Taos Pueblo

HISTORICALLY ON PAR WITH THE TAJ MAHAL, THE GREAT PYRAMIDS AND THE GRAND CANYON

BY RICK ROMANCITO

 

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People have said that stepping into the plaza at Taos Pueblo is like venturing back in time. The surroundings certainly suggest that: Multi-storied adobe structures, bread-baking hornos underneath wood drying racks and the imposing presence of Pueblo Peak forming an unmatched scenic backdrop. But, this is only part of the story.

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Taos Pueblo remains a proud and thriving Native American community. Ancient as it is, the village has withstood colonial invasions, violent revolts and even the seizure of its most important religious site. It has remained strong, even today, due to its adherence to venerated spiritual practices, cultural traditions and a language not openly taught to outsiders.

These are a people for whom identity is paramount, yet humble as the aspen leaves shimmering in a mountain meadow. As of this writing, Taos Pueblo remains closed to outsiders due to the COVID-19 pandemic In early 2020, tribal leadership was made aware of the rapid spread of the virus and chose to close its boundaries.

All roads have been blocked other than the Veteran’s Highway main entrance at the southern end near the Allsup·s convenience store in the town ofTaos. Since then, a tribal police checkpoint has monitored all who come and go Taos Pueblo, being an independent sovereign Native nation, will reopen when tribal leadership decides the time is right While the pandemic has certainly interrupted the lives of tribal members in terms of work commerce and family, there is one occasion that deserved recognition which had to be postponed It was to be a commemoration of the Return of Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo.

The Taos Pueblo Powwow is a gathering of many Indian Nations in a common circle of friendship. It’s the common fiber that draws Indian people together. PHOTO, TINA LARKIN

Return of Blue Lake

According to a statement at taospueblo.com, ‘The single most dramatic event in the recent history ofTaos Pueblo land is the 1970 return of 48,000 acres of mountain land including the sacred Blue Lake. It was taken by the U.S. Gov­ernment in 1906 to become part of the National Forest lands.” The statement says that “among the ritual sites where Taos people go for ceremonial reasons.

Blue Lake is perhaps the most important Its return is a tribute to the tenacity of Pueblo leaders and to the community’s commitment to guarding its lands for the spiritual, cultural and economic health of the Pueblo. The return of this land capped a long history of struggle. Blue Lake and mountains are off-limits to all but members of our Pueblo.”

The return of this sacred site was the result of decades of dedication to what some over the years called a lost cause. But through the sheer will and tenacity of tribal leadership, the goal was finally accomplished on Dec 15. 1970, when President Richard Nixon signed into law a land­mark piece of legislation. Up to that day, no other tribal lands had ever been returned by the U.S. government to a Native American tribe after it had been seized. It was an event celebrated not only by the people ofTaos Pueblo. but by Native tribes across the nation.

llKJs Pueblo tribal elder and Blue Lake-struggle veteran Gilbert Suazo, left holding drum, takes part in a procession starting off the Retum of Blue Lake ceremonies Saturday, Sept. 18, 2010.
PHOTO: RICK ROMANCITO

This victory brought to mind the many other struggles the tribe has endured over history. In 1680, for instance, a man from Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo named Po’pay helped to organize a revolt against the Spanish who, since colonies were established in 1598, imposed far-ranging oppres­sion and despair among the Pueblo people.

This began atTaos Pueblo and spread throughout the Pueblo realm, forcing for the first time, foreign colonists to be evicted Then, in 1847, residents of the town of Don Fer­nando de Taos and Taos Pueblo rose up against what they perceived to be another invasion. The Taos Revolt as it came to be known. resulted in the death ofTerritorial Gov. Charles Bent and many others. The remaining fighters retreated to the San Geronimo Church at Taos Pueblo where members of the U.S. Cavalry laid siege and destroyed the church and killed many men, women and children.

World Heritage Site

Today, Taos Pueblo has become an import-ant draw for visitors the world over. It’s World Heritage Site status is a reflection of its historical significance. Many tribal members operate arts and crafts businesses, work for the tribe and maintain jobs in the town of Taos. It has its own school, police department and government Still, with the pandemic and other concerns, the challenges ahead are many A statement from the tribe’s website addresses this. “As a sovereign nation within the United States, preserving our ancient traditions in the face of advancement of ‘modernization’ is our prime concern.

We are encouraged by an increased population of tribal members choosing to remain in Taos, as well as by these actions acknowledging Taos’ important cultural heritage: Taos declared a National Historic landmark in 1965: Blue Lake returned to Taos in 1970: Taos Pueblo admitted to the World Heritage Society in 1992 as one of the most significant historical cul­tural landmarks in the world (other sites include the Taj Mahal, Great Pyramids and the Grand Canyon in the United States).” For updated information on the Pueblo’s status, call the tourism office at 575-758-1028 or visit taospueblo.com.