Celebrating New Mexico’s Pueblos

by Lesley Peterson

April is magic in New Mexico. Lilacs are in bloom and new foals are in the pastures. It’s also a great time to explore Native American culture and catch the Gathering of Nations, held the last full weekend of April in Albuquerque.

Now in its 30th year, the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow is a social event as well as a competition for indigenous dancers from both the U.S. and Canada. It’s the largest Pow Wow in North America, with more than 3, 000 participants and plenty of vendors offering traditional food. You’ll see best-of-the-best dancers but even spectators need staying power. The event goes around the clock for two days. Children and the elderly dance during the day, the strongest performers overnight.


Credit: Lesley Peterson

Year round, visitors can drop by the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque to experience contemporary Native American culture. Much more than a repository of artifacts, the IPCC is a vibrant community hub with a lot going on: dancing and drumming in the open-air circle, guides to chat with and learn from, and artists’ demonstrations. Budget more time than you think you’ll need and be sure to plan a meal at the Pueblo Harvest Café. This usually packed eatery has something for everyone, from waffles and pancakes to traditional mutton stew with fresh, warm tortilla baked in the centre’s outdoor oven, or horno. I found the savoury, clear stew one of my most delicious experiences in New Mexico.

The IPCC is owned and operated by the 19 pueblos of New Mexico and provides maps and visitor information for each, including etiquette tips. Several pueblos can be visited as day trips from Albuquerque. More range north towards Santa Fe and Taos. An hour or two north of Albuquerque by car, also accessible by Rail Runner transit, Santa Fe has many gorgeous museums devoted to New Mexico history and Southwest culture. In the centre of town, the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts holds the largest collection of contemporary Native art in the world. On Museum Hill, exhibits at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture explore Pueblo art, beliefs and lifestyle, past and present. Museum shops are a great place to buy handsome stone necklaces, silver bracelets, baskets and other authentic crafts by top artisans.


Credit: Lesley Peterson

From Santa Fe, the High Road to Taos leads to the UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest multi-storied adobe construction in the world. Taos Pueblo is no museum but a living community that has been continuously occupied for more than 1, 000 years. The Pueblo occasionally closes to visitors; check the website for spring opening dates and visitor information. Artists onsite build pottery from local clay using ancient methods, firing pieces by nestling them in the hot ashes of small indoor fireplaces. One of the great pleasures of Taos is simply sitting on a bench by the stream, contemplating the mountains, and breathing the high desert air scented with baking bread, wood smoke and wild mountain sage. At Taos, especially, it’s possible to sense the profound connection between Pueblo spirituality, nature and art.

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