Just two miles north of Taos, New Mexico, you’ll find the Native American community of Taos Pueblo. Considered one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the United States, populated for over a millennium by the Tiwa-speaking Red Willow people, this ancient adobe village is an enduring symbol of tradition and perseverance.
One thousand years of culture and community
We arrive at Taos Pueblo with the sun. The village is not yet open to tourists, and all is quiet but for a distant tractor’s rumble and birds welcoming the day. We’re meeting our guide, Taos Pueblo fashion designer and AIMEE LACALLE guest artist, Patricia Michaels. Patricia has agreed to show us around the pueblo—a place where she spent most of her childhood and early teen years.
Taos Pueblo’s sturdy adobe structures sit stoically at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range. In its early years, the pueblo served as a vital center of trade for North American Indian tribes, and later between Native Americans and the Spanish. The settlement has, of course, changed in some ways since the 13th century, but managed to keep its pristine environment and cultural identity.
Our first stop in the pueblo is the home of Patricia’s aunt. Josephine is the eldest of the family, and one of the 150 tribe members still living in the community full time. Josephine is in the kitchen with her granddaughter, preparing the weekly assortment of cookies, breads, and fresh apple and prune pies. Standing over the kitchen table, flour dusting her bright red apron, Josephine uses the tip of a butter knife to etch delicate flower patterns into the pie crusts. When she’s finished, she and her granddaughter carry the half-dozen pies to the horno, a traditional outdoor adobe oven. They won’t be ready for over an hour, so we continue our exploration into the pueblo.
The sign reads: “Pass with care.” It’s at this moment we realize that is exactly what the people of Taos Pueblo have been doing, and encouraging others to do, for over a thousand years.
At the center of the community, runs Red Willow Creek. The gentle stream still serves as the primary source of water for the village, both for drinking and for religious ceremonies. Patricia, whose Tiwa name is “Water Lily,” explains that the Red Willow People are a water clan. “Our religion is about water,” she says while looking out over the creek. “And about mother earth and all her natural resources.” Protecting their water and land has always been a priority—if not a way of life—for the people of Taos Pueblo, and something they’ve had to fight for throughout their long history.
In the heart of the pueblo, we happen upon local artisans selling a variety of handmade wares, including jewelry, pottery, sculptures, and paintings. Patricia is greeted as we pass through this close-knit community and on to our next destination: jewelry maker and Taos Pueblo dancer Sonny Spruce. Pinned to the wall behind Sonny are hundreds of banknotes from around the world, reminding visitors that, in many ways, Taos Pueblo is still a dynamic point of trade. As charismatic as he is talented, Sonny has been making jewelry since 1974 and, lucky for us, has no intention of stopping.
Patricia wants to show us where her grandparents lived, so we climb a small wooden ladder and enter a second-story adobe home in the middle of the village. She points to the spot on the couch where she and her grandparents would sit and look through the doorway. “This door,” she tells us, gesturing toward the open rectangle now filled with cerulean sky and sweeping landscapes, “it was the portal to the world for us.” Patricia goes on to describe their view of the bustling pueblo below, filled with people trading goods, sharing stories, and infusing her community with culture and tradition.
The promise of fresh apple pie leads us back down the ladder and across the pueblo to Josephine’s. As we walk into the backyard, she is taking out the last of the pies from the horno. Josephine flips around an old street sign that she’s been using to cover the oven’s opening. “See this?” she asks us. The sign reads: “Pass with care.” It’s at this moment we realize that is exactly what the people of Taos Pueblo have been doing, and encouraging others to do, for over a thousand years.