Sunday, June 17, 2012

Visit to Taos Pueblo

Last weekend we had an incredible opportunity.  We were invited by Bonnie Burnham, President of the World Monuments fund (WMF) and Frank Sanchis, Director of Programs in the United States to join them in Taos, New Mexico, a 90 minute drive from Santa Fe, for a visit to the Taos Pueblo.  I have known Bonnie since the mid 1970’s when we attended the first international conference on art theft when she was working with UNESCO. 

The night before our visit there was a dinner with The Friends of Heritage Preservation (FOHP) founded in 1998 by Suzanne Deal Booth.  This group predominantly from  Texas and California were contributors to the WMF project at the Taos Pueblo.  After cocktails Frank Sanchis did a slide presentation of the  project which involves an 11 room building at the entry to the Pueblo known as Sub-House #2.   There had been a fire and the building was in danger of collapse. It was explained to us that it was close to a million dollar project of which 10% was for a company that could take measurements of the structure from all its angles using laser or lidar (light detection and ranging) technology.  This included a drone that would fly over the Pueblo taking measurements. 

The next morning we all met at the entrance to the Pueblo, about 20 of us, and were escorted into the village where a receiving line from the Tribal Council greeted us, including the governor and lieutenant governor of the village.  We all shook hands and were then led into a meeting room which was set up with architectural sketches of the project as well as a model.

Before we were sat down the Secretary of the War Chief’s office grabbed me for a brief personal chat.  He told me he was lucky enough to live in the “North” building, which I learned was the main Pueblo, the famous image of the multi storied house that has come to symbolize the Taos Pueblo.  His rooms were on the back where he could see the forests and mountains of his ancestors.  When you think about it, who would want to be on the front where you would have to watch and listen to the tourists all day long!

The Main Pueblo

In the meeting room there were homemade cookies and cakes put out for us as well as a bottle of water at each place when we sat down.  The governor said a traditional blessing in their native Tiwa language.  Then he and the lieutenant governor explained the set up of the tribe as well as describing the project in detail. He told us that the people are considered as on the top rung of the ladder with the governor and tribal council below that.  The tribal council does not change and a governor and lieutenant governor are elected from the council by the tribe for one-year terms. We then learned about some of their issues regarding the return of their native lands confiscated by the U.S. Government.  it was amazing to hear about their successes and how politically astute they were.

Afterwards, we were introduced to the foreman who spoke a little bit about the project and then he introduced his crew each by name.  This was particularly relevant as World Monuments Fund does not just put money towards a project but their goal is to teach the people how to do the restoration work themselves so that they will be able to continue on their own.

Introduction of the Workmen

Our pockets were filled with the remaining cookies and we were sent off with guides to see the preservation site in detail as well as much more of the Pueblo.

Work at Preservation Site

The work on Sub-House #2 is being done in the traditional manner with hand-made adobe bricks.  The tribe’s goal is to reproduce exactly what was there before.  Other tribes doing restoration work on their pueblo sometimes wish to have some modern conveniences such as running water and electricity but not here.  If the Taos people want these conveniences they must live beyond the walls of the village.

There were many impressive sites to see but what I found the most profound was the cemetery.  Though they still bury people there it is not large enough to accommodate all so they have started a new cemetery beyond the walls of the Pueblo.

In the center of the old cemetery are the ruins of the first church on the Pueblo called St. Jerome’s, the patron saint of the pueblo.  It was built in 1619 and destroyed at the time of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 but then rebuilt in 1706 after the Spanish returned and destroyed yet again in 1847 during the Mexican war.  Today a new Church of St. Jerome stands as a show piece in the middle of the plaza.

Ruins of St. Jerome

Church of St. Jerome

We learned much about life on the Pueblo and dependence on a stream that brought water down from Blue Lake above the village.   We learned about their politics and religions (Christian and Native).  What more can you ask than to get an insight into what amounts to a foreign society and learn of their goals and aspirations.

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