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Young Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo eagle dancers exit the pueblo plaza as they finish their dance. The dances are performed to keep the tribe in balance with the creator and natural forces. These dances have been performed in much the same way for centuries and are central to the Tesuques’ culture and spirituality.
Photo: M.A. Pember
“August 10 is OUR 4th of July,” declared speakers at this year’s Commemoration of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt on the Tesuque Pueblo outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. On this day, more than 8,000 warriors from the many diverse Native American pueblos in the New Mexico region banded together and drove the Spanish from their ancestral lands.
Shockingly obscure in mainstream United States history, the Pueblo Revolt was the most successful Indian uprising in the American West.
Led by Popé, a religious leader from the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, formerly San Juan Pueblo, the Pueblo peoples put aside deep historical differences and formed an unprecedented allegiance against the Spanish. Contemporary Pueblo leaders maintain that, were it not for the Revolt of 1680, Pueblo culture would not have survived. “The purpose of the Revolt was to preserve our ways,” affirms James Hena, former governor of the Tesuque Pueblo.
On August 10, 327 years ago, two Tesuque runners, Catua and Omtua, were sent out by pueblo leaders to enlist support for the rebellion. They carried knotted cords of deer hide to the various Pueblos, each knot signifying a day. One knot was untied accordingly, and when the final knot was untied, it signified the day of attack. Spanish churches and settlements were destroyed, the remaining refugees were driven into Santa Fe where they eventually surrendered and fled to El Paso.
Tesuque Pueblo has celebrated the Revolt annually for the past ten years with a relay run re-enacting Catua and Omtua’s famous run as well as traditional games and dances. After dawn prayers this August 10th, runners departed the plaza at Tesuque, carrying a knotted cord, a braid of yucca cord and an ear of corn. The yucca cord symbolized the spirit of the people and the corn the physical body. The moment was electrifying.
During the commemoration relay run, runners handed off the precious package of yucca cord, rawhide and corn one to another, quickly covering the ten miles from Tesuque Pueblo to the plaza in Santa Fe. Scores of Indians joined the final stretch of the run, including 85-year-old Ignacia Duran of Tesuque Pueblo, who trotted the final block with the help of two relatives, arriving triumphantly in the plaza. After speeches by the Santa Fe mayor and a city councilman, the people cheered and pumped their arms in the air as Tesuque Pueblo Governor Charles Dorame declared, “Santa Fe is part of us!”
Former Governor James Hena speaks at the Pueblo revolt commemoration at the Tesuque Pueblo plaza. “The pueblo people would not be here if it were not for the revolt of 1680. We would have lost our culture and disapeared.”
Photo: M. A. Pember
The Indians’ spirit of resistance was palpable and spoke to an unbending commitment to their traditions. A small crowd of summer tourists was drawn to the presentation. They milled about the plaza, clearly surprised and confused by the emotional displays.
Photo: M. A. Pember
In a way, the tourists’ reaction was reminiscent of what the Spanish governor felt on that ominous day in 1680. Antonio de Otermin was said to have been shocked and surprised by the anger and fury of the Pueblo people against the Christian church and Spanish rule. In the then typical Spanish assurance of superiority in carrying out “God’s will,” he assumed that the Indians were grateful to be saved from the “evil, pagan” ways of their traditional religion. He mistook their stoic silence as acceptance and was completely blindsided by the attack.
A young Tesuque Pueblo boy performs the traditional buffalo dance in the Pueblo’s plaza, as his ancestors have done for centuries.
Photo: M. A. Pember
Since their arrival in 1598, the Spanish rulers had proceeded to Christianize the “savages” of the region, forbidding practice of their native religions and forcing the Pueblo inhabitants into virtual slavery in the building of churches and service to the church and Spanish crown. The Spanish also required surrender of substantial portions of crops and other foodstuffs. A deep, simmering resentment grew among the Indians as they were subjected to the increasingly harsh, authoritarian rule of the Spanish. Shortly before the revolt, several high ranking Pueblo religious leaders were convicted of “sorcery” by Gov. Otermin and either flogged or killed. Among the convicted “sorcerers” was Popé, who hatched the bold, ingenious plot to drive the Spanish out of Pueblo land.
The Spanish did not return until the reconquest by Diego Jose de Vargas in 1692. By 1693, the Spanish had regained full political control of New Mexico but now dealt far less harshly with the Pueblo peoples. They were allowed to rule their own villages and, most importantly, were not forced to accept Christianity.
The effects of the Spanish reconquest were devastating to the Native peoples of New Mexico, including loss of land, population and status. But the legacy of the 1680 revolt, the fierce commitment to language and culture is a triumph that continues to shine 327 years later.
For the first time, the Commemoration festivities were opened to the public this year. A few outsiders viewed the ancient dances and participated in the 1, 5 and 10k runs through the Pueblo. In this region where all things native can quickly become grist for the tourist mill, their openness was a tremendous leap of faith. The Indians are famously protective of their homes and culture, often forbidding access to Pueblos by outsiders.
Tesuque drink “atole,” a traditional drink made from blue corn, before embarking on a long distance run. Atole was served to runners during the commemoration run.
Photo: M.A. Pember
During this year’s Commemoration, Hena and other Pueblo leaders pointed out that present day New Mexico with its famous ties to Pueblo culture that draws visitors from all over the world owes its very existence to the 1680 Revolt. He urged the young people of the pueblos to embrace and continue their traditions.
“Our ancestors organized the revolt so we, the unborn, could continue to have what we have. We demonstrate our gratitude by continuing our dances, language and traditions. Remember, we are born Native and we will die Native.”