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Native American groups have inhabited the region of New Mexico for thousands of years — many centuries before Europeans reached the Americas. When the Spanish came to New Mexico in the 1500s, they brought with them their Roman Catholic religion. The missionaries traveled to this new territory to bring their faith to the Native American peoples, and they converted many. However, Native beliefs and customs persevered and became intertwined with those brought by the Spanish colonists.
Feast days include traditional dances in brilliant attire and sacred rituals, cultural activities, food, and arts and crafts. Every dance is considered a prayer, not a performance, and as such, outsiders are privileged to observe them. Each dance tells a different story and serves a different purpose. The ceremonial dress worn by the dancers is more than just decorative; the feathers, jewelry and beads all communicate part of the story.
Drums beat with an insistent cadence, and the air is filled with the fragrance of piñon smoke. The sights, sounds and smells of the pueblo celebrations create a feast for the senses.
Always remember that when you visit a reservation, you are visiting someone’s home. Please observe all posted requests and regulations. When you are on Native American land, you are subject to Native American laws. It is important to understand that visitors must abide by the laws and rules of each tribe, and respect their customs and traditions. For example, some tribes have strict rules governing photography, sketching and tape recording.
The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque is a valuable resource for visitors interested in learning more about the tribes and Native American traditions in New Mexico. The Cultural Center features a museum, restaurant and gift shop and offers information about visiting the pueblos, as well as a calendar of feast days and other events. It also features regular dance performances and exhibits of weaving, pottery, jewelry, clothing and photography from each of the 19 area pueblos.
Another way to learn about our Native American communities is to explore their many arts and crafts, including silver and turquoise jewelry, pottery, drums, carvings, clothing and weavings. Discover authentic Native American jewelry, pottery and more — often at lower prices than in other Southwestern cities — but be sure to ask for a certificate of authenticity. Historic Old Town is a great place to start; you can buy directly from artisans under the portal. There are also shops scattered throughout the city that sell authentic Native American arts and crafts. Or try traditional Native American food, such as bread baked in an horno (outdoor oven) or frybread — best consumed on the spot, hot and honey-drizzled straight from the pan.
Founded in 1932, the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology offers an excellent introduction to the cultural heritage of today’s pueblo Native Americans. The “People of the Southwest” exhibit illustrates how ancient lifestyles, ceremonies and traditions across the Southwest influenced today’s pueblos of New Mexico.
Visitors to Petroglyph National Monument will find the work of ancestral Puebloans. More than 20,000 human and animal images, effigies and symbols are etched onto the black surface of volcanic rocks, which litter the escarpment along Albuquerque’s West Mesa.