Native American Pueblos: Modern Communities, Ancient Roots


They still embrace the landscape of the desert southwest, modern embodiments of the ancient people who lived among the pithouses, cliff dwellings and adobe structures of thousands of years ago. Called Pueblos by the Spanish conquerors who came into their land, these thriving communities have carried their culture, tradition, and language into the modern era. Today they are home to some of the most skilled artists in the world, continuing a tradition that has been passed down for generations.

There are twenty-one Pueblo communities, in three different states. The largest number is found in New Mexico:

Acoma Pueblo. New Mexico. 1904. Photo by Edward S. Curtis.

  • Acoma Pueblo: west of Albuquerque and home to one of the oldest continually inhabited communities in the United States
  • Cochiti Pueblo: southwest of Santa Fe
  • Isleta Pueblo: south of Albuquerque
  • Jemez Pueblo: northwest of Albuquerque
  • Kewa Pueblo: southwest of Santa Fe; formerly known as Santo Domingo
  • Laguna Pueblo: located on Route 66, west of Albuquerque
  • Nambe Pueblo: north of Santa Fe, at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains
  • Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo: north of Santa Fe
  • Picuris Pueblo: located in northern New Mexico, on the western slopes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains
  • Pojoaque Pueblo: north of Santa Fe
  • Sandia Pueblo: located near Albuquerque
  • San Felipe Pueblo: north of Albuquerque
  • San Ildefonso Pueblo: located near Espanola
  • Santa Ana Pueblo: northwest of Albuquerque
  • Santa Clara Pueblo: located near Espanola
  • Taos Pueblo: north of Taos, it’s one of the longest continually inhabited communities in the country
  • Tesuque Pueblo: north of Santa Fe
  • Zia Pueblo: northwest of Albuquerque
  • Zuni Pueblo: located roughly 150 miles west of Albuquerque


    Zuni Pueblo. New Mexico. 1903. Photo by Edward S. Curtis.


The Hopi lands cover over a million acres in northeastern Arizona, with twelve villages spread out over three mesas. And Ysleta del Sur Pueblo is located in Texas, near El Paso.

Hopi village of Mishongnovi on top of a mesa. ca.1900-1901. Arizona. Photo by George Wharton James , C.C.


these federally recognized communities are considered sovereign nations. Each has their own government and political entities. There are government agencies in each which develop and enforce tribal laws through tribal courts, levy taxes, fund schools and services for the people of the Pueblo and operate much as a state government. Pueblos have a governor, and often a tribal council to oversee the creation of laws, regulations, etc. Regular elections are held for these positions. Though they are open to visitors, each Pueblo also has set regulations for appropriate behavior for those visitors when in their community. Many Pueblos have also set up businesses, including casinos, to help fund services for their people.

A group of women in Taos Pueblo, New Mexico. ca. 1920. Photo by Charles J. Belden.

The different Pueblos share many similarities, but there is also a great deal of diversity among them. Even their languages differ. Seven of them (Acoma, Cochiti, Kewa, Laguna, San Felipe, Santa Ana, and Zia) speak a dialect of a language called Keres. Eleven others speak various forms of what’s known as a Tanoan language family: Jemez (Towa), Ohkay Owingeh, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, Tesuque, Nambe, and Pojoaque speak Tewa, while Taos, Picuris, Sandia and Isleta speak dialects of Tiwa. The Hopi and the Zuni each have their own language as well.

With their ancient roots, each of these communities has continued to play an important role in the world around them. Through their art, their music and dancing and their deep connection to the landscape, they have brought their ancestral past into a modern world. Should you be planning a trip out to the Southwest, you should take some time and get to know the people who have helped shape this area for thousands of years.