Visiting the Santo Domingo Tribe

by Caitlin

“What you need to understand about Pueblo people, is that unlike western religions and people, they do not order things”



Santo Domingo Pueblo


Big sky, dessert, soft earth, no concrete, telephone poles, why do you need a new wall when you can build into mine. My lasting impression was of a very community orientated, protective and proud people. As I asked if I could marry into the culture, it was made clear that non Peublo marriage is forbidden, and individuals can only marry between Peublo people. If there is a mixed race marriage, the member of the community must leave the Peublo. In a way, I found this quite extreme, but on the other hand saw it as a basic rule that united people in a clear and ongoing understanding of their bloodlines, identity and sense of people and place.

I arrived at the Santo Domingo Pueblo, which is about half an hours drive from Santa Fe. There are about 5,000 people living here, and the chief of the Pueblo told us that 3 – 4 families live in each house, which seems particularly overcrowded. Santo Domingo Pueeblo is the largest of the eastern Keresan-speaking pueblos. Visitors are not allowed to take photos of the Pueblo, but I have found a few images online.

What was really striking about the place, was the earthiness (and poverty) of the place, but it felt very rich in community. I was reminded of old high streets from cowboy films, when all the roads were dirt roads. As we walked around it was amazing to be on residential streets with such a soft earth feeling underfoot. People were out and about, waving from windows coming out to say hi to the chief who was showing us around his town. There was an abundance of large wooden ladders leading up to flat adobe rooftops, which is a traditional way to enter a pueblo. There were lots of earthen ovens outside homes, where it was still traditional to bake bread. There was a central plaza, where denizens of the Pueblo performed traditional dances throughout the year. The next one was going to be on Christmas day, and families were preparing for the event. In Santo Domingo, it is common for families to practice dance at home, and dance together. I found this particularly moving, and wondered how I could emulate such a practice in the UK. Our cultural dances are more rooted in hedonistic rituals, rather than relating the body to the seasons, to materials to build with, to health of individuals and the community; it makes so much sense to me to communicate using the body, as it is the body that is supported by many of the resources we yearn to source and create / consume.

The Santo Domingo Church - the wooden beams are called 'vegas' or 'wood'.

The Santo Domingo Church – the wooden beams are called ‘vegas’ or ‘wood’.

There are 19 Pueblo’s in the USA, and they are actually not part of America, but their own countries. There are not many flags, or signs of grand territories; rather these are demarcated by endless metal fences. The Pueblo’s are settlements of Pueblo people, who are are descendants of an indigenous Native American culture that has established itself over many centuries. The Pueblo Indians received their name from the Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. “Pueblo” is the Spanish name for “town”. When Coronado discovered the Native Americans in the mid 1500’s in the area that is now New Mexico and Arizona, he named them “Pueblo Indians” because they were a settled tribe, and not nomadic like some of the other local tribes. The Pueblo America Indian people are believed to be the descendants of three major cultures including the Mogollon,Hohokam, and Ancient Puebloans, with their history tracing back for some 7,000 years.


Traditional dance in the plaza


The Indian tribespeople conduct their own means of governance, based on traditions of their people, and separate from the US governments. Under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, many Pueblos refused to allow their traditional form of government to be replaced by a foreign system. The tribal council system is modeled somewhat after the U.S. government, but also has much in common with the way corporations are governed. Each tribe within the United States was given the option of reorganizing under the act, and many Pueblos refused to do so. Traditional Pueblo government features leadership from different sources of strength within each community. Clans are an important force in providing leadership, and among some Pueblos specific clans have traditional obligations to provide leaders. This is true of the Bear Clan among the Hopi, the Antelope Clan at Acoma, and the Bow Clan at Zuñi. The Tewa pueblos have dual village leaders, where the heads of the winter and summer moieties each exercise responsibility for half the year. In matters of traditional religion, which encompasses much of what white people associate with government, a cacique among the Pueblos and a kikmongwi among the Hopi have serious responsibilities to the people. Along with their assistants they not only perform ceremonies but also organize hunts and the planting of crops.

It’s pretty amazing to think of the 19 separate countries preserving the culture of native american indians scattered across four states of the US. The Pueblo people are now located primarily in New Mexico, however, at one time the Pueblo’s homeland reached into the states of Colorado and Arizona.