When the dance was over, 20-year-old Picuris Youth Council Governor Jordan Fragua spoke of the tribe’s struggles “ever since the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria landed in 1492. But on this day we celebrate the resiliency of native people. Our ancestors went through so much, but they knew they were making a sacrifice for future generations — for us to be standing here with you all today.”
The Picuris trip to New York had been several years in the making. In 2018, the tribe had started working with Barnard’s Severin Fowles, chair of American Studies and associate professor of anthropology. Having lived in New Mexico for much of his life, Fowles knew that Picuris could offer his students an amazing archaeology opportunity. “The existing village was built on top of an archaeological site that dates back to about 900 AD,” he says. Along with his archaeological colleagues Michael Adler of Southern Methodist University and Lindsay Montgomery of the University of Toronto, Fowles received permission from the Picuris governor to bring his students to do research for the benefit of the tribe on the Picuris reservation.
A small group of Picuris members had planned a New York visit in 2020, with the main purpose of viewing some long-disappeared Picuris artifacts at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). But the pandemic delayed that excursion, and eventually a more ambitious plan evolved.
Museum in the making
Picuris is a small village in northern New Mexico, some 25 miles from Taos. Once a major regional center, it’s now home to fewer than 200 tribe members. For centuries, the Picuris people have made pottery using mica-rich clay dug from pits outside the village. The nation played a pivotal role in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, when New Mexico’s Native American people rose up to fight off their Spanish oppressors. In the early 20th century, Picuris lost many historical artifacts when non-Native anthropologists started acquiring Native American goods, and a number of those objects landed in the AMNH, buried deep in its Spinden Collection. The artifacts the tribe does still have were housed in a small museum the Picuris built in the 1960s, but it closed down years ago, and its objects have been stored away ever since. Now the tribe is renovating and expanding the old building into a new Tribal Interpretive Center.