Zuñi Pueblo

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Zuñi Pueblo


Zuñi (pronounced ZOON-yee) Pueblo. The Zuñi call themselves A’shiwi, or “the flesh.” They call their pueblo Itiwana, or “middle place,” because, in the tribe’s origin story, it is the place to which their ancestors came after they emerged from the underworld. The Spanish word pueblo means “town” and refers to both the Pueblo people and the pueblos (cities) where they live.


The main site of the 408,404-acre Zuñi Pueblo, a federal reservation, is 35 miles (56 kilometers) south of Gallup, in west central New Mexico. The tribe’s property consists of four parts: the main portion in west-central New Mexico, which includes five villages and all the tribe’s farming and grazing areas, and three smaller sites in New Mexico and Arizona that are sacred to the tribe.


In 1540 there were an estimated 6,000 Zuñi. In the late 1700s there were between 1,600 to 1,900. In 1850 there were about 1,300. In the 1990 U.S. Census, 8,281 people identified themselves as Zuñi Pueblo. At the time of the 2000 census that count had risen to 9,311. The Bureau of Indian Affairs reported a tribal enrollment of 9,554 in 2001.

Language family


Origins and group affiliations

According to Zuñi tales their earliest ancestors came into the world with webbed feet, long ears, hairless tails, and moss-covered bodies. They acquired a human form only after bathing in the waters of a sacred spring. The Zuñi may be descendants of the Mogollon Indians who, over time, mixed with other groups.

The Pueblo of Zuñi is now one of the largest of the Pueblo nations, in terms of both population and land ownership. The Zuñi reservation has many attractive features, including a strong sense of community, the availability of good health care, and a highly developed cultural life. Because of its desirable lifestyle, almost all tribal members have chosen to remain on the reservation, and those who leave to take jobs often return when the employment ends.


Spanish visit trading center

For more than two thousand years the Zuñi people have occupied the Zuñi and Little Colorado River valleys of the Southwest. By around 1250 Zuñi was a major trading center for a region that stretched from California to the Great Plains and into Mexico. Items such as corn, salt, turquoise, cotton cloth, and jewelry were exchanged at the pueblo for macaw feathers, seashells, coral, and copper.

In 1539 a man known as Esteban, or Estevanicio, led a party of Spaniards on a quest to find the fabled, gold-paved “Seven Cities of Cíbola,” thought to be on Zuñi land. During the trip Esteban entered the Zuñi village of Hawikuh and demanded gifts of turquoise and women. Some Zuñi men became angry at Esteban’s attitude and threats and killed him so he could not reveal their location to his allies. His companions retreated without entering the village.

In 1540 a second Spanish group, led by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado (c. 1510–1554), reached Hawikuh. Coronado’s timing could not have been worse; he arrived during a sacred ceremony. The bow priests (see “Government”), who were in charge of the pueblo, drew a line on the ground and told Coronado his party could not cross it while the ritual continued. For some unknown reason, the Spaniards proceeded to cross the line. In the bloody battle that followed, twenty Zuñi were killed.

Important Dates

1250: Zuñi Pueblo is an important trading center for Native Americans from California, Mexico, and the American Southwest.

1540: Spanish expedition forces under Francisco Vásquez de Coronado spend four months at the main Zuñi village of Hawikuh.

1600s: All Zuñi villages are destroyed by raiding tribes.

1692: The Zuñi build a new village atop the old site of Halona.

1846: The United States assumes control of Zuñi lands.

1877: Zuñi reservation is established.

1978: The U.S. government returns ownership of the sacred Zuñi Salt Lake to the tribe.

1984: The U.S. government restores the tribe’s ownership of the sacred area known as “Zuñi Heaven” in eastern Arizona.

1990: The Zuñi Land Conservation Act passes and provides a trust fund to assist in sustainable resource development.

Retreat from invaders

In Hawikuh, Coronado found a well-ordered community rich in tradition, but not in gold or treasures. Disappointed, he stayed in Hawikuh a while before traveling on in search of riches. The Zuñi kept their feelings to themselves and encouraged the foreigners to explore other regions. When confrontations with the Spanish seemed unavoidable, the Zuñi retreated to a temporary settlement atop Thunder Mountain, a 1,000-foot-high mesa. A mesa (the Spanish word for “table”) is a large hill with steep sides and a flat top.

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries all the villages of the Zuñi were destroyed when the Navajo, Apache (see entries), and other tribes overran the area. After the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 (see Pueblo entry), in which the Spanish were expelled from the region, the Zuñi moved to Thunder Mountain. The Spanish returned in 1692 and reclaimed the area for Mexico. Diego de Vargas (1643–1704), governor of the region, convinced the Zuñi to accept Spanish authority, and the people came down from Thunder Mountain and built a new Zuñi Pueblo atop the abandoned village of Halona.

Spanish leave the Zuñi alone

When Catholic missionaries went to Zuñi Pueblo to reestablish the Spanish mission there, they were accompanied by three Spanish officials who planned to set up a non-religious government office, but the Zuñi killed the three in 1703. Some accounts say the officials mistreated the Pueblo people. For more than one hundred years the Zuñi were largely left alone by the Spanish and lived their lives in their traditional manner.

In 1820 the Spanish missionaries left Zuñi Pueblo for good, unable to overcome tribal resistance to Christianity. The Spanish could no longer endure the constant Apache and Navajo raids in the Southwest, and they feared a planned Mexican revolt against Spain. The missionaries left behind little evidence of nearly three centuries of influence: the use of a few metal tools, the introduction of new crops and animals, and a few religious ideas the Zuñis adopted into their belief system.

Taken over by Mexico, then by United States

Mexico’s revolt against Spain was successful, but Mexico could not afford to send soldiers to oversee the “northern frontier,” which included Zuñi land. The Zuñi began trading with the United States, and within 25 years the United States conquered the region with no opposition.

In accordance with U.S. policy toward all Native Americans, a reservation was set up for the Zuñi in 1877. From 1879 until 1883 Frank Hamilton Cushing (1857–1900), an American ethnologist (a scholar who studies the cultures of various peoples), lived among the Zuñi and learned their language and customs. He deeply offended them when he later published information about their most sacred ceremonies and spiritual beliefs. The Zuñi people felt he had violated their trust.

Beginning in the 1870s the influence of non-Native Americans on the pueblo was profound. A railroad was constructed in the region, which made shipping of animals possible. The Zuñi become involved in raising and selling sheep and cattle. By the late 1890s many whites lived in Zuñi, including teachers, missionaries, traders, and some government officials.

A century of hardships

Whites brought strange diseases, and many Zuñi died from a series of smallpox epidemics that swept through their homelands. By the end of the nineteenth century the Zuñi had lost much of their land to trespassing settlers and the railroads. The people were no longer able to sustain themselves by raising crops and livestock. To survive, many Zuñi turned to making silver jewelry, a skill they learned from the Navajo people.

Life improves

At the beginning of the twentieth century the Zuñi suffered severe health problems and struggled with land claims and the question of educating their children. Conditions began to improve for the tribe by the end of the century. With the availability of better health care, the population finally surpassed the level it had been at the time the tribe first encountered the Spanish. Since 1978 the tribe regained ownership of its sacred Zuñi Salt Lake, as well as an area known as “Zuñi Heaven,” where the spirits of the Zuñi people are believed to reside after death. In 1980 the reservation established its own public school district, thereby assuming full responsibility for educating its children.


Although the Zuñi recognized many gods, their Supreme Being was the Sun, the source of all life. They admired the keen senses, sharp teeth, claws, talons, cleverness, and quickness of animals and believed animals were closer to the spirit world than people were.

In modern times the traditional religion of the Zuñi remains very important, but many of them also belong to one of the various Christian churches that were established after the Spanish converted many Zuñi to Christianity. As late as the mid-2000s certain elements of the traditional religion remained secret.


Fetishes, tiny animals carved from stone, have great spiritual importance to the tribe and are featured in the jewelry they make. Most are carved from bone, shell, wood, or stone in the shapes of certain important creatures such as the wild cat, falcon, coyote, eagle, mole, wolf, or ground owl. Although fetish stones that are found in nature, rather than carved, are believed to be more powerful.

Often the maker attaches shells, turquoise beads, arrowheads, feathers, or bones to the fetish. Some fetishes have lines painted or etched on them. These may look like bird’s feathers or be designs similar to those used for ceremonial masks or clothing. Many have a “heartline arrow,” a line from the animal’s mouth to its heart. This arrow, with its point touching the heart, represents the breath or life of the animal spirit.

Most people keep sets of fetishes in clay jars lined with down; the outsides are often dusted with turquoise bits before firing. The jar has a hole in the side, but its top opening is covered with hide. Owners care for their jars by washing them regularly.

Each set of fetishes usually consists of three to seven figures and has a special purpose—for example, healing the sick or initiating the person into a religious order. The Zuñi hold a special ceremony once a year called “The Day of the Council of Fetishes.”


Effigies, carvings in the images of war gods made from lightning-struck trees, are worshiped at a special ceremony every year. In 1990 the Zuñi Tribal Council contacted museums and collectors that possessed these Zuñi figures and requested that they be returned to the tribe. Within two months the Zuñi had received 38 effigies from 24 different collections.


Although their cultures are similar, no other Pueblo tribe speaks Zuñi. Many linguists (scientists who study language) have concluded that Zuñi is an isolated language and is unrelated to any other present-day languages. A few others disagree and believe it is related to Penutian, a language spoken by some tribes along the West Coast.

Although most Zuñi now speak English, the Zuñi language is the basis of their culture and the primary language of most tribal members. Programs now exist in the public schools to help Zuñi children learn their language in written form. In the early twenty-first century about six thousand people speak the language.

Zuñi Words

  • awite … “four”
  • ha’i … “three”
  • kohanna … “white”
  • ky’awe … “water”
  • kwinna … “black”
  • makyi … “woman”
  • shillowa … “red”
  • tapa … “one”
  • watsita … “dog”
  • yachunne … “moon”
  • yatakya … “sun”


For centuries the Zuñi pueblo was run by men called bow priests, who were in charge of the priestly council. During the 1890, the United States put bow priests in jail in an effort to do away with the tribe’s ancient religious and political system. By 1934 the Zuñi could no longer choose their governor and tribal council by traditional means. Over the several decades that followed, a switch from a religious to a nonreligious democratic government took place. By 1970 the tribe had passed a constitution, and today the Zuñi Tribal Council acts as the governing body for the reservation.

Since 1974 the Zuñi have held elections for the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, and their six-member tribal council. The government includes legislative, executive, and judicial branches. In addition to this constitutional government, the tribe maintains the traditional system of matrilineal clans (groups of related families that trace their ancestry through the mother of the family), six kiva (worship) societies, ten medicine societies (groups that cure illnesses), and two priesthoods.


The decline of agriculture

The economy once depended on farming. After the move to the reservation, the Zuñi population was restricted to a smaller land area than their ancestors, and it was difficult for them to grow enough crops to sustain themselves.

Hoping to increase farming efficiency, the Bureau of Indian Affairs constructed an irrigation system on the Zuñi reservation in the early 1900s, but the major dam collapsed immediately after it was completed. Over the years the tradition of community farms became unworkable, so between 1911 and 1988 the number of acres farmed at the Zuñi pueblo declined by 83 percent. Although some of the tribe still maintain traditional peach orchards, by the late 1990s only about 1,000 acres were farmed, while 95 percent of the tribal land was used for grazing livestock.

Employment in modern times

In the early twenty-first century sheep production is a major source of income on the reservation, and the tribe’s herd numbers around fourteen thousand. The Zuñi also tend peach orchards and raise about two thousand head of cattle, as well as hogs, pigs, fowl, horses, and goats.

The tribal government administers more than seventy tribal programs and is the major employer on the reservation. Most of the small businesses on the reservation focus on arts and crafts. Crafters work in hundreds of mini-workshops to produce jewelry, fetishes, pottery, paintings, and beadwork. Often families work together to fashion jewelry. Their designs “belong” to them and are passed down from generation to generation. The Zuñi Craftsmen Cooperative Markets sells works by Zuñi artists.

By the 1960s, 90 percent of the tribe’s members were involved in the silver-making craft at least part-time. In the mid-2000s the Zuñi are also famous as firefighters. They were the first group of Native Americans trained as firefighting experts, and the U.S. Forest Service frequently transports them to extinguish the worst forest fires in the United States.

Since the 1960s the tribe has received nearly $50 million in settlements for court cases involving land claims. The Zuñi have used these funds to increase individual income and educational opportunities and to improve living conditions on the reservation.

Daily life

The responsibilities of men and women

According to Zuñi tradition, men were farmers, herdsmen, and hunters, who provided the food for women to prepare. Men were responsible for keeping the gods happy, while women were responsible for the family and the tribe. Women blessed newborn babies and presented them to the Sun Father, prepared food offerings for the gods, presented food offerings to ancestors at each meal, greeted the sunrise, and prepared bodies for burial. Men made the prayer sticks, the carved and painted sticks adorned with feathers and shells that they offered to the gods. Men also organized the annual cycle of ceremonies and impersonated the spirits during ritual dances.


As recently as the end of the nineteenth century most Zuñi lived in typical pueblo “apartment” houses that stood five stories high. Zuñi is one of the few pueblos that uses rectangular rooms inside their homes as kivas (places of worship), rather than building separate, circular facilities for this purpose.

In modern times many Zuñi live in single-family homes. They may be modern in architectural style, but they are often built using the same kind of stone the people have used for centuries. Some structures survive from ancient Halona and are now the ceremonial heart of the pueblo.

Clothing and adornment

Zuñi men wore breechcloths (flaps of material that covered the front and back) with fringed edges and a tassel at each corner, which they tied over the hips. They sometimes added long robes of feathers or the skins of hares or cotton blankets. Women wore the traditional Pueblo mantas (pronounced MAHN-tuhs), dresses formed by wrapping a dark blue or black rectangular piece of cotton around the body, passing it under the left arm, and tying it above the right shoulder. A sash encircled the waist. After the Spanish introduced sheep herding to the region, wool became a popular material for mantas. Women wore boot-like moccasins topped with leggings formed by spiraling strips of deerskin around the leg.


The Zuñi are known for their sophisticated irrigation techniques. For centuries they constructed small dams and canals that directed rainwater to the crops, but protected them from the destructive torrents that often occurred during storms. They even developed a method to protect their crops from birds. They strung cactus leaves on lines crisscrossing the fields. The leaves waved in the wind and frightened scavengers. When this system was not enough, children and elderly people were posted in the fields to make noise and throw stones.

Corn was the major crop; the people thought of it as the flesh of the mystical Corn Maidens. They may have cultivated as many as 10,000 acres of corn at a time. In a good year they produced enough surplus to feed the people for two years in case of a drought or other disaster. The Zuñi supplemented the corn, beans, and various garden vegetables they raised by hunting wild game such as rabbit, deer, and bear. They also fished and gathered wild nuts and fruits.

In modern times, the Zuñi are taking steps to protect certain varieties of long-lasting traditional seeds, including corn, beans, squash, melons, chilies, and peaches, so they can be enjoyed by future generations.

Zuñi Bread

Many Pueblo people bake their breads in an outdoor oven called a horno. This bread can be baked in a horno or in a conventional oven.

  • 7/8 cup Buttermilk
  • 1 Egg white
  • 1 teaspoon Powdered lecithin, optional
  • 1 2/3 cup Whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup Bread flour
  • 1/3 cup Cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon Applesauce (or butter)
  • 3 tablespoon Molasses
  • 1/3 cup Dry roasted sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon Baking soda
  • 3 teaspoons Yeast

Mix all ingredients into a dough and let rise. Form into a flat round loaf about 1 inch thick. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown.

Makes one loaf.

“Zuni Bread.” AniWaYA Cooking. (accessed on August 11, 2007).


Today the Zuñi manage their own school system. The schools teach language and cultural history, and support tribal customs in various ways. For example, students who are restricted to a special diet because they are undergoing initiation rites are provided with special lunches, and classes are canceled during the important Shalako festival.

Begun in 1992 the Zuñi bookmobile program brings library books to outlying areas three times a week. The tribe received funding in 2005 to replace their broken-down van, and a new van was put into service in 2006. The Zuñi Public Library is the only Native American library in New Mexico with a bookmobile.

Healing practices

Both men and women are permitted to become lifelong members of Zuñi medicine societies, groups that help people heal from various ailments. Some societies approach curing from a spiritual standpoint, while others use medical methods. Members learn how plants, roots, massage, and healing rituals work.

In earlier times some Zuñi medicine societies staged displays to show their power and to bring good health to the whole community. These exhibitions featured performers who swallowed fire or swords or danced unharmed over hot coals. Many ailments were thought to be caused by spirits and witches, either as punishment or out of cruelty. According to Zuñi healers curing such an ailment might require removing a pebble, feather, or wood particle that had been “shot” inside the body by the supernatural being.


The Zuñi love of color is seen in the beautiful jewelry they produce, which is made of turquoise, shell, and jet, and set in silver in intricate patterns. Known for their fine beadwork, tribal members make belts, necklaces and even figures out of beads. They also carve animals from translucent shells. The most popular Zuñi pottery is white with a reddish-brown design.

The Corn Race

Long ago, when people first came to live in this world, everybody did the same kind of work. When the twin brothers wanted to give the Native Americans the gift of corn they talked it over. Morning Star said, “It would be better to give the corn to one group—not to all.” So they tried to think of a plan. Morning Star said, “I know what we can do. We can have a corn race and see which will be the corn raisers. Let us call all the people.”

When all the people had gathered he chose the fastest runner from each tribe—one Zuñi, one Acoma and one Navaho. He took an ear of corn out of his belt and broke it into three parts, the butt being the largest part, the middle piece a little smaller, and the point the smallest of all. He placed them on the ground with the point nearest the runners, the middle part next and the largest piece at the back.

At last all was ready. The signal was given and they were off. They ran as lightly as the deer and as swiftly. The people watched breathlessly. The racers drew apart with the Navaho boy in the lead. As he rushed past the goal he snatched up the first piece of corn which was the point. The Acoma racer came in next and he took the middle piece. The Zuñi boy, coming in last, got the butt end of the ear.

The elder brother shook his head and said, “The Navaho won the race. He should have got the largest piece of corn. Instead he has the smallest.” But Evening Star replied, “It is well. The Navaho is the swiftest runner. He will always be moving about from place to place. He will not be able to take care of much corn. The people of Zuñi and Acoma will live in houses. They will stay in one place so they can raise much corn.”

And so it has been just as the Evening Star said. The Navaho are always moving. They have their summer homes and their winter homes. But the Zuñi and Acoma are still living in their pueblos and make their living mostly by farming.

Hewett, Edgar L. “The Corn Race.” Ancient Life in the American Southwest. 1930. Reprint, Indianapolis: Biblo and Tannen, 1968.



Every Zuñi is born into a clan, a group that traces its ancestry to the same person. An individual’s clan membership comes from the mother, but families also retain ties to the father’s clan. Zuñi clans are in a constant state of change, as some die out while others grow larger.

Birth and Naming

After a baby is born the child is secluded with its mother and kept in the dark until he or she is presented to the sun. On the eighth day before daybreak, the baby’s aunts from the father’s side of the family wash the child’s head. Then they place cornmeal in baby’s hand and take the infant outside facing east toward the sunrise. The child’s paternal grandmother (the father’s mother) says a prayer as the sun rises.


A traditional Zuñi ritual is “The Day of the Council of Fetishes” held every year around the Winter Solstice. Everyone arranges their fetishes around the altar in the council chamber. Animal that walk are set in slats on the floor so they stand upright. Those that fly are hung in the air on strings. People sing and chant through most of the night, and at the end of prayers or stanzas they imitate animal sounds and movements. The day ends with a feast that is shared with fetishes, then the leftover food is buried.

The most dramatic annual event at the Zuñi Pueblo is the Shalako ceremony, which is held to celebrate the new year and to bless new houses. It is not open to the public, but several other annual events are. They are the June Rain Dance, various events held at the pueblo in August in conjunction with the McKinley County Fair, and the Zuñi Tribal Fair, a four-day celebration held over the Labor Day weekend.

The Shalako Ceremony

The most spectacular annual Zuñi ceremony involves the Shalakos. They are men dressed as ten- to twelve-foot-tall messenger birds who dramatize the annual visit of the birds to bring blessings to the Zuñi people.

Each year on a late December afternoon, the Zuñi hear the cries of the approaching Shalakos, as they begin their crossing of the small river that runs through the pueblo. Then the crowds of people who have gathered together in the Zuñi village square fall silent. Rhythmic jingles in the distance grow louder, and finally the majestic Shalakos stride into the square.

These commanding, colorful creatures have wide eyes, buffalo horns, and ruffs of raven feathers beneath their domed-shaped, beaked heads. They wear brilliant masks of bright red, turquoise, and black, as well as beautiful jewelry, rattles, ankle bells, and pine boughs. Some of the most important gods being impersonated are Sayatasha, the rain god of the north; Shulawitsi, the little fire god; and Yamukato, a frightful warrior uses green yucca leaves to swat any observers who fall asleep during the all-night celebration.

Through their prayers, the Shalako honor all things in the universe, living and non-living. As the creatures encircle the village square, masked singers chant, and the air rings with the rhythmic sounds of drums, bells, rattles, and the clacking of wooden bird beaks as they open and close. Then the Shalako bend their knees and begin their classic back-and-forth dancing. They dance to awaken the earth and stir the clouds, in hopes of bringing on the rain that is so vital to the parched land of the Zuñi.

Formerly visitors were welcome to watch the Shalako ceremony, but were asked not to record their observations. In recent times the large crowds of visitors prevented the Zuñi from entering the new houses in the pueblo and carrying out their blessing ritual. As a result this event has been closed to non-Native Americans since 1995.

Courtship and marriage

Zuñi courtship was a rather complicated undertaking. When a young man became interested in marrying a young woman, he let her know of his admiration and asked if she shared the same feelings for him. If she did, she discussed his suitability as a mate with her mother. If her family approved of the match, the young couple met several times in secret to decide if they wanted to wed. During this time either party could call off the relationship. If the woman called it off, there were no negative consequences for her. But if the man called it off, he had to pay a “bride price” to her family. If the woman refused the bride price, she could “go public” with her intentions to marry him.

Going public meant that the young woman went to the young man’s home during the daylight hours so everyone could see what was happening. She presented his mother with a gift. If the mother liked the young woman, she presented the bride-to-be with wedding finery: the traditional black dress, moccasins, shawl, and beads. If at this point the man had a change of heart, he returned to the girl’s home with her. If he still would not marry her, she could choose to move into his household and stay until he changed his mind or she became ashamed. At that point she gave the wedding finery back to his mother and retreated to her family home.

If, from the first, the couple decided to marry, the woman would grind corn as a gift for her mother-in-law. Then the man presented his wife to his mother, who gave her the wedding finery. The couple went back to the bride’s home, and the man spent the night, leaving in daylight so the new relationship was known to all.


A body was buried the day after death, but the spirit was thought to remain in the home for four days. When a person died, he or she was no longer mentioned by name, but silent prayers could be said in his or her memory. In contrast, the people who replaced deceased religious men, called rain priests, prayed to them by name.

Current tribal issues

“Middle Village” in danger of collapse

Buildings that make up the old “Middle Village” rest on ruins that extend as deep as 36 feet (10 meters) below the currently inhabited buildings. Because they have not been maintained for centuries, the old structures are now crumbling, causing walls to crack and floors to slope in the occupied rooms above.

This area of the pueblo is where ceremonial dances take place. Hundreds of people climb on walls and sit on rooftops to watch, which adds to the pressures on the decaying foundation. As a result a number of homes and kivas are in danger of collapsing. Strengthening the foundations will require extensive work. Plans for repair are complicated by the fact that the pueblo is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, an organization that has strict rules for reconstruction. In the late 1990s, the Zuñi tribal council prepared a renovation program and planned to appeal to the U.S. Congress for $2.5 million to carry it out.

The return of religious sites

The Zuñi have achieved the return of two of their major religious sites, Zuñi Salt Lake and Zuñi Heaven. They have also received cash settlements from the federal government for tribal lands that were illegally sold to non-Native Americans or were damaged by federal mismanagement. The money has allowed the tribe to begin a major project to restore damaged lands.

For twenty years the Zuñi fought against federal and state approval of a 9,000-acre coal mine that would be located only 12 miles (19 kilometers) from Zuñi Salt Lake. Despite their argument that the mine would pollute the sacred lake, the project was approved in 1996. Since then the Zuñi have been trying to figure out how to handle graves and religious sites that will be disturbed by the mine.

Conservation award

In 1999 the pueblo became the first Native American tribe to open a bird sanctuary. The Zuñi Eagle Sanctuary protects twenty species of eagles that might otherwise have become endangered. For centuries the Zuñi adopted eagles and treated them with respect. Some birds lived with Zuñi families for more than fifty years. In this way the tribe respected the animals, but also obtained feathers for their prayer offerings and ceremonies when the birds molted.

When the U.S. government passed laws protecting eagles, it became illegal for the Zuñi to have eagle feathers. They have now solved that problem, and at the same time they are able to follow their religious beliefs of treating all animals, especially the eagle, with kindness and respect. They hold educational programs open to the public and have trained Zuñi teens to care for the birds.

Notable people

Edmund Ladd (1926–1999), whose grandfather once served as tribal governor, was the first Zuñi to earn a college degree. In the paper he wrote to get his PhD degree, he explored the roles played by birds and feathers in Zuñi mythology and religion. He worked as an archaeologist for the National Park Service and was an official at the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe. He also published several papers on Hawaiian archaeology.

Other notable Zuñi include: painter Kai Sa (1918–1974), also known as Percy Sandy; jewelry designer Rod Kaskalla (1955–); and Roger Tsabetsaye (1941–), an artist who worked with President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973; served 1963–69) on his social welfare program called the “War on Poverty” in the 1960s.

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Pueblo of Zuni. (accessed on August 11, 2007).

Ned Blackhawk, Associate Professor, Department of History, American Indian Studies Program, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Laurie Edwards

Laurie Edwards