Etiquette for Visiting Pueblos

The unique styles and designs associated with Native American jewelry are the modern expression of years of tradition. Culture and community encircle that tradition with the artist creating through the lens of both the past and the present. It is one of the traits which makes Native American art important in the preservation of ancient cultures. It is also an aspect which draws non-Natives to the communities which have given birth to such talented artists. For those planning a visit to the Southwest who wish to include visits to one or more of the nineteen Pueblos, there are some important things to remember as you enter these vital communities.

The nineteen pueblos are scattered throughout the state of NM

First and foremost it’s important to remember these places are communities. For the people who live there, the pueblo is home. During feast days or other times when the pueblos are open to visitors, it can be forgotten by some that they are not at a museum or a cultural center. Rules of etiquette for visiting someone’s home should be observed. As you wouldn’t appreciate your own home being treated as if it’s there solely for the entertainment of visitors, so those living in the pueblo ask for respect and courtesy from outsiders. If there is a visitor center for the pueblo, it is worth a stop for an orientation to the particular guidelines visitors are asked to observe when coming into the community. There visitors can find information that will help them be a welcome guest and not an unwelcome intruder.

Another important item to remember stems from the understanding that these are not museums but communities. The land in which they are located is not a park either, and most of the pueblos only allow the taking of photos, or even painting or sketching by those who have gotten a permit for such activity. At some pueblos, visitors are asked to refrain from taking photographs at all, especially during events. It’s wise to keep your cellphone put away to reduce the temptation to take photos with it, or to incur the difficulty of having it confiscated by tribal police.

As it would be rude for a stranger to come in your home and snap photos of you as you go about, so it’s discourteous to treat traditional ceremonies as if they are a performance to be recorded. The ceremonies are sacred and done as an expression of the beliefs of the members of the pueblo. As such, it is not appropriate to record.

There are other general guidelines that should be observed as well: since the dances are ceremonies, applause is not appropriate during or at the end. If a visitor is invited into a home to celebrate one of the feast days, payment or tipping is considered disrespectful. Be respectful of the space. Many of the buildings within the pueblos are very old and should be treated with care. Do not remove items you may find during your visit. Artifacts such as pottery shards are part of the community and not souvenirs. Please do not pick them up. Questions may be a good way to learn, but remember that the ceremonies are not classrooms, nor are they times for questioning. Gaining some knowledge before your visit about the ceremonies will be helpful. Keep in mind that some questions may be offensive, or the answers to them are not information that can be given out. Don’t persist in asking.

Courtesy and respect are the best guides when coming to visit one of the nineteen Pueblos. Keeping these in mind will allow you to participate in those activities that are inclusive and prevent you from inadvertently being disrespectful while there. To prepare for your visit before you arrive, contact either the visitor center or the Governor’s office of the individual pueblo with any questions you may have.