New Mexico offers myriad options to experience their cultures
Groups enjoy meeting in New Mexico because of its warm weather, stunning landscapes and vibrant arts scene. Perhaps the state’s most unique and outstanding feature, however, is the fascinating, highly varied Native American communities.
Native Americans have inhabited New Mexico for thousands of years, and it’s currently home to 22 tribes. Navajo Nation, Jicarilla Apache and Mescalero Apache all have reservations, while the other 19 have pueblos. Every tribe has its own traditional language, customs, attire, ceremonies, songs and prayers. And collectively, the tribes’ ways of life have had far-reaching implications.
“There’s no way to estimate the importance of the first peoples not only to Santa Fe, but to the United States and world,” says John G. Feins, public relations manager for Tourism Santa Fe. “They contributed deeply to the world’s culture, manufacturing, markets, medicine and more.
“From the food we eat to the cures we seek, the indigenous American tradition remains at the core of our ongoing survival.”
Attendees meeting in two of New Mexico’s largest cities, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, have plenty of opportunities to immerse themselves in Native American traditions.
Albuquerque’s history dates back more than 12,000 years, when the Ancestral Puebloan Indians settled there. Over time, they planted corn, beans and squash, and constructed adobe and brick pit homes along the banks of the Rio Grande. Native Americans now account for less than 5 percent of the city’s population, although most of the state’s pueblos are within an hour’s drive.
Museums & Sites
Situated a few minutes’ drive from downtown, Indian Pueblo Cultural Center contains a museum featuring a permanent exhibit, Our Land, Our Culture, Our Story, which provides a brief historical overview of the pueblo world and an exhibit featuring artwork and craftsmanship from each of the 19 pueblos.
Groups visiting the center are able to meet artists selling their handcrafted work, as well as take an in-depth tour that can include making pottery and painting gourds.
The center also has 24,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Indian Pueblos Marketing, located in the facility, can provide traditional feast-day food, healthy options and gourmet adventures. Catering options also are available. Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is open every day and group discounts are offered.
Maxwell Museum of Anthropology on the University of New Mexico campus has exhibits and programs relating to cultures around the world, with a special emphasis on the Southwest, including Native American traditions. Guided group tours are offered.
Petroglyph National Monument features designs and symbols carved onto volcanic rocks by Native Americans and Spanish settlers 400 to 700 years ago. These images have profound spiritual significance to contemporary Native Americans and descendants of the early Spanish settlers. Groups of 15 or more can arrange for a ranger-guided educational program.
Located inside Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, Pueblo Harvest Cafe & Bakery is a full-service restaurant from acclaimed chef Michael Giese. Harvest Cafe reinvents Native American cuisine by incorporating traditional flavors into contemporary cooking. Groups can enjoy a meal in the Southwestern dining room among original works of Native American art or dine outdoors on the patio. Large groups are welcome.
Every Thursday through Saturday, the center hosts “Party on the Patio,” featuring live music, drink specials and Horno-baked pizza.
Gathering of Nations is a three-day event in which Native American tribes come together to share their cultures with each other and all attendees. It features a traders market, a talent contest, and traditional and modern musical performances. The highlight is the two-day powwow at WisePies Arena (aka “The Pit”) featuring more than 3,000 dancers and singers representing more than 500 tribes from the United States and Canada.
“The event draws thousands of visitors from all over the world and is suitable for groups, due to its size,” says Robert Enriquez, vice president of convention sales, services and sports for the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The event also includes Miss Indian World Talent Presentations, in which young Native American women represent their people as cultural goodwill ambassadors. Gathering of Nations will next take place April 28–30, 2016.
During the Gathering of Nations, Indian Pueblo Cultural Center hosts American Indian Week, featuring traditional dances, art markets, artist demonstrations, native-inspired cuisine and world-renowned pottery.
Native Americans have played a major role in shaping Santa Fe’s development. Today, they comprise less than 3 percent of the city’s population, although Native American influence can be seen virtually everywhere.
Museums & Sites
The Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, located downtown, has the largest collection of contemporary native art in the world. Group tours are available, but must be arranged at least two weeks in advance.
Located two miles southeast of Santa Fe Plaza, Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian features unique exhibitions of contemporary and historic Native American art. It’s particularly noted for focusing on little-known genres and for solo shows by living Native American artists.
The Museum of Indian Arts & Culture is dedicated to the collection, preservation, public education, interpretation and exhibition of the arts, cultures and histories of the American Southwest. “This outstanding collection showcases classic and contemporary Southwestern Indian paintings, sculpture, pottery, jewelry, basketry and weaving,” Feins says.
A permanent exhibition that traces the life of Native Americans, Here, Now and Always, was curated in part by Native American elders, scholars and tribal members. Group tours are available.
Amaya restaurant at Hotel Santa Fe The Hacienda and Spa mixes classic technique, contemporary flair and fresh seasonal ingredients from the rivers of Alaska to the Great Plains and nearby local farms. It highlights local pueblo and Northern New Mexican influences, as well as regional foods from around the United States.
Red Mesa Cuisine is the only catering company in the Santa Fe area that buys ingredients from Indian nations throughout the Americas and prepares authentic Native American cuisine. Each menu is specially and carefully prepared to cater to the needs of each group.
Native Treasures: Indian Arts Festival, which occurs at Santa Fe Convention Center each Memorial Day weekend, features the works of more than 180 Native American artists. Participating artists come from a wide range of tribes and pueblos, and work in a wide range of forms, from traditional to contemporary.
Santa Fe Indian Market is the largest and most prestigious intertribal fine-art market in the world. It features 1,000 of the best Native artists, crafts people and designers. “This spectacular festival is celebrating its 92nd year,” Feins says. “It attracts visitors from all walks of life, and for many of them it offers a rare opportunity to meet the artists and learn about contemporary Indian arts and cultures.” The market is slated for Aug. 22–23 on the plaza.
A smaller version of the Santa Fe Indian Market, the Winter Indian Market, takes place in late November at Santa Fe Community Convention Center and features more than 200 native artists from the United States and Canada.
The American Indian Arts Festival, scheduled for Oct. 3–4 at Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, features the work of more than 100 indigenous artists who produce traditional and contemporary art in a plethora of mediums, including clay, silver, glass and leather. The event also features entertainment, food and dances.
One of the best things about New Mexico is the easy accessibility of its Native American cultures. Besides the ever-present native influence in the major cities, reservations and pueblos have special celebrations and other events scheduled throughout the year. These events provide attendees with an intimate, unforgettable view of the tribal cultures. And a plus for planners is that in the Greater Albuquerque area in particular, the great weather facilitates meetings even in the winter months.
When the Spanish came to New Mexico in the 1500s, they brought with them the Catholic religion, including feast days in honor of saints. Over time, native customs and beliefs were intertwined with those brought by the colonists.
During feast days, tribal members gather to celebrate their language, culture and religion. The public is invited to join in the celebrations, which are held on the same day every year and feature bountiful meals, traditional dances, cultural activities, and arts and crafts vendors. It’s best to call in advance before visiting, and be sure all group members are aware of expected etiquette, which can vary somewhat from pueblo to pueblo. Following are some of the pueblos nearest to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and their main feast days.
Near Santa Fe-Cochiti: Situated 35 miles southwest of Santa Fe, this pueblo is home to Cochiti Lake, which offers recreational options, and artists known for their jewelry, pottery, drums and clay storyteller figures. St. Bonaventura Feast Day, featuring a corn dance, is on July 14. -Nambe: Located about 19 miles north of Santa Fe, Nambe is known for a distinctive style of pottery called Nambe Polychrome. San Francisco de Assisi Feast Day, featuring buffalo and deer dances, is slated for Oct. 4. -Pojoaque: This pueblo, a 15-minute drive north from Santa Fe, includes Poeh Museum, which is dedicated to pueblo art and culture in the area. Our Lady of Guadalupe Feast Day, which includes native dances, is on Dec. 12. -San Ildefonso: Situated 20 miles north of Santa Fe on the Rio Grande, this pueblo is near Black Mesa, a large volcanic outcropping. San Ildefonso Feast Day is Jan. 23 and features buffalo, deer and Comanche dances. -Taos: It’s a 72-mile drive north from Santa Fe, but is well worth the trip. The only living pueblo on the UNESCO World Heritage List, Taos is a striking, multistory village that looks basically the same as it did hundreds of years ago. San Geronimo Feast Day, which features a trade fair, foot races and pole climb, takes place Sept. 30. -Tesuque: It’s best known for its Camel Rock formations, which resemble a camel. The pueblo is seven miles north of Santa Fe. San Diego Feast Day, featuring various dances, occurs Nov. 12.
Near Albuquerque-Acoma: Situated 60 miles west of Albuquerque, this pueblo is often cited as the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in North America. The pueblo features Sky City Cultural Center, focusing on Native American culture and heritage. St. Stephen Feast Day, which includes a harvest dance, takes place on Sept. 2. -Isleta: Artisans at this pueblo, 16 miles south of Albuquerque, are known for their pottery, embroidery and jewelry. St. Augustine Feast Day, including a harvest dance, is on Sept. 4. -Laguna: Surrounded by mesas, Laguna Pueblo (45 miles west of Albuquerque) consists of six major villages. St. Joseph Feast Day is held on Sept. 19, and features buffalo, eagle and social dances. -San Felipe: Located 32 miles north of Albuquerque, San Felipe is a small historic village that has largely resisted outside influence. Bead work is popular among its artists. St. Phillip Feast Day, which includes a corn dance, takes place May 1. -Sandia: This small settlement is on the Rio Grande Valley, adjacent to Albuquerque. Bien Mur Indian Market Center offers a wide variety of pueblo art. St. Anthony Feast Day is on June 13 and features a corn dance. -Santa Ana: Artisans at this pueblo are known for their pottery, belts and headbands. It’s situated 21 miles north of Albuquerque, and is open only on feast days. St. Anne Feast Day, which includes various dances, is on July 26.
Resources-Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau visitalbuquerque.org -New Mexico Tourism Department nmtourism.org -Tourism Santa Fe santafe.org
One of New Mexico’s three reservations, Mescalero Apache, is located in the south-central area of the state and is inhabited by more than 4,500 Mescalero Apaches. Most of them work for the tribal government or for the tribally owned Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino (pictured), one of the state’s most elegant resorts.
The property, adjacent to the mountain resort community of Ruidoso, offers live music, golf, horseback riding, big-game hunting, fishing and kayak rentals. It has 273 luxury guest rooms, four restaurants, a 38,000-square-foot casino and 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, divided among 15 rooms.
During the Fourth of July weekend, Mescalero Apache Reservation holds its annual , a rare opportunity to witness the coming-of-age ceremony of Mescalero Apache maidens. Dancers from Native American tribes from throughout the Southwest perform.