July 11, 2012

Pueblo of Cochiti


The Pueblo of Cochiti has been located roughly 25 miles southwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico for at least several centuries. With a relatively stable existence, the people have devoted increasing amounts of time and attention to religion, arts, and crafts. 

Official Tribal Name: Pueblo of Cochiti


Official Website:

Recognition Status: Federally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:

Cochiti comes from the original Keresan via a Spanish transliteration. The word “pueblo” comes from Spanish for “village.” It refers both to a certain style of Southwest Indian architecture, characterized by multistory, apartmentlike buildings made of adobe, and to the people themselves. 

Common Name / Meaning of Common Name: Cochiti Pueblo

Alternate names / Alternate spellings / Misspellings:

Name in other languages:

Region: Southwest

State(s) Today: New Mexico

Confederacy: Puebloan

Treaties: None of the Pueblo tribes signed any treaties with the United States.

Traditional Territory:

Reservations: Pueblo de Cochiti
Land Area:  Over 50,000 acres
Tribal Headquarters:  
Time Zone:  

Population at Contact: There were about 500 Cochitis living in the pueblo in 1700. 

Registered Population Today: In 1990, 666 Cochitis lived on the pueblo, with perhaps at least as many living outside the pueblo.

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

Genealogy Resources:


Pueblo governments are derived from two traditions. Elements that are probably indigenous include the cacique, or head of the Pueblo, and the war captains. These officials are intimately related to the religious structures of the pueblo and reflected the essentially theocratic nature of Pueblo government.

A parallel but in most cases distinctly less powerful group of officials was imposed by the Spanish authorities. Appointed by the traditional leadership, they generally dealt with external and church matters and included the governor, lieutenant governor, and fiscales.

In addition, the All Indian Pueblo Council, dating from 1598, began meeting again in the twentieth century. Although there is no constitution, the tribal council abandoned consensus-style decision making after World War II in favor of majority rule. Other than that, the Pueblo of Cochiti is governed according to tradition.

Name of Governing Body:  All Indian Pueblo Council
Number of Council members:  
Dates of Constitutional amendments: 
Number of Executive Officers:  6

Elections: Headmen of the three medicine societies (one of whom is the cacique, leader of the pueblo) annually select from the two kiva groups the war captain and his lieutenant, the governor and his lieutenant, and the fiscale and his lieutenant. 

Language Classification: Keresan -> Eastern Keres -> Cochiti 

Keresan is a dialect cluster spoken by the 7 Keres Pueblos  in New Mexico. The varieties of each of the seven Keres pueblos are mutually intelligible with its closest neighbors. Keres is a language isolate. Edward Sapir grouped it together with a Hokan–Siouan stock. Morris Swadesh suggested a connection with Wichita. Joseph Greenberg grouped Keres with Siouan, Yuchi, Caddoan, and Iroquoian in a super-stock called Keresiouan. None of these proposals has gained the consensus of linguists.

Language Dialects: Cochiti

Number of fluent Speakers:

  • Eastern Keres: total of 4,580 speakers (1990 census)
    • Cochiti Pueblo: 384 speakers (1990 census)
    • San Felipe – Santo Domingo (mutually intelligible) San Felipe Pueblo: 1,560 speakers (1990 census), Santo Domingo Pueblo: 1,880 speakers (1990 census)
    • Zia–Santa Ana (mutually intelligible) Zia Pueblo: 463 speakers (1990 census), Santa Ana Pueblo: 229 speakers (1990 census)
  • Western Keres: total of 3,391 speakers (1990 census)
    • Acoma Pueblo: 1,696 speakers (1980 census)
    • Laguna Pueblo: 1,695 speakers (1990 census)

Primarily as a result of intermarriage and the general acculturation process, few Cochitis still speak Keresan or Spanish (before World War II many were trilingual). A growing number of Cochitis live off the pueblo, contributing to a general loss of language, traditions, and culture. Since the 1960s, children have attended a nearby day school, with children of nearby Latino communities; this has also affected the community’s homogeneity. Cochitis attend high school in Bernalillo, where they graduate in relatively high numbers. Few children are acquiring the language as a first languge ; most speakers now are over 30 years old.


Origins: All Pueblo people are thought to be descended from Anasazi and perhaps Mogollon and several other ancient peoples, although the precise origin of the Keresan peoples is unknown. 

Bands, Gens, and Clans

Related Tribes:
Rio Grande pueblos are known as eastern Pueblos; Zuni, Hopi, and sometimes Acoma and Laguna are known as western Pueblos.

Traditional Allies:

Traditional Enemies: Though often depicted as passive and docile, most Pueblo groups regularly engaged in warfare. The great revolt of 1680 against the Spanish stands out as the major military action, but they also skirmished at other times with the Spanish,  and defended themselves against attackers such as Apaches, Comanches, and Utes.

They also contributed auxiliary soldiers to provincial forces under Spain and Mexico, which were used mainly against raiding Indians and to protect merchant caravans on the Santa Fe Trail.

After the raiding tribes began to pose less of a threat in the late nineteenth century, Pueblo military societies began to wither away, with the office of war captain changing to civil and religious functions. 

Ceremonies / Dances:

Modern Day Events & Tourism:

The principal ceremony and major feast day is San Buenaventuras Day. Except for katsina dances, the tribe generally admits the public for its ceremonies. Photography, video recording, and sketching is generally discouraged in all the Pueblos.

Before drawing the area and its people, or taking pictures, you should inquire if it is allowed, and if so, what the rules are. Some pueblos charge a fee for picture taking, depending on what you plan to do with your pictures. Other times photography is not allowed under any circumstances. Your camera may be confiscated and you may be fined and/or asked to leave if you take pictures without following their procedures. They take this VERY seriously.

The Pueblo and surrounding houses are private homes and should be treated as such. Do not enter any buildings unless invited, or clearly marked as open to the public.

Chaco and Mesa Verde: Southwest parks with similar history but different visitor experiences

Legends / Oral Stories:

Art & Crafts: Cochiti arts include pottery, baskets, drums, and shell and turquoise ornaments. Songs, dances, and dramas also qualify as traditional arts. Many Pueblos experienced a renaissance of traditional arts in the twentieth century, beginning in 1919 with San Ildefonso pottery made for the influx of tourist trade brought by the railroads. 

Animals: Spanish horses, mules, and cattle arrived at Cochiti Pueblo in the early 1600s. 

Clothing:  Men wore cotton kilts and leather sandals. Women wore cotton dresses and sandals or high moccasin boots. Deer and rabbit skin were also used for clothing and robes, and sandals were made of yucca. 

Housing: In the sixteenth century, Cochiti Pueblo featured two- to three-story, apartment-style dwellings as well as individual houses, facing south. The buildings were constructed of adobe (earth and straw) bricks, with beams across the roof that were covered with poles, brush, and plaster. Floors were of wood plank or packed earth. The roof of one level served as the floor of another. The levels were interconnected by ladders. As an aid to defense, the traditional design included no doors or windows; entry was through the roof. Pit houses, or kivas, served as ceremonial chambers and clubhouses. The village plaza, around which all dwellings were clustered, is the spiritual center of the village where all the balanced forces of world come together. 

Most houses on the pueblo today are built of adobe walls, beam and board under adobe roofs, and packed earth or wood plank floors. Some concrete block and frame housing is beginning to appear. Most houses have running water, sewers, telephones, and televisions.

Subsistance: The economy was basically a socialistic one, whereby labor was shared and produce was distributed equally. Cochitis were farmers. Before the Spanish arrived, they ate primarily corn, beans, and pumpkins. They also grew sunflowers and tobacco.

They hunted deer, mountain lion, bear, antelope, and rabbits. Occasionally, men from Cochiti and Santo Domingo Pueblos would travel east to hunt buffalo.

Cochitis also gathered a variety of wild seeds, nuts, berries, and other foods. The Spanish introduced wheat, alfalfa, sheep, cattle, and garden vegetables, which soon became part of the regular diet. 

Precontact farming implements were wooden. Traditional irrigation systems included ditches as well as floodwater collection at arroyo mouths (ak chin). The Spanish introduced metal tools and equipment.

All Pueblos were part of extensive Native American trading networks. With the arrival of other cultures, Pueblo Indians also traded with the Hispanic American villages and then U.S. traders. At fixed times during summer or fall, enemies declared truces so that trading fairs might be held.

The largest and best known was at Taos with the Comanche. Nomads exchanged slaves, buffalo hides, buckskins, jerked meat, and horses for agricultural and manufactured pueblo products. Pueblo Indians traded for shell and copper ornaments, turquoise, and macaw feathers.

Trade along the Santa Fe Trail began in 1821. By the 1880s and the arrival of railroads, the Pueblos were dependent on many American-made goods, and the Native American manufacture of weaving and pottery declined and nearly died out.

Economy Today: Some people still farm, although more work for wages in nearby cities. In 1986, the tribe bought out a bankrupt company with whom they had signed very controversial long-term leases and contracts to develop businesses and schools. A lake associated with this development provides some recreational and other facilities; however, it has not brought a hoped-for prosperity to the tribe. Cochitis are particularly known for their fine aspen and cottonwood drums, ceremonial and tourist, as well as their excellent pottery, silver jewelry, and other arts. Unemployment in the early 1990s hovered around 20 percent. 

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

In traditional Pueblo culture, religion and life are inseparable. To be in harmony with all of nature is the Pueblo ideal and way of life. The sun is seen as the representative of the Creator. Sacred mountains in each direction, plus the sun above and the earth below, define and balance the Pueblo world.

Many Pueblo religious ceremonies revolve around the weather and are devoted to ensuring adequate rainfall. To this end, Pueblo Indians evoke the power of katsinas, sacred beings who live in mountains and other holy places, in ritual and dance.

All Cochiti men belonged to katsina societies. The exact nature and purposes of these societies are closely guarded secrets not usually shared with the public, with a few exceptions

Cochiti Pueblo contains two circular kivas, religious chambers that symbolize the place of original emergence into this world, and their associated societies, Squash and Turquoise.

In addition to the natural boundaries, Pueblo Indians created a society that defined their world by providing balanced, reciprocal relationships within which people connect and harmonize with each other, the natural world, and time itself.

According to tradition, the head of each pueblo is the religious leader, or cacique, whose primary responsibility it is to watch the sun and thereby determine the dates of ceremonies. Much ceremonialism is also based on medicine societies, and shamans use supernatural powers for curing, weather control, and ensuring the general welfare of the people. Especially in the eastern pueblos, most ceremonies are kept secret.

Although the project of retaining a strong Indian identity is a difficult one in the late twentieth century, Pueblo people have strong roots, and in many ways the ancient rhythms and patterns continue. Many Cochiti Pueblo Indians, though nominally Catholic, have fused parts of Catholicism onto a core of traditional beliefs. Since the 1970s control of schools has been a key in maintaining their culture.

Occasional clan ceremonies are still held, and two of the three traditional medicine societies remain. The office of cacique also remains, though in a weakened form. Traditional medicine has largely given way to modern health centers.

Burial Customs:

The dead were prepared ceremonially and quickly buried with clothes, beads, food, and other items. A vigil of four days and nights was generally observed.

Wedding Customs:

Pueblo Indians were generally monogamous and divorce is relatively rare. One mechanism that works to keep Pueblo societies coherent is a pervasive aversion to individualistic behavior. Children are traditionally raised with gentle guidance and a minimum of discipline. 

Cochiti Pueblo recognizes matrilineal clans, associated with the seasons, as well as two patrilineal kiva groups, which in turn are associated with medicine societies.


Famous Cochiti People

Catastrophic Events:

Tribe History:

In the 1200s, the Anasazi abandoned their traditional canyon homelands in response to climatic and social upheavals. A century or two of migrations ensued, followed in general by the slow reemergence of their culture in the historic pueblos. For a time the Cochiti lived with the San Felipe people but divided before the Spanish arrived.

In 1598, Juan de Onate arrived in the area with settlers, founding the colony of New Mexico. Onate carried on the process, already underway in nearby areas, of subjugating the local Indians; forcing them to pay taxes in crops, cotton, and work; and opening the door for Catholic missionaries to attack their religion. The Spanish renamed the Pueblos with saints’ names and began a program of church construction (such as San Buenaventura mission at Cochiti). At the same time, the Spanish introduced such new crops as peaches, wheat, and peppers into the region. In 1620, a royal decree created civil offices at each pueblo; silver-headed canes, many of which remain in use today, symbolized the governor’s authority.

The Pueblo Indians, including Cochiti Pueblo, organized and instituted a general revolt against the Spanish in 1680. For years, the Spaniards had routinely tortured Indians for practicing traditional religion. They also forced the Indians to labor for them, sold Indians into slavery, and let their cattle overgraze Indian land, a situation that eventually led to drought, erosion, and famine. Pope of San Juan Pueblo and other Pueblo religious leaders planned the revolt, sending runners carrying cords of maguey fibers to mark the day of rebellion. Antonio Malacate of Cochiti Pueblo was also a prominent leader. On August 10, 1680, a virtually united stand on the part of the Pueblos drove the Spanish from the region. The Indians killed many Spaniards but refrained from mass slaughter, allowing them to leave Santa Fe for El Paso. The Cochiti abandoned their pueblo from 1683 to 1692, joining other Keresan people at the fortified town of Potrero Viejo.

The Pueblos experienced many changes during the following decades: Refugees established communities at Hopi, guerrilla fighting continued against the Spanish, and certain areas were abandoned. By the 1700s, excluding Hopi and Zuni, only Taos, Picuris, Isleta, and Acoma Pueblos had not changed locations since the arrival of the Spanish. Although Pueblo unity did not last, and Santa Fe was officially reconquered in 1692, Spanish rule was notably less severe from then on. Harsh forced labor all but ceased, and the Indians reached an understanding with the Church that enabled them to continue practicing their traditional religion.

In general, the Pueblo eighteenth century was marked by smallpox epidemics and increased raiding by the Apache, Comanche, and Ute. Occasionally Pueblo Indians fought with the Spanish against the nomadic tribes. The people practiced their religion but more or less in secret. During this time, intermarriage and regular exchange between Hispanic villages and Pueblo Indians created a new New Mexican culture, neither strictly Spanish nor Indian, but rather somewhat of a blend between the two.

Mexican “rule” in 1821 brought little immediate change to the Pueblos. The Mexicans stepped up what had been a gradual process of appropriating Indian land and water, and they allowed the nomadic tribes even greater latitude to raid. As the presence of the United States in the area grew, it attempted to enable the Pueblo Indians to continue their generally peaceful and self-sufficient ways, and recognized Spanish land grants to the Pueblos.

During the nineteenth century the process of acculturation among Pueblo Indians quickened markedly. In an attempt to retain their identity, Pueblo Indians clung even more tenaciously to their heritage, which by now included elements of the once-hated Spanish culture and religion. By the 1880s, railroads had largely put an end to the traditional geographical isolation of the pueblos. Paradoxically, the U.S. decision to recognize Spanish land grants to the Pueblos denied Pueblo Indians certain rights granted under official treaties and left them particularly open to exploitation by squatters and thieves.

After a gap of more than 300 years, the All Indian Pueblo Council began to meet again in the 1920s, specifically in response to a congressional threat to appropriate Pueblo lands. Partly as a result of the Council’s activities, Congress confirmed Pueblo title to their lands in 1924 by passing the Pueblo Lands Act. The United States also acknowledged its trust responsibilities in a series of legal decisions and other acts of Congress. Still, especially after 1900, Pueblo culture was increasingly threatened by highly intolerant Protestant evangelical missions and schools. The Bureau of Indian Affairs also weighed in on the subject of acculturation, forcing Indian children to leave their homes and attend culture-killing boarding schools.

In the 1930s, a concrete dam just north of Cochiti made possible new irrigation canals. With a sure water supply, ceremonialism largely based on the uncertainties of local agriculture declined steeply. Completion of a larger dam in 1975 flooded important archaeological sites as well as the best sources of potters’ clay and some acreage; however, farming had declined anyway.

Following World War II, the issue of water rights took center stage on most pueblos. Also, the All Indian Pueblo Council succeeded in slowing the threat against Pueblo lands as well as religious persecution. Making crafts for the tourist trade became an important economic activity during this period. Since the late nineteenth century, but especially after the 1960s, Pueblos have had to cope with onslaughts by (mostly white) anthropologists and seekers of Indian spirituality. The region is also known for its major art colonies at Taos and Santa Fe.

Tiguex War
Pueblo Revolt of 1680
New Mexico’s pueblos have a history with the federal government unlike any other American Indian tribe

In the News:

Further Reading:

The Pottery of Cochiti & Santa Domingo Pueblos
Southwestern Pottery: Anasazi to Zuni
The Pueblo Indians of North America
Wild Plants of the Pueblo Province: Exploring Ancient and Enduring Uses

US Tribes N to P
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