Native Americans in New Mexico

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.

Explore Native American Culture In New Mexico

New Mexico is home to 22 tribes, including the Navajo Nation, Jicarilla Apache, Mescalero Apache and 19 pueblos. Each tribe is unique and has its own traditional language, customs, values, prayers, songs, ceremonies, attire and way of life.

Learn more about Native American tribes and pueblos. » 

The centrally located Albuquerque area is the perfect starting point from which to explore the region's Native American heritage. A majority of the 19 pueblos are located in northern New Mexico. The Navajo Nation is the largest Native American tribe in North America, and their reservation is located in northwestern New Mexico, northern Arizona and southeastern Utah. The Jicarilla Apaches live in northern New Mexico, and the Mescalero Apaches reside in southern New Mexico. There are reminders of Native American presence throughout our state: cliff dwellings and pit houses, kivas (underground ceremonial chambers), abandoned cities along ancient trade routes, and symbols etched in rock.

Learn more about Native American pueblo and tribe locations with this state map. »

Visiting A Pueblo or Tribe

Those who take the time to visit a tribe will leave with a precious memory to add to their New Mexico experience. Visitors are often fascinated to see that pueblo life is a window to another world. Not relegated to history books or museums, this is a living culture that carries on the centuries-old traditions of ancestors. Several pueblos and tribes hold regular tours and have excellent visitor centers with information about Native American cultures and beliefs. Keep in mind that visitors are not allowed on certain days, during private special observances. Call the pueblo or tribal office in advance of arrival to be sure that visitors are welcome on the day you'd like to visit.

Learn more about the pueblos and tribes of New Mexico. »

Native American Feast Days

Feast days are as much celebrations of ancient Native American traditions and heritage as they are commemorations of Catholic saints. Native American feast days allow tribal members to come together in celebration of their language, culture and religion. On these days, the communities celebrating a feast day are open to the public (the Corn, Deer and Buffalo dances are commonly open to the public), and members of the tribe will prepare a variety of bountiful meals to share with their visiting guests. 

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.

Learn more about Native American feast days. »

Be Mindful of Native American Traditions & Cultural Etiquette

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.

Learn more about cultural etiquette. »

The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

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.

Learn more about the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. »

Indian Markets and Retail Shops

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.

Learn more about retail shops. »

The Maxwell Museum of Anthropology

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.

Learn more about the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology. »

Petroglyph National Monument

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.

Learn more about Petroglyph National Monument. »