government was not protecting Navajo interests and that oil companies were openly defrauding the tribe, no steps were taken to correct the problem and the same system of record-keeping would continue for the next century or so.

In what seems to have been a response to Navajo requests for information, the oil companies laid off more Navajo workers than non-Indian workers. When the Navajo complained to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, he told them that all the oil companies had to do was to pay their royalties. The Navajo, however, insisted that their lease agreement called for the companies to employ Navajo workers. In addition, the companies were failing to protect the land, especially from pipeline leaks. The Indian Office and the Department of the Interior continued to support the oil companies.

While the administration of Indian affairs changed dramatically when Franklin Roosevelt became President, the conflicts between the Navajo and the oil companies were not resolved. While Roosevelt’s policies seemed to emphasize tribal self-government, the Navajo have continued to be skeptical of the government’s motivations.


Mount Taylor and the Pueblos

The Pueblo Indians, who have lived in the American Southwest for thousands of years, do not draw a distinction between the secular and the sacred: everything is spiritual. This spirituality permeates all aspects of their lives, including their interaction with the land, with other peoples, and with the supernaturals. All life is interrelated, balanced, and interdependent. Human beings, therefore, must maintain harmony with the rest of the universe. One of the places that is important for the maintenance of harmony and the spiritual health of the people is the mountain which the Americans call Mount Taylor.

Mt taylor

In 1849, shortly after the United States acquired New Mexico from Mexico the Americans, ignoring any possible Native American names for the mountain, renamed it after President Zachary Taylor. The mountain is called Dwankwi Kyabachu Yalanne by the Zuni; Kaweshtima by the Acoma; Tsibina by the Laguna; and Tsiipiya by the Hopi.

Zachery Taylor

Zachery Taylor, shown above, gained fame as a military officer in his campaigns in the Black Hawk War and the Seminole Wars.

With regard to the Zuni and Mount Taylor, Zuni Governor Cooeyate has said:

“The Zuni relationship to Mount Taylor, as an important place on the landscape and as a marker of the extent of the Zuni homelands, has been documented through historic records for more than 300 years. First by the early Spanish representatives in the eighteenth century, later by American military personnel and early anthropologists throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and more recently in land claims cases in the latter half of the twentieth century. While the importance of Zuni’s relationship to Mount Taylor can be found in writings that are very old, our relationship to the mountain exceeds the historic record by many centuries.”

In addition to being a sacred area for these Pueblos, the mountain is also a sacred area for a number of non-Pueblo tribes including the Navajo. The Navajo name for the mountain is Sootdzit. From this mountain, the people gather soil, tobacco, minerals, medicines, and other resources which are used to create the Mountain Soil Bundle which is used in the Blessing Way Ceremony.

With regard to its physical geography, Mount Taylor is a stratovolcano located midway between Albuquerque and Gallup in the southwestern corner of the San Mateo Mountains. It rises to an elevation of 12,000 feet and is the highest point in the Cibola National Forest. The mountain is largely forested and rises like a blue cone above the desert. The forest on its slopes was an important source of timber for the Pueblos.

In 1905, without consulting the tribes or taking into consideration the sacred nature of Mount Taylor, the United States incorporated the land into a national forest to be administered by the Secretary of Agriculture. Since the primary focus of the Forest Service is on resource development, over the past century the cultural resources on Mount Taylor including pilgrimage trails, shrines, and archeological sites have been threatened by increased development.

In 1978, Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) which was designed to pro¬tect and preserve traditional religious practices, including access to sacred sites, the use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through traditional ceremonies. The Act directed federal agencies to survey their rules and regulations and to try to accommodate the practice of Indian religions. The Act directs federal agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service, to adopt land management policies which will be sensitive toward tribal religious needs concerning federal public lands. As a result of this Act, federal agencies began to formally consult with American Indian tribes about how proposed federal developments might harm sacred places. The law, however, did notinclude an administrative mechanism for Indian tribes to contest agency decisions.  

In 2009, Mount Taylor was designated as a Traditional Cultural Property. According to Acoma Pueblo Governor Sanchez:

“This designation highlights the rich historic and cultural connections that each tribe maintains with the mountain, especially for the Pueblo of Acoma.”

The designation serves as guidance for any future development of the area and calls for tribal consultation on any proposed development.


Acoma Pueblo is shown above.

The United States and the Pueblos

When the United States acquired what is now New Mexico and Arizona in 1846, a number of Pueblos were brought under American rule according to the Discovery Doctrine. The Pueblos created a few problems for the Americans, however, as they did not conform to the stereotype of nomadic Indians whose lives centered around hunting. There were, in fact, debates about whether or not the Pueblos should actually be considered as Indian tribes. It would take thirty years until the Supreme Court would issue a ruling on this question.  

A second problem faced by the new American rulers was religion. As a Christian nation, United States policies regarding Indians required their conversion to Christianity, preferably Protestant Christianity. The Pueblos, when under Spanish rule, had nominally become Catholics. While American policies actively discouraged Indian pagan practices, the Americans at this time did not care much for Catholicism either. The American government, therefore, found itself supporting Protestant missionaries to the Catholic Pueblos. Under Spanish and Mexico rule, the Pueblos had adopted Catholicism and had combined this with their own religious practices without any loss of the basic fabric of their life. With the Americans, however, they were faced with proselytizing Christians who sought to destroy Pueblo culture.

In 1847, the New Mexico territorial legislature passed an act entitled “Indians” which recognized the Pueblos as political and corporate bodies. According to the act, the Pueblos were living in towns and villages on lands granted to them by the Spanish and Mexican governments. In effect, the territorial legislature enacted a fantasy which did not recognize the Pueblos as the original owners of the land, but claimed that their occupancy rested on grants of land by foreign governments.

In 1850, James S. Calhoun, the first Indian agent in New Mexico, negotiated a treaty between the United States and the Pueblos of Santa Clara, Tesuque, Nambe, Santo Domingo, Jemez, San Felipe, Cochiti, San Ildefonso, Santa Ana, and Zia. The treaty stated that the boundaries of each Pueblo

“shall never be diminished, but may be enlarged whenever the Government of the United States shall deem it advisable.”

In addition, the treaty stated that the Pueblos shall be governed by their own laws and customs. The treaty was never ratified by the United States Senate. However, the treaty was understood by the Pueblos as the standard for governing their relations with the federal government.

In 1850, a delegation of Hopi from Arizona visited Agent James S. Calhoun to determine what the policies of the United States were toward them and to complain about Navajo raids. From the Hopi, Calhoun learned that the Hopi pueblos were autonomous. He reported:

“From what I could learn from the Cacique, I came to the conclusion, that each of the seven Pueblos, was an independent Republic, having confederated for mutual protection.”

In 1851, 12 New Mexico Pueblo tribes met with the American Indian agent and expressed their desire to maintain their traditional customs and usages. There is no indication of the response by the American government to this desire.

In 1852, five leading men from Tesuque-José María Vigil, Carlos Vigil, Juan Antonio Vigil, José Domingo Herrera, and José Abeyta-traveled by horseback, steamboat, and train to Washington, D.C. where they met with President Millard Fillmore. The purpose of the delegation was to argue for the rights promised in a Pueblo treaty signed in 1850. The delegation spent six weeks in Washington and was taken to all of the standard destinations, including the Smithsonian Institution. In their meeting with the President, Fillmore indicated that he personally would look into the matter of their treaty.

In 1852, a delegation from Santa Ana Pueblo traveled to Santa Fe to meet with the American superintendent to raise the issue of infringements on their land. The superintendent, however, was not present and the Americans simply dismissed their complaints as “trifling” and “no business of any consequence.”

The New Mexico territorial legislature passed a law in 1853 prohibiting the sale of liquor to Indians and declared that “Indian” did not include the Pueblo Indians.  

In 1855, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs asked Congress to repeal the law which defined the Pueblos in New Mexico as corporate entities which could sue and be sued in local courts. He explained that the Pueblos had suffered greatly from this law because most suits were filed by non-Indians with an interest in obtaining Pueblo land. However, Congress did not act on this recommendation.

An 1858 Congressional act confirmed the Spanish land grants to several New Mexico Pueblos: Acoma, Jemez, Chochiti, Picuris, San Felipe, San Juan, Santo Domingo, Zia, Isleta, Nambe, Pojuaque, Sandia, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, Taos, and Tesuque.  The Spanish land grants to Indians had been superimposed upon Indian aboriginal rights dating from time immemorial. It would now seem that the Pueblo Indians should be claiming rights both under the land claims and under their original rights as first owners of the land.

In 1864, the Pueblo governors were given “Lincoln canes” as symbols of their office and authority. Engraved on the silver head of each cane is the name of the Pueblo, the year, and “A. Lincoln.” The canes originally cost $5.50 each.

The United States issued land patents in 1864 for Nambe, Cochiti, Isleta, Jemez, Picuris, Zia, Sandia, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, Pojuaque, San Juan, Santa Clara, Taos, Tesuque, and Santo Domingo Pueblos in New Mexico.

In 1867, the territorial chief justice in United States v Ortiz  ruled that the Pueblos were not Indians under the definition of the Trade and Intercourse Act of 1834. The Pueblos protested the decision. The Indian agent for the Pueblos, noting that the federal government had filed an appeal in the Supreme Court, asked the government to protect the Pueblos.

The United States officially established an Indian Agency for the Hopi in 1869. However, the agency was located in Fort Wingate rather than near the Hopi pueblos in Arizona. In addition, the agency was officially named the “Moqui Pueblo Agency,” a name which the Hopi felt was insulting. Two years later, the agency was moved from Fort Wingate to Fort Defiance. In 1873, the agency was moved from Fort Defiance to Keams Canyon which is about 13 miles away from the Hopi pueblo of Walpi.

In 1869, in the case of United States versus Lucero, Chief Justice Watts characterized Indians as “wild, wandering savages”, but noted that this description did not hold for the Pueblos who, he claimed, have been cultivating the soil for three centuries. The judge’s comments seem to imply that the Pueblos learned agriculture from the Spanish and appear to reflect ignorance regarding many centuries of Indian agriculture prior to the Spanish arrival in the Americas.

In 1869, a special inspector for the Indian Office recommended that the Pueblos be declared citizens and required to pay taxes on their crops, herds, and orchards.

Congress in 1869 passed legislation which formally recognized the Santa Ana Pueblo land grant in New Mexico.

In 1871, the Indian agent for the Pueblos reported that holdings by non-Indian squatters on Pueblo lands were of such great value that the United States government could not afford to compensate them if they were forced to move. Instead, he recommended that the Pueblos sell their lands to these squatters.

Congress authorized the extension of federal services to New Mexico’s Pueblo Indians in 1872.

In 1873 the Bureau of Indian Affairs considered relocating the Hopi from their Arizona pueblos to land along the Little Colorado River or to Oklahoma. The Hopi vowed to resist any relocation as their ancient contract with the Great Spirit Massauw makes removal from the land impossible. After discussions with the Hopi, the Indian Agent recommended that a separate Hopi reservation be established.

The United States Supreme Court, in the 1876 United States versus Joseph, declared that the Intercourse Act of 1834 was not applicable to the Pueblos of New Mexico. The Court viewed the Pueblos as having a settled, domestic existence and therefore were not subject to laws which were passed for the protection and civilization of “wild Indians.” Furthermore, the Court asserted that Pueblo land titles were given to them by the Spanish government. As a result, 3,000 non-Indians settle on Pueblo lands.

The Supreme Court ruling denied the Pueblos the protection of the federal government and placed them within the jurisdiction of the local courts and officials. The Court did not define the Pueblos as citizens, and thus they did not have the right to vote, nor did they have the right to hold public office. While the Court excluded the Pueblos from participation in political life, it opened up the way for their lands to be appropriated for private enterprise by non-Indians.

The Pueblos

When the United States acquired what is now New Mexico and Arizona in 1846, a number of Pueblos were brought under American rule according to the Discovery Doctrine. The Pueblos created a few problems for the Americans, however, as they did not conform to the stereotype of nomadic Indians whose lives centered around hunting. Actually, very few Indian nations in the United States resembled this stereotype, but the American government has never let the realities of Indian cultures interfere with imaginary descriptions.  

Like many other Indian nations, the Pueblos were settled agriculturalists who had been raising corn, beans, squash, cotton and other plants for many centuries. Unlike the other Indian nations, however, the Pueblos lived in rather substantial villages with a central plaza. Their houses were multi-story structures constructed from stone. When the Spanish first encountered these villages, they called them Pueblos (Spanish for town) and unfortunately this term was, and still is, used to group a number of distinct peoples together.

The Indian people grouped together as Pueblos speak six mutually unintelligible languages and occupy more than 30 villages in a rough crescent more than 400 miles in length.


Village Names:

Most of the pueblos have been given European names: some of these are Spanish corruptions of their own names while others are purely Spanish names which are unrelated to their native names. The common names of some of the pueblos are listed below.

Acoma: from Akome which means “people of the white rock.”


An Ansel Adams photo of Acoma is shown above.

Cochiti: the Spanish version of Katyete whose meaning is unknown.

Isleta: the native name for this Tiwa-speaking pueblo is Teui which means “town.”

Jemez: this is the Spanish spelling of hemis which means “Hemis people.” The native name for this Towo-speaking pueblo is Walatowa which means “the people in the canyon.”

Laguna: this pueblo carries the Spanish name for lake. The native name for this Keresan-speaking pueblo is Kawaik whose meaning is unknown.

Nambe: this is the native name for the Tewa-speaking pueblo and means “pueblo of the mound of earth.”

Picuris: this is the Spanish version of Pikuria. The native name for the Tiwi-speaking pueblo is Piwwetha which means “pass in the mountains.”

Pojoaque: this is a Spanish corruption of the native name Posunwage which means “drink water place.”

San Juan: the native name for this Tewa-speaking pueblo is Oke whose meaning is unknown.

Sandia: the pueblo carries the Spanish name for watermelon. The native name for this Tiwa-speaking pueblo is Nafiat which means “a dusty or sandy place.”

San Felipe: the native name for this Keresan-speaking pueblo is Katishtya whose meaning is unknown.

San Ildefonso: the native name for this Tewa-speaking pueblo is Pokwoge which means “where the water cuts down through.”

Santa Ana: the native name for this Keresan-speaking pueblo is Tamaya whose meaning is unknown.

Santa Clara: the native name for this Tewa-speaking pueblo is Ka’po whose meaning is unknown.

Santo Domingo: the native name for this Keresan-speaking pueblo is Kiuwa whose meaning is unknown.

Taos: this is the Spanish version of Tua which means “houses” or “village.”

Taos 2


Taos Pueblo is shown above.

Tesuque: this is a Spanish corruption of the native Tewa name Tatunge which means “dry spotted place.”

Zia: this is from the native Keresan name Tseja whose meaning is unknown.

Zuni: this is the Spanish corruption of the Keresan word Sunyi. The native name for the pueblo is A’shiwi which means “the flesh.”


Zuni 1850

Zuni Pueblo is shown above.

Zuni Exhibit

A Zuni Exhibit is shown above.

The Hopi villages are in Arizona and the name “Hopi” is a contraction of Hopi-tuh which means “peaceful ones.” While the United States has insisted on dealing with the Hopi as if they were a single tribe rather than independent pueblos, not all of the Hopi villages recognize the authority of the Hopi Tribal Council. The Hopi villages (pueblos) are listed below:

Walpi which means “place of the gap.”

Walpi 2

Walpi 1

Walpi Pueblo is shown above.

Sichomovi which means “place of the mound where wild currents grow.”

Hano is actually a Tewa village whose name is derived from anopi which means eastern people.

Shungopovi which means “place by the spring where the tall reeds grow.”

Michongovi which means “place of the black man.” The name comes from Mishong, the leader of the Crow Clan who brought his people from the San Francisco peaks to Hopi in 1200 AD.

Shipaulovi which means “the mosquitos.”

Oraibi which means “place of the rock called Orai.”

Kiakochomovi which means “place of the hills of ruins.”

Hotevilla which means “skinned back.”

Bakabi (Bacobi) which means “place of the jointed reeds.”

Moenkopi which means “place of running water.”  


The pueblos tend to be multi-storied with the second story set back from the first which provides a terraced effect. Originally, the first floor was reached through a hatchway and ladder from the second floor. Small openings high in the walls were covered with selenite which allowed sunlight to filter through and provide some lighting to the residence.

In some pueblos, such as Cochití, the first story of the houses are built using stone blocks and the upper stories are made with adobe.

Among the Hopi, town sites were determined by two factors: (1) the proximity to water, and (2) the desire for security. To provide security, the Hopi villages tend to be located on the tops of mesas. With regard to water, drinking water for the Hopi villages was provided by springs. The Hopi clan histories talk about the abundance and reliability of the water supply in the springs at the mesas where they located their villages.  

The Search for Cibola

The conquests of the Aztec and Inka empires in the early 1500s brought great wealth to Spain in the form of gold and silver. Inspired by this wealth and driven by greed for even more wealth, many Spanish expeditions set out to find gold and silver which could be easily plundered from other Native civilizations. Legends which told of Native cities with streets of gold and other forms of wealth were often translated by Spanish explorers as reality which awaited them if they persisted. While the locations of these fabled cities and lost civilizations were nebulous at best, this did not stop the Spanish from mounting expeditions to search for them. The consequences of these greed-driven expeditions were often disastrous for the Indian people they encountered.  

In 1533 Diego de Guzmán led an expedition in the present-day state of Sonora searching for the fabled Cities of Cibola. Among the native peoples he encountered were the Yaqui whose chief drew a line in the ground and told the Spaniards not to cross it. The Spanish responded with a cavalry charge and gunfire. While they dispersed the Yaqui, several Spanish and their horses were seriously wounded. The Spanish spent several weeks in the area, scouting and looking for signs of the Seven Cities. They reported that the area was the most populous which they had encountered and they saw many planted fields. They failed to find any cities of gold.

Six years later, Fray Marcos de Niza, a Franciscan adept in native languages, received permission to explore the southwest and to determine if the fabled riches actually existed. Esteván, the black slave who had been with Alvar Núnez Cabeza de Vaca’s trek across Texas, accompanied him.

Near the present-day city of Hermosilla in Sonora, Mexico, the expedition encountered some Pima Bajo who gave them a warm reception and much food. They told the Franciscan of a valley to the north with many large settlements where the people wore cotton (probably the Pima and Opata). In reference to their mica pendants and their pottery made from mica-bearing clay, Fray Marcos de Niza assumed that the Indians were telling him about people to the north who had pendants and vessels made of gold and silver. While the stories of these northern peoples may have contained some grains of truth, the Indians of northern Mexico had now learned to tell the Spanish what they wanted to hear in order to get them to move on. In addition, the Spanish tended to hear only that which reinforced their pre-conceived stereotypes.

While at a Pima village on the Rio Magdalena in Sonora, Mexico, Fray Marcos was told about three other kingdoms: Marata, Acus, and Totonteac. The Pima went to these three kingdoms and to Cibola to trade for turquoise, buffalo hides, and other things. Fray Marcos continued his journey north, into Arizona, encountering many settlements. Along the Salt River, he noted that there were villages every half or quarter league. The irrigated fields reminded him of gardens. He continued to hear stories about Cibola and about Marata. He was told that Marata had been reduced because of warfare with Cibola, but still remained independent. The kingdom of Totoneac (probably the Hohokam) was described to him as the largest of the kingdoms and that its people wore clothing of wool which was obtained from wild sheep.

After hearing the stories about what they believed to be the Seven Cities of Cibola, Fray Marcos sent Esteván with an advance party to investigate. The Spanish followed a well-established trading route that connected northern Mexico with the American Southwest. Esteván reached as far north as Zuñi Pueblo (in New Mexico) where he was killed.

As Fray Marcos continued his journey toward Cibola, he noted that he was traveling on a wide and well-used road that was lined with many shacks used by the people who journeyed to Cibola. Outside of Zuñi, he was told that Esteván had been killed. His Indian escorts refused to travel farther, so Fray Marcos turned back. Before leaving, however, he took possession of Cibola for the Spanish king by erecting a pile of stones with a small cross on top. While Fray Marcos never reached Zuñi, he still described it as being bigger than Mexico City.

The next Spanish expeditions searching for Cibola began in 1540. Francisco Vásquez de Coronado began his journey north from Mexico seeking the Seven Cities of Cibola described by Fray Marcos. He took with him a force of 330 Spaniards (most of whom were mounted soldiers) and 1,000 native allies. The expedition starts with 552 horses and 2 mares. The seven cities proved to be six Zuñi villages: Hawiku, Kianawa, Kwakina, Halona, Matsaki, and Kiakima.  While Coronado marveled at the Zuñi houses, he commented:

“I do not think that they have the judgment and intelligence needed to be able to build these houses in the way in which they are built, for most of them are entirely naked.”

The Spanish arrived at Hawiku at the culmination of the summer solstice ceremony. The Zuñi priests drew a line of white cornmeal across the ground to inform the Spanish that they were not to enter the village. The Spanish ignored the warning. The Zuñi met the Spanish explorers with hostility, attacking them before they were in sight of Hawiku. Using signal fires, the Zuñi signaled the Spanish presence to others in the region. The Spanish, needing food desperately, attacked the village and after fierce fighting managed to capture it. The battle took about an hour, during which time Coronado sustained several wounds. However, the pueblo and its valuable food stores fell to the Spanish. The Zuñi fled to their stronghold on Thunder Mountain.  

Coronado had originally planned to rendezvous with a second Spanish expedition which was coming by water to the Colorado River area. Coronado sent an expedition under the command of Captain Pedro de Tovar to make contact with the Hopi who had a tradition of trading with the Indian nations of the Colorado River area. The Hopi met the Spaniards at the town of Kawaika-a with coldness. The Hopi were in battle formation and, like the Zuni, drew a line on the ground with sacred corn pollen telling the Spaniards not to cross it. There was a short battle that was won by the Spaniards.

Following reports of a large river to the west of the Hopi, the Spanish sent a dozen riders to find the Colorado River. The Spanish reached the Grand Canyon.

Traveling east, the Spanish forces encountered the pueblo of Acoma. This town, built on top of a mesa, was described as a fortress. After leaving Acoma, the Spanish crossed the Rio Grande to Tiguex where they were cordially received. Here they were taken to Pecos (which the Spanish call Cicúye), a town of 2,000 people that was an important trading center with the Indians of the Great Plains. The Tiguex captured a number of Spanish horses and killed them, which resulted in a Spanish attack on the town in which the Spanish gave no quarter. Even though some Indians attempted to surrender, giving the sign of the cross, they were burned at the stake.

In their conquest of Pecos, the Spanish acquired two Indian “slaves” – men who had been captured in battle by the warriors from Pecos. One of these was an Indian called “the Turk” who described the country of Quivira which lay to the northeast and was said to be so filled with gold that even common table service was made of gold and silver. The Turk was one of history’s most accomplished liars. He was a Pawnee or Wichita trader, fluent in several languages, whose primary goal was to get home. Once he understood what the Spanish desired, he spun a story filled with gold and silver to entice them to take him closer to his home.

The other 1540 Spanish expedition was led by Hernando de Alarcón who sailed up the Gulf of California looking for the great river that would take him to Cibola. He found a river whose waters were reddish and so he named it the Colorado. The Spanish went upstream in two launches and met the Cocopa. A peaceful trading relationship was established. The Cocopa village had a population of more than 1,000. The Spanish found some indications of tuberculosis among the Indians.

Hernando de Alarcón askd an Indian on the lower Colorado River to write down on a chart as much as he knew about the river and the people who lived near it. This was one of the earliest recorded accounts of Indians making maps for Europeans. On their way up the Colorado river, the Spanish often met with stiff resistance from Indians who viewed Alarcón as a sorcerer because he claimed to have been sent by the Sun and because of his demonstrations of the use of gunpowder.At a site near present-day Yuma, Alarcón erected a large cross and left letters for Coronado. The two Spanish expeditions failed to meet.

In the meantime, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado spent the winter of 1541 at the Tiguex Pueblo of Arenal on the Upper Rio Grande River, forcing the Indians out of the village and demanding that they provide the Spanish with corn and blankets. The Spanish noted that the men of the pueblo spun and wove and that the most usual textile fiber was cotton.

In the spring, they set out to find Quivira. As a guide, the Spanish took with them the Turk (they called him this because of his turban-like Pawnee headgear). Also travelling with them was a Wichita captive named Sopete. The expedition got lost on the Great Plains, and they became the first Europeans to encounter the great herds of buffalo. They were found by Lipan Apaches who told them of other settlements in the area. Next they came in contact with some Caddo buffalo hunters who they called Teyas.  Finally they arrived at Quivira where they found only the thatched beehive huts of the Kansa.

When Coronado’s expedition returned to New Mexico from their journey onto the Great Plains, they attacked a rebellious Tiguex mountain stronghold. The Spanish lost 17 soldiers, mostly to poisoned arrows.

The Spanish expeditions failed to find the gold and silver which were described in their fantasies. In their wake they left a legacy of death, destruction, and brutality. While the failure of these expeditions should have ended the belief in fabled cities and lost empires, the stories continued with believers wanting them to be real. Reality does not seem to be convincing to those who fervently want to believe. Nearly five centuries later there are still those who are convinced that these cities exist.  

Keresan Pueblo Migrations

When the Spanish first began to explore the area which would later be known as New Mexico, they encountered well-established Indian agricultural villages. Collectively, the Spanish referred to these people as Pueblos (Spanish for village). While the Pueblos share some common features of material culture, such as the architecture of their permanent villages, they are culturally distinct from one another. In New Mexico, the various Pueblo languages belong to three different language families: Keresan, Tanoan, and Zunian.

Linguistically, the Keresan language family is divided into two groups: Eastern, which includes Cochiti, San Felipe, Santa Ana, Santo Domingo, and Zia; and Western, which includes Laguna and Acoma. Some researchers, such as Alfonso Ortiz, feel that there is a linguistic connection between Keresan and the languages of the Caribbean.  

Santa Ana:

Often ignoring the cultural distinctions of the different Pueblos, the Spanish often renamed the Indian villages in honor of Catholic saints. Thus the Keresan-speaking Tamaya were given the name Santa Ana (St. Ann) by the Spanish in 1598.

According to the oral tradition of the people of Santa Ana (Tamaya), the people first emerged from the underworld at a place north and west of their present location. When they came into this world, they would travel over the earth to find the place that would suit them the best. Here they would make their homes. The people traveled for a long time and passed through many fine lands. They paused when they were hungry to gather the nourishment which the earth provided for them. Then they would continue their journey.

The Tamaya first settled at a place called Kashe K’atreti (White House). It was here that they set up a larger system of government. Here they established the foundations of their way of life in the upper world. This was not, however, their final destination, and so they moved, traveling south and east. They reached the eastern slope of the Sandía Mountains and established the village of Paak’u in a high valley west of the San Pedro Arroyo. They lived in Paak’u for more than a century.

When the people reached Paak’u, they divided into two groups. One of these groups traveled through the Río Grande Valley where they established a small village near the present-day San Felipe Pueblo. They were there only a short time before they journeyed north and west where they settled near the present-day pueblo of Zia. They left this village and traveled west and built another village near the present-day pueblo of Jemez. After the Navajo arrived in the region, the people were forced to flee this village and moved to the top of a mesa. Eventually they journeyed again, settling for a while near Acoma Pueblo. Then they built a village near the modern town of Socorro.

They eventually returned to rejoin the people of Paak’u and then established a series of small farming villages along the Río Grande River. Their journey, however, was not over. From here they traveled north, and, after centuries of travel, their journey ended. Beside the river and beneath a broad mesa, the people found the land which was just right for them, in accordance with the instructions given to their ancestors. Here was their home.


Acoma Pueblo takes its name from the Keresan term Akome which means “people of the white rock.”

Acoma Ansel Adams

Shown above is an Ansel Adams photograph of Acoma.

Acoma 1846

Shown above is an 1846 drawing of Acoma.

The oral tradition of Acoma tells that the people came out from the underworld at a place to the north. At this place there was a lake with an island and on this island there was a house. It was here that the katsinas came and brought many gifts to the people. They taught the people how to use these gifts. The katsinas danced in the plaza and the people were happy. After a time, the people decided that it was time for them to leave this place: the place was so precious that they feared they might defile it. They travelled south to a place called Kacikatcuria (White House). Here they called the katsinas to dance for them and they prepared the prayersticks and made the proper offerings.

One evening, after the katsinas had danced for them and then left, one man did a comic imitation of the katsina dances. He exaggerated the movements and this comic imitation caused great merriment among the people. However, one katsina had remained behind and witnessed the parody. As a result, the katsinas made war against the village. After the battle, only a few people were left alive and they were told that they would never see the katsinas again. They were told that if they wanted the katsinas to come to their village, then they must dress like the katsinas and pray was they had been taught. There was, however, conflict over whether or not it was appropriate to impersonate the katsinas and this caused some groups to migrate to new locations and to speak different languages.

One group of people decided to go to the south where they will be able to raise parrots. They were looking for a place called Aako. They would know this place because there would be a good echo. Just to the east of present-day Acoma, they found Aako. Here the people once again divided, with some continuing south and others staying to establish the pueblo of Acoma. Here they impersonated the katsinas and danced in the plaza. Their prayers for rain were answered and the people knew that the ceremony was powerful.


Cochiti oral tradition tells that the origin of the people on the earth began with their emergence from the underground through the sipapu. They began their life on earth living at White House, located far to the north. Here they lived with all of the people of the world. They then began a series of journeys or travels during which time they encountered a number of spiritual beings, animal helpers, and culture heroes. At one time, in the more recent past, they lived at Fijoles Cañon along with some other Pueblo groups.


Shown above is a photo of a Cochiti woman by Edward Curtis.

Pueblo Migrations:

The various culturally distinct Pueblos have lived and farmed in New Mexico and Arizona for thousands of years. Their villages made of stone and adobe brick amazed the first Europeans who visited them and continue to impress today’s tourists. Still, the oral histories of the Pueblos and the archaeological record show that the people made many migrations prior to settling in their current locations.  This essay has looked at only three of the Keresan-speaking Pueblos. The oral traditions of the other Pueblos, including the Uto-Aztecan-speaking Hopi and the Tanoan-speaking Pueblos, also tell of migrations.

Some archaeologists and tribal oral historians feel that the references to “White House” in the Kersesan stories may refer to the great houses (large multi-story complexes) of Chaco Canyon.

16th Century Spanish Religious Views of American Indians

( – promoted by navajo)

The major European powers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries took very different approaches to American Indians. For the French, the Indians were potential trading partners. The English were interested in Indian land and therefore the Indians were simply in the way. For the Spanish, the situation was more complex. On one level the Spanish viewed Indians as a form of labor which could be exploited and the success of the Spanish colonies in the Americas was based on this exploitation. On another level, they viewed the Indians as having souls which could be brought to their God.  

One part of the Spanish conquest of the Americas focused on religion: on their need to convert Native Americans to the one true religion. The Spanish viewed Indians as heathen savages who worshipped devils. Therefore, Indians would spend eternity suffering the tortures of hell unless they were saved. The Spanish viewed baptizing someone in the true faith, even forcibly, as an incomparable act of love; an act which could save that soul from an eternity of excruciating torment; an act which would provide an opportunity for everlasting ecstasy. From the Spanish perspective, any Native resistance to conversion was seen as the work of Satan.

In 1512, Spain established the encomienda system in the Americas. Under this system, conquistadores and Spanish settlers were given land grants in which the Indians who lived on these lands were considered a part of the lands. The Indians were required to work for the new “owners” and in return, the “owners” were to Christianize and “civilize” the Indians. Under the econcomienda, villages of Indians were ‘commended’ to the care and protection of an encomendero, who could exact their labor. While legally the Indians were free, they were technically slaves and the encomenderos spoke of owning their Indians. Under the encomienda system Indian women murdered their own children rather than have them live under the conquistadors.

Under encomienda, each Spanish hacienda had its corps of Indian serfs to till the fields, maintain the livestock, tend the house, and make whatever the master wanted to eat, to wear, or to sell. There were some problems with the encomienda system from an Indian viewpoint. First, the Spanish required that the Indians tend to the Spanish needs and then, if there was any time left in the day, they could tend to their own fields and houses. Consequently, the Indians were reduced to a state of destitution. Working for the Spanish and trying to maintain their own fields depleted their energies, injured their health, and destroyed their independence.

In addition to encomienda, the Spanish also instituted the policy of repartimiento which gave the Spanish colonists the right to use native labor for religious education. Repartimiento functioned as a part of the Spanish mission system in both the Southwest and in the Southeast. Under this system, labor quotas and the conscription of people to serve on labor gangs were organized through the villages served by the missions (or, from an Indian viewpoint, the villages which served the missions).

At the same time that Spain instituted the policies of encomienda and repartimiento, the Spanish King Ferdinand promulgated the Laws of Burgos which spelled out how Indians are to be treated. Those were the first laws which spelled out measures regarding the freedom of the Indians, the regulation of their work and their conversion to Christianity. In general, the new Spanish land owners in the Americas ignored the Laws.

In 1513, King Ferdinand told the Native Americans that God had declared that the Pope rules all people, regardless of their law, sect, or belief. This included Christians, Moors, Jews, Gentiles, or any other sect. He asked that the Native Americans come forward of their own free will to convert to Catholicism or

“with the help of God we shall use force against you, declaring war upon you from all sides and with all possible means, and we shall bind you to the yoke of the Church and Their Highnesses; we shall enslave your persons, wives, and sons, sell you or dispose of you as the King sees fit; we shall seize your possessions and harm you as much as we can as disobedient and resisting vassals.”

Furthermore, the Natives who resisted were to be held guilty of all resulting deaths and injuries.

Upon contacting an Indian village, the Spanish conquistadores or the priests who accompanied them would read a document known as the ‘Requirement,’ which recited the history of the world from the Christian viewpoint. They would then demand that the natives accept the Christian myth as true and submit themselves to the Spanish Crown and the Catholic Church. It did not make any difference that the natives might not understand Spanish or Latin, or that they might have their own history of the world. Once the word of the Spanish god was revealed, a just war could be waged on those who rejected it.

The instructions given to the first 12 Spanish missionaries to New Spain (what is today Mexico and the American Southwest) in 1523 told them that the Indians were under the control of Satan, captive to the vanity of idols, and had to be redeemed for Christianity. According to the instructions, the souls of New Spain were being unlawfully reaped by the devil and the flesh. Christ does not enjoy the souls that he bought with his blood.

In 1525, the Dominican official Tomas Ortiz reported that Indians ate human flesh, engaged in sodomy, went naked, and had no respect for love, virginity, or the truth. He reported:

“It may therefore affirm that God has never created a race more full of vice and composed without the least mixture of kindness or culture.”

In 1526, Spanish King Charles V issued orders concerning the fair treatment of Indians. He ordered that Indians be treated so that

“it may be accomplished with no offence to God, without death nor robbery of said Indians and without enslaving them, so that the desire to spread our faith among them be achieved without grieving our consciences.”

However, there was also a royal levy of one-half of all looted grave-goods.

In 1529, Pope Clement VI wrote to King Charles of Spain:

“We trust that, as long as you are on earth, you will compel and with all zeal cause the barbarian nations to come to the knowledge of God, the maker and founder of all things, not only by edicts of admonitions, but also by force and arms, if needful, in order that their souls may partake of the heavenly kingdom.”

In a papal bull, Sublimis Deus, issued in 1537 Pope Paul III declared that Indians were not to be enslaved nor are they

“to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside of the faith of Jesus Christ.”

The Spanish King, however, disagreed with the bull and confiscated all copies of the bull before it could reach the Americas. He then prevailed upon the Pope to revoke the bull.

In Valladolid, Spain, leading theologians and scholars were called together by King Charles in 1550 to determine the criteria by which a just war could be waged against Native Americans. Bartolomé de Las Casas presented the idea that Christianity should be spread by kindness and example rather than by the sword. Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda argued that Indians were brutes who could become the servants of civilized peoples. Spanish authorities suppressed the detailed defense of the humanity of Native Americans prepared by Las Casas. Sepúlveda’s ideas were widely circulated and used as justification for enslaving Indians.

Four years later, Francisco López de Gómara, one of the greatest enemies of Bartolomé de Las Casas, published his Historia general de las Indias (General History of the Indians.) In this book he described Indians as the worst people God ever made and felt that they should be enslaved because they did not deserve liberty. López de Gómara had never been to America.

The Spanish theologians, firm in their belief that all people descended from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, attempted to explain the presence of Indians in a land far away from where the Garden of Eden was supposed to have existed. In Historia natural y moral de las Indias, published in 1590, Spanish Friar José de Acosta postulated that American Indians arrived in the New World by walking across a land bridge from Asia. This reason was not based on Indian oral tradition or on any “hard” evidence. Faced with the task of explaining how the descendents of Noah had become the idolatrous barbarians of the New World, de Acosta provided a theory of their degeneration to a state of savagery and a posterior reinvention of culture under the tutelage of Satan.

Church Rock: Radioactive Spill Disaster

( – promoted by navajo)

On the morning of July 16, 1979, Church Rock (just east of Gallup, NM and north of I-40)  was a small sun baked community of mainly Navajo (Dine’) people,  herding sheep or growing a little corn amidst red dirt and sagebrush.  Clusters of traditional hogans (eight sided cabins) and mobile homes can be seen from the roads throughout the region, marking family land allotments.  

Behind an earthen pond dam, ninety million gallons of liquid radioactive waste, and eleven hundred tons of solid mill wastes were sitting in a pond waiting for evaporation to leave behind solids.  Suddenly, the dam gave way and the waters burst through, flowing out across the red land, and down the washes to permanently contaminate the Rio Puerco, known to traditional Dine’ as To’ Nizhoni (beautiful water.)  This may look like a large dry wash to people passing over it at 80 miles an hour on the interstate.  There is water mostly when there are thunderstorms in the watershed or when the winter snow melts up in the mountains.  There are not a lot of people living out here.  You can see a long way when the interstate tops a rise, and you can see a great empty distance with long train tracks.  When the freight trains come through, they bear logos like MAERSK, China Shipping, Costco.  Consumer goods bound for the big box stores elsewhere.  

Today, although few tourists stopping at the massive Route 66 casino and tourist/truck stop complex know about it, the Church Rock accident is acknowledged as likely the largest single release of radioactive contamination ever to take place in U.S. history (outside of the atomic bomb tests).  A few weeks after it occurred, the mine and mill operator, United Nuclear Corporation, was back in business at Church Rock as if nothing had happened.

I lived on the Navajo Nation for several years, at Tsaile, Az near Lukachukai – over the mountains to the north and west of Church Rock by maybe 80 miles as the crow flies.  I came to know several families that had been affected by uranium mining.

There are still miners, now in their 80s and 90s who are suffering the effects and bearing witness to those that know them.  

The reason that the Navajo Nation banned uranium mining a couple of years ago was primarily because of the complete and utter disregard for Navajo people that mining has brought with it.  That doesn’t seem to have changed, as companies with recent proposals seem to think that just ghastly after effects will be much more tolerated among Navajos than anywhere else.  

Recently, there have been proposals to use volumes of water and settling ponds as a way of getting uranium out of the ground.  Local meetings are held and the company dismisses concern that this will contaminate the water supply – in an area where water is terribly precious.  If they proposed this with a straight face in any large urban community in the country they would get laughed out of there. Rural areas are in a terrible bind, due to lack of jobs and lack of information resources. There is also a dearth of effective advocacy on the part of elected officials, who are also from the same financially desperate environment and who may depend on mining companies for information.

One of the more amazing things I learned from being in the neighborhood was that children of the original “dog hole” miners from the 1960s and before believe that they experience second generation health impacts and worry about passing genetic damage on.  The health care provider in the area is the Indian Health Service.  I checked with the IHS and discovered that the federal government never did any studies assessing this.  

Consistently, Indian people are treated to a great amount of disregard.  If there are no studies, than the prospect that people can complain about such effects is effectively muted.  That is completely consistent with the history of disregard and disrespect that Indian people have suffered at the hands of government, missionies and loads of well meaning others. These are very family oriented people.  They remain closely connected with aunts and uncles, cousins, and in-law relations across the region.  Experience is shared.  

There are some 700 small mines still unclosed.  A “dog hole” basically means one man, one shovel.  The piles of dirt from these are still right where they were left.  Rain causes local water to be contaminated, which is taken up by plants and eaten by sheep and cows.  This can continue to create cancer risks for local people far into the future. Only recently has cleanup begun to be addressed, since interest in uranium was renewed by 4.00 per gallon gasoline.  

These are not people who can move away.  The land has been inherited down Dine’ family lines since at least the 1868 treaty, and possibly before that, as far back as about 1500 (maybe earlier).  A legacy like that cannot be replaced.

I think the Navajo Nation was right to ban uranium mining outright.  I can foresee a future in which some mining might be done again, but the problem that needs to be addressed is sufficient respect for the land and the people.  What is more likely is mining companies looking for ways to force their way in, through lawsuits, and overpower local concerns just like in the old days.

Mining seems to be accompanied by a psychology that disregards and disrespects local people and the local environment and is dishonest to boot.  Indian people are the last ethnic group to be considered when it comes to progress against racial discrimination.  It is hard to believe it until you develop friends who are Indian and then see it through their eyes.  It is just shameful that this should still be the case in 21st Century America. I am always sorry to see signs of it.

That is why Church Rock needs to be remembered.  

Montana: Indians, Students Targeted for Voter Suppression

( – promoted by navajo)

Which, in a way, is good news.  It means Montana is still in play.  It means that the Republicans are feeling vulnerable, and playing desperate defense, even in the supposedly safe Republican stronghold of the Big Sky Country.  Reported in AlterNet:

More than half of the challenged registrations were in Missoula, where the University of Montana is located, and where the 3,400 targeted voters is equal to 5 percent of the county’s voters, said Matt Singer, CEO of Forward Montana, a progressive voter advocacy organization. The other registrations were challenged in Butte-Silver Bow, Lewis and Clark, Deerlodge, Glacier or Hill Counties.

It should surprise no one that these efforts are focussed on college towns and Indian reservations.

Cross-posted at Daily Kos.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  Montana law does allow voters who have moved within the same county to update their addresses up to and including Election Day.  So, for example, college students who are in a new dorm on the same campus wouldn’t be affected, despite the apparent Republican saber rattling:

The Republican challenges were based on the Post Office’s national change of address directory, Singer and other voting rights activists said. The Republicans used the directory to identify people who may have registered to vote while living at a previous address, such as students who moved from year to year. Registration information must contain current residences or people can be barred from voting.

The Montana Republican Party did not comment on this story.  Speculation is afoot that they might sue to remove the names of those 2000+ in-county voters in Missoula from the voter rolls, regardless what the law says.  And updating those addresses requires a trip to the county courthouse once the registration deadline has passed.  This kind of thing is a public nuisance, and the very thought that Republicans think they need this kind of thing is, at least in part, good news.  After all, it means that Montana is not entirely out of contention.

NM Side Note:  Here in New Mexico, it’s hard to imagine how such a challenge could work, because most of us don’t get mail at our homes.  You could change your mailing address while continuing to live in the same place, which would make you still eligible to vote there.  Or, you could move and keep the same mailing address, which would make you not turn up on the Republican lists to challenge the vote.  I’ve been working on Vote Builder records for a few northern New Mexico counties.  And all I can say to the Republicans who want to sort it out – good luck on that!!

Unlike some states, Montana’s voter registration is not until Monday, October 6.  So there’s still time to get those registration corrected.  And volunteers are busy around the state this weekend.  (True in New Mexico, too, where Tuesday, October 7 is the registration deadline.)


Democrats, and the Obama campaign, are not taking this sitting down.  There are active voter registration efforts still underway, with this weekend as the final push.  From Native American columnist Jodi Rave in today’s Missoulan:

Betty Cooper, a Democratic campaign organizer on the Blackfeet Reservation, said she sent a volunteer to “enemy territory” on Thursday to register Native voters living among the Republican majority in Cut Bank.  Cooper said she will not be easily dissuaded by the Republican Party’s move this week to challenge the eligibility of 6,000 voters in six state counties, two of which include the Blackfeet and Rocky Boy’s reservations.  “We’re well aware they are watching us no matter what we do,” said Cooper. “We’re just trying to get people registered. It seems like for Indian people, the only time we have a voice is when we vote. If we can get all our people to vote, there’s not much the Republicans can do to us.”

Native Americans tend to register and vote in fairly low numbers, probably due to a lack of enthusiasm in the dominant culture or confidence in Washington.  Cut Bank, where Betty Cooper is organizing, is also the home to Eloise Cobell, the tough organizer of class action litigation against the feds for failing to account for (and pay!!) monies owed to Native American landholders for leases, logging, and extractive activities.  Estimates of money gone missing and unaccounted for range into the billions, and date back to the 1800s.  This, sadly, is how the feds exercise their “federal trust responsibility” for tribes, spanning three centuries now.  Jack Abramoff may have ripped off some tribes, but he was hardly the first.

When Native Americans then do vote, it is overwhelmingly Democratic.  So they are a important reservoir of support for Democrats.  Pine Ridge Reservation – also known as the location of the infamous Wounded Knee – credited, for example, with the margin which elected Democratic Senator Tim Johnson in South Dakota back in 1996.  The top two precincts in New Mexico in 2004 were Jemez Pueblo and Taos Pueblo, both casting well over 90% of their votes for Kerry/Edwards.

From Kevin O’Brien, Montana Democratic Party spokesman:

“What we’ve seen in the last 24 hours is so desperate and the worst type of politics,” O’Brien said. “It’s incredibly upsetting. All our voter protection folks are looking at this with huge concern – folks who work with county clerks and the secretary of state’s office – to guarantee that attempts like this that keep people from voting don’t come to fruition.”

But, like Betty Cooper in Montana, the response is just to go to ground.  Work extra hard this last weekend and not give an inch.  In addition to Montana, native-targeted voter registration is underway in Wisconsion and New Mexico.  (I’d guess in the Dakotas, too, though the article doesn’t mention it.)  Even me, complete with a not-fully healed injured foot, has been recruited to canvass for voter registration at Taos Pueblo this weekend.

Anyhow, there’s lots of other states where voter registration continues through this weekend (or later).  Check out slinkerwink’s comprehensive diary on the subject posted Wednesday.  Get out and help register voters yourself, or at least confirm that your friends and families in those states are registered.  Don’t forget to follow up with Americans overseas, too.

And if you are in Montana, or New Mexico, or similar states where this is the last weekend to register?  It’s time to get all hands on deck for this final push.  The ground game’s gonna win it for us.  So, let’s get to it!

NM Voter Roll Purge? Unfounded rumor!

( – promoted by navajo)

I’ve got some good news, so check it out:

I’ve heard it said, and seen it written:  The voter rolls in New Mexico were purged, and it’s gonna sabotage the election.  The implication is that something nefarious has happened.  I decided to test it out.  With a mini-audit on one precinct that I know well.  I worked it in 2004 in detail, and still have the files.

I went through Taos County, Precinct 13 (Taos Pueblo Reservation) – comparing the voter rolls from Election Day 2004 with today.  My conclusion?  Nothing to worry about.  Unless something is very different in another part of the state, that is.  

Since there are persistent rumors and speculation on this, I thought it would be worth sharing what I found out.  And explain how others can check their own voter rolls for purges, too – in time to repair any damage found with targeted voter registration efforts.

I worked the precinct rolls in detail in 2004, including address corrections from a mailout, looking up phone numbers in the phone book, registering voters and being the Kerry campaign vote tracker on Election Day.  And more.  I noticed some irregularities – a discrepancy between undervotes for early voting and on Election Day.  This was interesting because early voting was with a paper trail, and election day machines did not have a paper trail.  Those discrepancies found their way a Greg Palast book, as it happens.  (He made some errors with the numbers, but got the story right about undervotes.)

I’ve also worked 2006 and 2008 as an official poll worker, and seen nothing but scrupulous behavior on everyone’s party.

OK, here’s the numbers.  First, total voters in the precinct:

Nov 2004 – 616

Jul 2008 – 655

101 new voters have been added to the rolls since 2004, and 62 are gone.  About 10% of the 2004 voters are no longer on the rolls in this precinct.  Here’s what I found in examining those 62 names:

  • 9 were either known by me to be deceased or over 70 in 2004.  (One was 93.)
  • 17 I located in other precincts in the state.
  • 3 were duplicates – same name, birthday, address, phone etc.
  • 2 were obviously irregular for reasons it’s not worth taking the effort to explain
  • 31 (half) weren’t found in the state, with various searches on VoteBuilder.

It’s worth noting that 12 of the missing were male, and 19 female, so I’m guessing that the excess female name changes had to do with changes in marital status.  And in Indian country?  A few more of those might be name changes:  I know people who switched from Suazo to Aspenwind, and from Espinosa to Lightning Bow for last names.  It’s quite possible I could have missed a few others.  And, of the 600+ people in the precinct, maybe one or two, even three, went to prison, and some went out of state for college or work or marriage or military service.

31 is about 5% of the voters to explain by name changes, leaving the state, dying, or going to prison.  That does not seem unreasonable to me.  People were all wound up about their names not appearing on the rolls for the Presidential caucus vote on Super Tuesday.  One explanation was that some voters forgot to indicate a party affiliation on their voter registration application.  I see no evidence of anything untoward happening to the voter rolls.

New Voters

Here’s the good news.  I looked at the new voters since 2004 – there being 101 of them all told.  And get this!  Not a single one of the new voters is a Republican – not one!  (DTS = “decline to state”, and means the voter left the party affiliation blank on the registration form; I means they wrote “independent”)


Mind you, this is a very Democratic precinct – it voted about 93% for Kerry in 2004.  But there’s more voters now.  And the machines that recorded 1 in 7 voters as making no choice for President are gone.  The machines that showed 100% of voters making a selection for President are now the only ones in use.  In a state where the margin in the Presidential race was 366 in 2000, and less than 6,000 in 2004, this matters.  There’s 1500 precincts in the state.  This one precinct is in line to deliver a net gain of maybe 75 votes to the Dems this time.  Possibly as many as 100 (or more), because there’s still a couple months of voter registration to go.

And so the campaign season gears up.  We’re seeing all the problems in the Obama campaign to be expected with a rapidly growing organization.  We’re on our third field organizer in a month for example.  But we’ve got much more sophisticated voter records and GOTV efforts than in 2004, too, thanks to some good efforts on the part of the county party in the 2006 midterms.

That’s good news from one little precinct in New Mexico.  Down with Tyranny is reporting something similar in summary for the state of California:

Between January 22 and May 19, over 400,000 new voters registered in California. 75% of them registered as Democrats. The news gets much worse for Republicans; almost all the rest registered as independents (Decline-to-State). The GOP picked up less than 1,500 of those new voters (3.6%). Nor was this all happening in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The fastest growing area of the state, the heavily Republican Inland Empire is trending away from Republicans as well. Riverside County is growing faster than any other part of the state but the GOP has lost close to 34,000 there since the last presidential election.

(Note for those of you who do the math:  I’m thinking 1,500 was a typo which should be 15,000.  Otherwise, way less than 1% of the new voters were Republicans.  Not looking good for them, either way.)

California’s not contested or anything this fall.  But it still seems like good news to me!!!

Cross-posted at Daily Kos.

McCain/Heather Wilson tied to latest Abramoff Indictment

( – promoted by navajo)

Sandia Pueblo, near Albuquerque in NM-01, happens to have an excellent location for a casino.  They’ve come a long ways since their modest Bingo Room back in the 1990s.  Casino proceeds have built a variety of community facilities, placed a computer in every home, and plowed a lot back into additional economic development.  This is their newly-opened resort:


The mountains behind it are the Sandia Mountains, traditional spiritual place for the small Tiwa-speaking tribe.  That piece of turf was claimed by the US after the Mexican-American War and later incorporated into the National Forests.  The tribe was involved in ongoing efforts to protect their interests and traditional activities in the Sandias.  When the the money started coming in from gaming, they decided to hire a lobbyist.  Who did they hire?  To the tune of $1.7 million?  Jack Abramoff.  And who presided over the associated Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearings?  And sealed 98% of the hearing’s documents?  John McCain!

Cross-posted at Daily Kos and Democracy for New Mexico.


This ties back to McCain.  Why?  Because of the Indian Affairs Subcommittee hearings on matters Abramoff during 2006.  Back then, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) chaired the committee, and presided over the hearings.  By the time the dust settled, Congressman Bob Ney (R) of Ohio went to jail, Richard Pombo (R, CA-11) and others got fired by the voters, and a bunch of other Republicans decided to retire.  That’s a big part of why the Democrats stand to move up in the legislative branch this year – prominent Republicans like Sens. John Warner (VA) and Pete Domenici(NM) are retiring (and a lot of not-quite-so-prominent ones, too.)

“Maverick” McCain points to these hearings as proof of bucking his party.  Let’s keep in mind that the hearings put all members of the House and Senate off-limits as part of the ground rules.  It did look into the Interior Department, and so touched upon the portion of the Abramoff operation relating to Indian gaming.  But the vast majority of the documents accumulated in the conduct of those hearings have been sealed.  Only about 2% of the documents were released for public scrutiny.

More on that to follow below.

It has been hypothesized that there’s some kind of a coverup going on.   The Bush justice department has pursued the matter.  Rep. Bob Ney from Ohio did go to jail.  Pombo and others were not re-elected.  John Doolittle (CA-04) and others decided not to run for another term.  This week there was a new arrest in the case:  One Kevin Ring, former Doolittle staffer, later a lobbyist working for Abramoff.  (The full 46-page indictment is available in PDF form.)

There’s a lot about Representative 5 in there, John Doolittle.  And some talk about a [New Mexico tribe].  Doolittle might end up in jail yet, and it would not be undeserved.  But a bit of a back burner story.  Not like Doolittle’s running for re-election or anything.  And no wonder – it’s his former Chief of Staff, after all.  From MSNBC:

At one point in 2000, Doolittle’s then-chief of staff told Ring in an e-mail that Doolittle had said he felt like a “subsidiary” of Abramoff’s firm, the indictment says.

Doolittle’s attorney, David Barger, defended the congressman in a  statement Monday. “It is clear that portions of the Kevin Ring indictment were designed to make gratuitous references to the congressman and his wife. This appears to have been done to titillate the public, with the foreseeable and therefore intended consequence of attempting to embarrass and pressure the congressman,” the statement said.

Turns out there’s a New Mexico angle in this indictment, too.


Sandia Pueblo is within the boundaries of NM-01, the district of Rep. Heather Wilson, the failed Senatorial candidate.  

2 – On or about December 20 , 2001 , defendant RING sent an email captioned ” [ New Mexico tribe] (sp?)” to Abramoff in which he wrote, “Need to talk to you about a potential new client. Would need Scanlon, too. ” A few months later, on or about February 14, 2002, Abramoff sent an email to Scanlon in which Abramoff informed Scanlon that “[0]ur Kevin Ring New Mexico Ship has just arrived!! We have a meeting 11 am Wednesday next week with the [New Mexico tribe] here in DC. They are desperate and rich. Kevin is desperate for some $ and a big client.

We’z gonua be rich(er) …”

It’s kinda quaint, really.  How the names are all “disguised”.  The names of all the tribes involved have long been known.  The only one in New Mexico was Sandia Pueblo.  Similarly, covering up the names of the governmental officials is curious.  But such are the rules of the game we play by.  Turns out, deep in the 46-page indictment is a presumed reference to our own NM Rep. Heather Wilson.  Sandia’s in her district, so I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.  Looks like ol’ Nipplegate Heather follows basketball as well as football.  (Note that “Governor” is the title for the head of NM Pueblo tribes’ governments.)

155. On or about July 17, 2002, defendant RING emailed the New Mexico tribe’s governor and others to inform them that the executive branch official had called a U.S. Senator to support the settlement agreement.

156. On or about January 30, 2003, a lobbyist at Firm B emailed a staffer for the New Mexico tribe’ s U.S. Representative, “Sorry I couldn’t hangout last night. I greatly appreciate your taking the time to han[g]out with the [New Mexico tribe]. It meant a lot to [K]evin and I [sic].  BTW, you should be all set for the [Los Angeles] Clippers [basketball] game.”

And in today’s Albuquerque Journal, Heather Wilson has felt moved to respond:

Mr. Kevin Ring hosted a fundraising lunch at Signatures Restaurant to benefit my campaign for re-election in May 2003 and contributed $1,000 to my campaign on June 2, 2003.  When we discovered that Mr. Ring had not submitted a bill for the cost of the fundraiser to my fundraising consultant, our consultant sought to pay the bill and, when unsuccessful because the restaurant was no longer in business, my campaign made an equivalent contribution to charity as required by Federal Election Commission (FEC) rules.

She did help the tribe get the land settlement, which she should have done anyhow, as Representative for a tribe supposedly covered by Federal Trust responsibilities.  She and her staff did get stuff of value from the tribe’s lobbyist.  Quid pro quo?  We’ll probably never know

At any rate:  Wilson’s name hadn’t been linked in with the Abramoff web before.  The Sandia part of the story was almost a sidebar.  The tribe didn’t spend much money, dropped the lobbyist, and managed to get a land-claim settlement they could live with.  At the time the Abramoff scandal busted open, the Albuquerque Journal reported (you have to watch an ad to follow the link for free):

Stuwart Paisano, who served as Sandia’s governor until last week, said Tuesday the pueblo was in legal settlement negotiations with the firms and could not talk about specifics of Sandia’s monetary arrangement. He said the pueblo paid more than $1 million to the two men.

   “Our council has no ill feelings,” he said. “We were able to get the mountain back, which was our only goal. Obviously we made some poor choices in who we hired.”

Presumably, this part of the story was in the Indian Affairs subcommittee’s millions of sealed documents.  And, one wonders, what other “dirt” on various Republicans got buried.  And before anyone gets wound up and says “What about corrupt Dems?”, it is probably good to remember that the Abramoff operation was part of the Republican plan for a “permanent majority”.  Democrats were completely shut out.  Abramoff only dealt with Republicans.

And that, my friends, is why this story matters.  Abramoff is in jail.  Ring is arrested.  Doolittle and Wilson aren’t standing for re-election.  But John McCain presided over burying a lot of evidence in the course of those hearings.  There were a coupla sacrificial animals:  Abramoff and some of his crew had to go; a few people left their jobs at Interior; and Bob Ney got snagged.  Plus Delay & Pombo and others were driven from office.  Is McCain sitting on favors in all those sealed documents?  (Favors bordering on extortion?)

In keeping Wilson’s name out of the news, he could be credited with her keeping her seat.  She won by a very narrow margin of 105,986-105,125.  A few headlines tying her to this scandal during 2006 could easily have made the difference.  

For all the good it did.  She’s OUT this year anyhow.  She had other help, too.  The US Attorney scandal, Albuquerque chapter, was all wrapped up in it, too.  She and Domenici were both damaged for their interference with David Iglesias.  Less often mentioned was the Bob Perry-funded ad campaign mounted in the weeks before the election attacking Wilson’s challengers NM Attorney General Patricia Madrid over the same case Iglesias got fired over – for not producing indictments as fast as would be helpful to the needs of the effort to re-elect Heather.


This new association of a sitting member of Congress with the Abramoff scandal brings the question of those sealed Indian Affairs Committee documents front and center.  What other stories and ties have been hidden from the public?  Who else did McCain spare from sunlight on Abramoff’s many tentacles into the Republican majority in Congress?  

It’s not clear to me why, now that there’s a Democratic majority, these materials all remain sealed.  I’ve called the new Chairman of Indian Affairs, Senator Dorgan’s (D-ND) office, was referred to the Committee.  But all the reception I was afforded was to have my query referred to voice mail.  I’ve heard nothing back.  It’s this kind of thing that disappoints me about the Democratic majority.  This kind of thing really should be seeing sunlight.

TIMELINE (background info)

Correction:  I got an email with a link to the first Washington Post story about the Abramoff scandal.  It was in 2004.  Sadly, the story didn’t get enough traction then to change the 2004 election outcome.

It’s probably good to keep the timeline of all this in mind.  The Abramoff scandal blew up with some Washington Post stories in December 2005.  McCain got his hearings up and down in 2006, and all the documents were sealed.  Republicans lost the House and the Senate in 2006, and the US Attorney scandal came to light in early 2007.  

From MSNBC again – some related summary:

To date, the ongoing Abramoff investigation has resulted in 13 guilty pleas by various lobbyists and public officials, including former lobbyist Michael Scanlon, who pleaded guilty in November 2005 to conspiracy to commit bribery and honest services fraud. Former lobbyist and congressional staffer Tony C. Rudy pleaded guilty in March 2006 to conspiring with Abramoff, Scanlon and others to commit honest services fraud, mail and wire fraud, and a violation of conflict of interest post-employment restrictions. In April 2007, Mark D. Zachares, a former high-ranking aide to the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and in June 2008, John C. Albaugh, a former chief of staff to a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives pleaded guilty to the same charge. In April 2008, Robert Coughlin, a former Department of Justice employee, pleaded guilty to a conflict of interest. Scanlon, Rudy, Albaugh, Coughlin and Zachares are all cooperating and awaiting sentencing.

In addition, Ohio Congressman Robert Ney pleaded guilty in September 2006 to conspiracy to commit multiple offenses, including honest services fraud, making false statements in violation of his former chief of staff’s one-year lobbying ban, and making false statements to the U.S. House of Representatives. Ney was sentenced to 30 months in prison. Neil Volz, former lobbyist and chief of staff to Congressman Ney, pleaded guilty in May 2006 to honest services fraud and violating the one-year lobbying ban and William Heaton, former chief of staff for Congressman Ney, pleaded guilty on February 26, 2007, to conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud. Volz and Heaton cooperated in the government’s investigation and were each sentenced to two years probation and ordered to pay a $2,000 and $5,000 fine, respectively.

McCain’s hearings were in 2006.  There was some flashy stuff, and names like Italia Federici (with ties to Gale Norton & Steven Griles at Interior) had their 15 minutes of fame.  It garnered, actually, many hours of coverage on C-SPAN, and a few bits on the cable channels.  And then the report came out, and the documents were sealed.  A few were punished, and many more were protected.

John McCain might like to brag about his corruption-fighting ways.  But it’s fair to say that he likely protected many more than were punished, even with a wrist slap.  Meanwhile, Wilson – who more likely than not benefited from McCain’s sealed documents – is busy supporting his campaign.”  From TPM muckraker:

Wilson has been a stalwart supporter and prominent surrogate for John McCain, painting him as a crusader against Washington corruption. Just last night, she appeared on MSNBC’s Hardball to make the case for him, and last week she told NPR: “John McCain has chosen a reformer … to be his running mate and I think that’s a perfect complement to who he is and what he’s done in his life.”

Ralph Reed, too, was tied up in the Abramoff imbroglio, and lost his bid to become Lt. Governor of Georgia because of it.  Even Garrison Keillor got in on the act!  Ralph Reed now, too, serves as a surrogate for the McCain campaign.  Plus whatever he’s pulling behind the scenes.

So much for rooting out corruption!  He’s got it right in his campaign.  And really, before McCain gets too much credit for those hearings, the 98% of the hearing documents that have been sealed need to see the light of day.  Doolittle, and now Wilson, have had their names tied to the scandal.  It’s likely John McCain’s sealed documents are the only reason we’ve not seen Wilson’s name publicly associated with the “permanent majority” machine before, even though she has benefited from it, and supported it like a good soldier.  I’m guessing that McCain will come out smelling not so sweet when all that content comes to light.

And who knows who else’s involvement has been buried in those sealed documents?

Red or green?

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