January 7, 2007

Are Zia Indians American Indians?



I am doing an assignment on american indians. I was just woundering if Zia indians (Zia Pueblo tribe) were american indians? Some of the information on the net is a bit confusing. –Submitted by Jaspa K.


Hi Jaspa,

Yes, the Zia Pueblo Indians are american indians. “Pueblo Indians” is a broad term that includes many separate tribes (villages) named after the pueblos (multi-story communal houses which form a village) they lived in, who were all related by common ancestors in ancient times. The Pueblo Indians are the descendants of the Hohokam, Mogollon, Keresan, and the Anasazi prehistoric cultures of the Southwestern United States and Mexico.

While “Pueblo Indians” is often used interchangeably to mean any one of the tribes included under this umbrella, it is not by itself a tribe today.

The word Pueblo is the Spanish name for “town or village” and also refers to the type of structure these people built for their homes. Pueblos are usually multi-story, multi-family structures that contain many rooms, surrounding a central plaza which contains the kiva, a pit room in the ground used for religious ceremonies. The “cliff dwelling” and “cave dwelling” homes of the same geographical region were simply variant forms of the pueblo.

Over a period of hundreds of years, these ancient people split up into smaller groups that settled in different areas, depending on their needs for water, game, materials to build their pueblo homes, and suitable conditions for growing crops of food and providing defense of the village. Usually cliffs and high mesas with good views of the surrounding area were chosen because they were easier to defend against invaders.

The original Pueblo land base extended from about the Arkansas and Grand rivers, in Colorado and Utah, southwards into Mexico, and from central Arizona eastward, almost across the Texas Panhandle.

Because much of the land occupied by the Pueblo Indians is arid or semi-arid land, most of the land could not continue to support huge concentrations of people in the same area. About 1,000 years ago, there was a great drought that lasted for more than 20 years, which it is believed may have caused many pueblo people to abandon many of the larger, original settlements. As the population in an area grew, smaller groups split off and established their own settlements in new areas with better resources, and eventually became new tribes with their own government and new traditions which became specific to that group of people, while still retaining many of the traditions of their common ancestors. The Zia Indians are one of these groups.

From ancient ruins, we know that there were once more than one hundred separate pueblos. In the 1600s, there were about 60,000 Pueblo Indians occupying 90 pueblos. Today, 26 are occupied, excluding the two small Americanized pueblos of Isleta del Sur (Texas) and Senecú (Mexico), which is located near El Paso, Texas. With the exception of these two, all but the seven Hopi pueblos (including Hano) are in New Mexico. The Hopi are in Arizona. All have US Federal recognition as american Indian tribes, except Senecu, which is in Mexico, and San Juan de Guadalupe, which is currently petitioning for recognition.

The tribes that make up the Pueblo Indians originally spoke seven languages from four different linguistic stocks, with regional dialects. However, most Pueblo people today speak a variation of primarily two linguistic stocks, Keresan and Tanoan, as well as English and frequently Spanish. The Pueblo of Zia is part of the Keres Nation. The traditional language is Keresan, but many speak Spanish, some speak Navajo, and most also speak English.This pueblo has been occupied continuously since about 1250 A. D.

There are five Pueblo reservations. The Zia Indian Reservation is located in the flood plain of the Jemez River, and the Pajarito and Jemez Plateaus in Sandoval County, about 35 miles northwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Six other pueblos are also located in this county.

The current boundaries of the Pueblo of Zia Reservation cover about 190 square miles or 117,000 acres. Zia Pueblo is located 17 miles (27 km) northwest of Bernalillo and eight miles northwest of Santa Ana Pueblo on U.S. Highway 550. The Jemez Indian Reservation is in the same area, about 15 miles away.

The Zia pueblo is situated beside the Jemez River atop a small mesa which provides a spectacular view of the surrounding areas. Zia Pueblo lands have pine forest, red bluffs, white mesas, sink holes and clear, unimpeded sight lines in each direction from the pueblo. Behind the Zia Pueblo lies the Nacimiento Mountains and the Pajarito and Jemez Plateaus. Once one of the largest of the Río Grande pueblos with eight plazas and 6,000 people, the Zia Pueblo has decreased in size to a population of about 730 today. There are 167 housing units in Zia Pueblo today, with 132 of those owned by individual owners. The remaining structures are communal housing. The Zia pueblo is open to the public during daylight hours only.

More than any other tribes, the Pueblo Indians as a group, and the Zia Indians in particular, have retained most of their traditional beliefs and ways of living and have absorbed very little influence from the dominating European culture in this country. They don’t allow photographing of their ceremonies, have a strict protocol of ettiquite for visitors, and discourage sharing information about their culture with the outside world. For this reason, there is very little information specifically about the Zia Indians on the internet.

Most of the Pueblos have annual ceremonies that are open to the public. In many cases, one such ceremony is the Pueblo’s feast day, held on the day sacred to its Roman Catholic patron saint. (These saints were assigned by the Spanish missionaries so that each Pueblo’s feast day would coincide with a traditional Catholic celebration.) The Zia Pueblo’s Feast Day, coinciding with the Catholic holiday for Our Lady of the Assumption, is held on August 15th. The main public ceremony held on that day is the Corn Dance. No cameras, sketching or recording are allowed, and this is strictly enforced.

Artists from the Zia Pueblo are best known for their pottery, and to a lesser degree, some Zia artists are known for their water color paintings. Zia pottery is usually an unpolished redware with white slip, with decorations in brown or black, often with a feather or bird motif. This sacred symbol was painted on almost every surviving eighteenth-century Zia pottery vessel.

Zia pottery styles show virtually no European and little curio-market influence, and have changed very little since the mid 1700s. The matte paint styles of Pueblo pottery decoration originated late in the seventeenth century, replacing an earlier glazeware tradition called Puname Polychrome, which was used in Zia pottery originating from the years 1680-1740. The later style, San Pablo Polychrome, bears an old Spanish name for the pueblo of Zia, and is a very sturdy, rather thick walled jar or vase of very pleasing, symmetrical shape. Until about 1765, all these vessels had one feature that is particularly useful for dating purposes: The rim top was always painted red. After that date, the rim tops of Zia pottery have always been painted black.

One of the most important ways Zia pottery differs from their neighbors is the use of hand ground basalt stone as temper for their hand dug clay. This creates a working mixture that is very time-consuming to prepare, but is very strong when fired.

Zia potters rarely polish their pottery to a high shine, preferring a softly sanded, gently polished buff slip background which is then decorated with their traditional symbols, including the Zia bird (roadrunner), and rainbow arcs. Flower forms and cloud points are also commonly used as is the Zia sun symbol. In fact, that is where the idea for it’s inclusion on the New Mexico state flag came from. Both the Zia Pueblo flag and the New Mexico State Flag feature the Zia sun symbol.

Dr. Harry Mera, a physician and anthropologist at the Museum of Anthropology in Santa Fe was inspired by a pot that was on display in the museum, which was made by an anonymous Zia potter in the late 1800s. It featured a circle of white ringed in red, and from each of the four prime directions three rays emanated. In the center were two triangular eyes and a rectangular mouth in black.

From this pot, Dr. Mera came up with the red ring with four rays that is the symbol of New Mexico today. In 1925, the state of New Mexico adopted Dr. Mera’s burgundy sun on a field of gold as the new state flag of New Mexico. Today, the burgundy appears as bright red.

To the Zia people, the sun symbol is an ancient design. It reflects the basic harmony of all things in the universe. To the Zia, four is a sacred number, as it is with many other Native American tribes. <br

It reflects the four directions, the four seasons, the sunrise, noon, evening and night phases of the day and the four stages of life – childhood, youth, adulthood and old age.

The Zia also believe that man has four sacred obligations: to develop a strong body, a clear mind, a pure spirit and a devotion to the well being of the people.

The Zia have adopted a white flag bearing the red Zia sun symbol exactly as it appears on the New Mexico state flag. Above the Zia sun is the black inscription “Pueblo of Zia.” Surrounding the entire flag is a black border. The combination of red, white and black reflect the colors of the Zia pottery.

A few Zia potters still produce the large water jar ollas, up to 24″ in height, and their work is prized by collectors of traditional pottery. In addition to the traditional styles, Marcellus Medina, following in the tradition first created by his father and mother, carefully decorates his wife Elizabeth’s pots with highly detailed studies of ceremonial dancers, animals and other cultural motifs.

Originally using acrylic paints and mediums over gessoed pots, he is now using traditional colored, natural pigments finely ground and prepared, over finely slipped surfaces. His family’s pottery remains the high point of Zia pottery.

Besides the Medina family, the Herreras and Aragon families are famous Zia potter families who are known for their beautiful, prize winning pottery.


Meanings of Pueblo Symbols

For the Pueblo Indians, colors have come to represent directions symbolically. For centuries, maize has been grown in these colors. Here is a chart of some other Pueblo symbols.

Pueblo Indians

This is the new section of our website that will be devoted to information about all the tribes collectively known as Pueblo Indians. Look for many new additions to this section in the near future.

Hopi Prophecy: Emergence to the 5th World

This article begins with a Hopi prophecy first published in a mimeographed manuscript that circulated among several Methodist and Presbyterian churches in 1959.

Kachina Dolls (Katsina) or Tihu and the katsina society ceremonial dances

The Niman ceremony, which is held in mid summer represents the end of the kachina season. The kachinas dance in the plaza carrying stalks of corn and bearing gifts for the children. This is a time of thanks and appreciation for the harvest which the kachinas helped provide as well as a time to bid them farewell. With a final ceremony the kachinas are sent off to their mountain homes to await the renewed cycle of the coming year.

Acoma Pueblo is the oldest continuously inhabited village in the United States

The Acoma Pueblo, also known as “Sky City”, is a Native American pueblo built on top of a 367-foot (112 m) sandstone mesa in the U.S. state of New Mexico. The Pueblo, believed to have been established prior to the 10th century, was chosen in part because of its defensive position against raiders. It is regarded as the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States.


Co-opting Native American Imagery

In January 2000, representatives of the Zia Pueblo testified before the House Business and Industry Committee, asking New Mexico’s legislature to compensate the Pueblo for the state’s unauthorized use of the Zia Sun Symbol. The symbol, which has appeared on the state flag since 1925, is considered a “sacred symbol” and is a representation of the Zia’s “collective identity.” The Zia have been using the sun symbol for nearly 800 years. The Pueblo asked for $74 million, $1 million for each year that the symbol has appeared on the flag.

Native American Pottery Styles

Pictorial examples of different styles of Southwest Pueblo pottery identified by pueblo tribes. The last row of thumbnails show more Zia pottery, including pots made by members of the Medina family. Click on the small images to see larger pictures.

New Mexico Guide to Visiting the Pueblos

This site gives a list of the common ettiquite rules when visiting a Pueblo.

5th Annual Sun Mountain Gathering

A free, family-friendly event celebrating more than 12,000 years of New Mexico’s cultural heritage. Experience New Mexico’s traditional cultures and history through demonstrations, talks, exhibits, music, and family activities.

Historical Photos Taken at Zia and other Pueblo locations in Arizona and New Mexico
Click on the thumbnail pictures to see larger pictures.

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