Journey to Zuni Village

A Story of Land, Cummunity and Artistic Spirit

“I was very aware of the land… How open it is and how open the people were. I wondered if the openness of the land made us all more open to each other.”
— Nancy Fushan

For three days in October (Oct. 19–21, 2007) members of the Grantmakers in the Arts traveled to Zuni Pueblo where, along with Zuni culture bearers, artists and community members, they experienced the rich cultural, historical and artistic landscape that defines and shapes Zuni Pueblo.

The Journey was welcomed by Zuni cultural and secular leaders on the first evening, with the Honorable Norman Cooeyate—Governor of Zuni, and his family, and the much respected Edison Vicenti, and his wife Jennie.

“We were made to feel very welcome. That the Governor was there to welcome us was a very big deal. I felt as immersed as I could possibly be… I saw art being used to preserve memory and tradition…”
— Claudine Brown

Under the cool moonlight on the patio of the Halona Inn, the group first tasted the wonderful home cooked foods and felt the warmth and generous hospitality that typically defines the welcome to guests in Zuni Village. And, over the next two days, participants journeyed together in the high arid environment—building friendship and deepening our understanding of Native artistic expression through gaining glimpses of the richness of both the ancient and contemporary Zuni existence.

“At every moment we went somewhere, I was made to feel like I belonged, that I wasn't in someone else's community…”
— Karen Garrett

We traveled on Indian Time along an intricate webbed path highlighted by the songs, dances, stories that define that ancient village. Both the venerable and the new memories led journey participants from the aroma of freshly baked bread just removed from traditional clay ovens in the evening to learning aspects of the Zuni emergence story at the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center the following morning.

“It's hard for me to put this into words. I can explain what we did, but not what we experienced. The trip hit me to my core. I feel like grantmaking really needs to be interwoven, needs to be done differently.”
— Erin Caudell

The group witnessed the beauty and power of intergenerational Harvest dances in the Big Plaza, and we learned about the critical issues of water in arid climates for spiritual and physical sustenance, as we bounced along dusty trails sheepherding and hearing the calls of the crows and eagles. We had many deep conversations with Zuni artists / culture bearers and community members. We laughed, we ate, and we made bad jokes. And there were walks in the early morning light and rosy pink dust to brush off shoes in the afternoons.

“Can two or more apparently independent systems of knowledge be made comprehensible to each other? I think the answer is both ‘yes,' and ‘no.' I want to push on the ‘yes' as much as I can.”
— Vanessa Whang

We shared much laughter and reflection—on work/grantmaking, life and possibilities during the three days together. The group learned a lot, together and as individuals. The vibrancy of Zuni arts and its dynamic culture resonated throughout the Journey, and certain themes resonated such as the relationships between language, story, memory, water, landscape and the arts.

There were many moments offered to engage personally and first hand with members of the Zuni community with artists, and our with our generous hosts in the village. It was not simply a shopping expedition, or an “adventure to the rez…” This journey was an opportunity to learn firsthand through witnessing, presence, and dialogue, more about Native arts and cultural expression directly within a traditional Native American context. Where better than from the interior landscape of an Indigenous Nation that is rich in arts and culture, where the language is still actively spoken, where dances happen to honor and remember, and wherever you turn, art is being made to inform identity, recall history, fuse the people with the land, as well as support local economy.

As indicated from our debriefing session attended by most of the Journey participants during the Grantmakers in the Arts conference several days later, the experience of being in Zuni was profoundly life altering for some, and deeply meaningful for all. We were, most essentially, a collective brought together and becoming bonded. We were respectfully learning, sharing, growing and being.

“I am struck by how quickly Zuni took us in and vice versa… there was a jewelry ‘experience' at Edison and Jennie's, and by that moment, we were acting like family… that really struck me.”
— Vickie Benson

The following provides a little more background and contact information for you.

Idiwanan An Chawe Storytelling Theater Project:
Language (Storytelling) And Water

In the 1960's, there were still many traditional storytellers who helped foster cultural knowledge and kept our language alive. However, globalization since the 1970's has taken its toll on our traditions and customs—radio and television became our storytellers. Zuni culture is fragmented by the onslaught of mainstream popular media and consumer-based culture. Our elders are very concerned about finding a balance between the different worlds of western, contemporary thought and traditional A:shiwi perspectives.

It is critical that we educate our youth about finding a balance between worlds to provide pathways for future generations that promote and maintain our traditional culture and lifeways. Although our youth often speak Zuni with their families, Zuni children are educated in English and they have lost many of the unique words, expressions and deep cultural references (esoteric language) used by the elders that make up our language. A significant part of our heritage is at risk of being lost because, as language disappears, so does our unique culture.

Initiated in 1995, Idiwanan An Chawe's purpose was to create the first Zuni language theater as vehicle of cultural maintenance and expression. We have done this by creating plays and radio dramas written and performed in the Zuni language and founded on our highly developed cultural song, dance, costume, and oral traditions. All of our plays evoke a sense of place and identity, and deal with issues from education to health to environment that affect our Nation, conveying information in a creative and enriching way that connects with community realities. The Idiwanan An Chawe Storytelling Theater Project provides a way to maintain and strengthen our traditions through the use of shiwi ma bena:we—the Zuni language (considered a linguistic isolate), in a culturally meaningful and culturally revitalizing manner.

“The trip gave me a lens to see the GIA conference through …What struck me was the discussion of water rights and survival, and the creation history and how people get displaced, and what that can mean.”
— Caron Atlas

Water Issues: As participants on the Journey will remember, water was highlighted by spiritual and secular leaders and presenters, as a major issue of concern for the Zuni People.

Zuni Salt Lake Protection: Although the Zuni tribe is facing several fronts in its efforts to protect the Zuni water resources, there is a lake that cannot be left unmonitored at any point. The tribe has defended the Zuni Salt Lake successfully in the recent past, but the work is not done yet. Strategies are being developed for long term protection of the lake.

Zuni Salt Lake, a sacred place, is located in Carrizo Valley in west central New Mexico. The saline lake is a unique geological feature, and the lake is sacred to the Zuni Tribe. The lake is surrounded by an area known as the Sanctuary District (Ma'k'yayan Dap An Dek'ohannan Dehyakya Dehwanne), that you may recall the Governor and Edison Vicenti both referred to. This is a place of peaceful relations which is rich in archeological sites, trails, and Traditional Cultural Properties.

In the mid 1980's, the Salt River Project Agriculture Improvement and Power District (SRP) pursued plans to develop the Fence Lake Coal Mine, a site located 11 miles northeast of the sacred lake. The mine would have had severe impacts to the Salt Lake and the cultural resources. After years of focused pressure from the Zuni Tribe challenging the mine plans, and with support from organizations and allies, SRP pulled out of their Fence Lake Coal Mine development in August of 2003. It was a real triumph of the time… to protect a sacred place when so many are exploited every day.

The Tribe continues to implement strategic efforts towards securing protections from other potential threats to the Salt Lake. Threats like the potential mining of Coal-bed Methane in the same vicinity that was previously scheduled for the Fence Lake Coal Mine. The Tribe is involved in extensive research to gain a full understanding of all aspects of coal-bed methane mining and its potential for adverse effects to the groundwater. Other threats include developers requesting permits from the State to drill many new wells to pump enormous amounts of water which could have similar impacts to the lake as would Coal-bed Methane mining. Strategic planning encompasses the protection of the cultural resources within the sanctuary area and Salt Lake.

What's happening: The Zuni Tribe is developing a strategy to protect the Zuni Salt Lake water supply from consumptive use by surrounding landowners. This will require research and analysis that will lead into developing a “water rights claim” specifically for the Salt Lake. The goal is to establish an agreement, in a given forum, that limits, to the extent possible, consumptive groundwater withdrawals. Supporting data from the technical team's analysis will determine the hydrologic balance of the Salt Lake. The initial research will help in understanding the size of the effort, the protections the Tribe could expect and the chances for success.

Grassroots level agricultural and livestock water needs: Since the Zuni River stopped flowing some 25 years ago, there is very limited availability of surface water. Families who have agricultural fields near lakes are fortunate because they have access to irrigation ditches. However, when the water level drops in lakes and holding ponds, irrigation ditches don't flow. Ranchers and gardeners alike, have to hunt other sources of water, which is hauled off in tanks loaded in pick-up trucks and trailers. The rising cost of fuel is making it much more difficult. One solution to meet the water needs for the family farmers and ranchers is to develop wells in areas where there is no surface water. Windmills and solar pumps will be required to pump water.

For more information on the issues described here, contact: Edward Wemytewa, Idiwanan An Chawe Theater Project, PO Box 1528, Zuni, New Mexico, 87327. Cell is (505) 862-1074.

“ I feel in a more embodied way what the role of the arts is… instead of just understanding it in my head… it has shifted my relationship to my art work.”
— Daniel Kertzner

Journey participants had a unique opportunity to learn about Zuni art and how Indigenous art is the oldest enduring tradition of creative expression that exists in the world. The earliest expressive art forms we know of which date back many tens of thousands of years in the Americas, continue to be created in the Zuni tribal community today. Their intrinsic connection to spirituality also endures as a testament to arts nexus with culture, as Curtis Quam and Jim Enote both discussed during our visit. Such creative expressions continue to be an inherent part of Native core existence, linking the ancient and contemporary worlds and weaving together aspects of our lives, both the mundane and the sacred. These expressions of art, landscape, culture and history convey a paradigm founded on sacred teachings and many millennia of knowledge learned from ongoing and intimate interactions of Native Peoples with the Natural World.

The mission of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center (AAMHC) is to serve the Zuni community through exhibits and cultural programs, with opportunities for learning and reflection that are relevant and reinforce A:shiwi values and provides insight into living in the world today as well as tomorrow. The only 501(c)(3) not for profit organization on the Zuni Reservation, the AAMHC is supported by small grants, visitor donations and a modest endowment.

For more information you may contact Jim Enote, the AAMHC Director at PO Box 1009, Zuni, New Mexico 87327. Phone is (505) 782-4403 or contact Jim at You can also visit the website at for an overview of programs and projects.

“Why I committed myself years ago to working for Native People is because there is a richness in the way of life. Edward reflected the beauty around him… (In Zuni) People seemed to like themselves and like each other.”
— Betsy Richards

A little about us… The Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development
Address: PO Box 4569, Arcata, California 95518
Phone: (707) 825-7640

Founded in 1977, the Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development is oldest continually operating Indigenous nonprofit/social profit organization in the United States dedicated to promoting and maintaining the uniqueness of Native peoples and the sovereignty of our distinct tribal Nations. To accomplish this mission, we provide an integrated and dynamic program of small grants, training and technical assistance, leadership development, issue advocacy and program management to grassroots Indigenous community projects and tribal initiatives throughout the Americas. During our decades of frontline work, we have supported literally thousands of Indigenous projects throughout the Americas, including struggles against oil development in Arctic Village, Alaska, to basketweavers in northern California, to Mapuche community radio in Andean Chile. Today, our work has expanded to include such avenues as hands on multi-media training for Native youth to Indigenous rights advocacy at the United Nations, to building relationships between Indigenous Peoples of North America with the Maasai in Kenya, Africa.

One of the most effective roles we have, as the Seventh Generation Fund, is to act as a bridge to catalyze mutually respectful and meaningful relationships between Native communities and philanthropy. We provide briefings on issues from arts and traditional economies to sacred sites protection and environmental justice as well as offer presentations on site in Native communities, or within philanthropic settings such as conferences or workshops on topics such as conflict resolution, human rights, consensus building and youth leadership development. Our organization accepts no state or federal support.

Our organization and work is founded on the Great Law of Peace of the Haudenosaunee that says in every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation. This principle is kept foremost in mind… We know that our children are watching us, learning how to walk carefully on the skin of our common Mother Earth. Through honoring our Earth, we affirm our relationships with land, community and spirit; we help to make the land and the people, strong again. This is the hope, the sacred birthright, of the seventh generation to come.

Elahkwa hom A:kuwaye. Thank you, my friends, for joining us, and for trusting us, on this Journey to Zuni Village—the Middle Place. — Tia

“There was so much generosity of spirit there and among everyone we met. The (GIA) conference seemed to become secondary. It was hard to engage in the sessions at first, after the experience at the pueblo.”
— Melissa Warlow

Special thanks to:
Governor Norman Cooeyate, Edward Wemytewa, Edison and Jennie Vicenti, Jim Enote and Curtis Quam of the AAMHC, Halona B and B — and the great cooks there, Kirk Bemis and the Sheep, the Seotewa Family (Demetrius) and the Paintings, the Pueblo of Zuni Arts and Crafts, ChuChu's Restaurant, the Dancers on the Big Plaza, All the Zuni Artists who shared their work along the way, and, Reyes Neha, Jonathon Freeman, Vickie Benson, Francis Leekya, Vanessa Whang for taking great notes and sharing them from the debriefing at GIA to include here, Tommer Peterson at GIA, the Zuni Ancestors and those generations yet to come… and all of YOU for taking the Journey.