Supporting Santa Fe’s Tesuque Nation

Mark Fuller

Officials in Santa Fe, New Mexico are trying to build a civic center on historic Native American land. Professor of English and Women’s Studies Sarah Wider is trying to stop them.

Recently, she has been trekking around campus trying to raise awareness about an issue very near and dear to her: the destruction of Tesuque Pueblo lands.

Wider has been speaking to classes and groups on various occasions, including a Brown Bag lunch last week and one in which she collected signatures for a petition against the desecration of historic territory.

The problem began recently when the government of Santa Fe approved a new $54-million civic center. The center would cover a 72,000-square foot plot of land and include a 600-space underground parking garage. The issue lies in the location.

The civic center is intended for a site which envelops the ancient pueblo (“town”) of the Tesuque Nation. The ancestral home of the Tesuque contains more than just memory – it is the burial site of its former inhabitants, with bones dating back to 1350 and 1400 A.D. With the support of archeologists and other advocates, Tesuque Governor Mark Mitchell has loudly objected to this plan, explaining that construction would destroy the nation’s ancient home and tribal burial sites.

Since leading her first study group to Santa Fe in 2001, Wider, who is originally from New Mexico and teaches contemporary Native American literature, has had a close relationship with the Tesuque Pueblo Indians. The Tesuque are a small nation of approximately 800 people, located 10 miles to the north of Santa Fe. For several years the extended study program “Continuity in Pueblo Communities” has brought Colgate students into the lives of the Tesuque people, and vice versa.

“Colgate has an ongoing relationship with the Tesuque,” Wider said. “When I led my first group in 2001, 9/11 happened and we had several students from New York. The people at the Pueblo gave us a home, and such great support. Now I’m doing everything I can to help them.”

This past spring Wider led a group of 13 students to Santa Fe where they involved themselves in community service projects in either the Tesuque or Cochiti Pueblo. Student service projects ranged from educational assistance to basketball camps.

“It was a completely unique educational opportunity,” senior study group member James Silas said. “We worked with the pueblo Indians on various events and programs that expanded our knowledge of the history of pueblo Indians, what problems or good things are going on at the pueblo today, and what the future holds in store.”

Senior Kakwireiosta “Leyosta” Hall, who founded the Native American Student Association (NASA) in 2001, explained how her community experience took place in an “elder center,” where she helped in the kitchen.

“My volunteer experience [in the center] offered me a different perspective on life from my generation and my culture,” Hall said. “I am from the Onondaga Nation in New York, so it was nice to experience different communities.”

Praise of the study group and pueblo people, however, quickly turns to criticism of the civic center proposal.

“The center will infringe on their lands,” Hall said, “lands that have a lot of history and value, historically and spiritually. That’s why we’re trying to get signatures together to support them.”

Hall and NASA, with the help of Wider, are circulating a petition that they hope to send to Santa Fe by the end of next week. The goal is 500 Colgate signatures. Wider called the response of the Colgate community “phenomenal.”

“It worries me that the civic center proposals have gone so far forward,” Wider said. “But I’m hopeful, because in June it seemed like a done deal. This August, though, they got a ‘stay’ in construction. The longer things get postponed, the better it is.”

On October 14, the city will try to obtain a “burial excavation” permit, which would allow them to remove human remains and begin construction.

“The best-case scenario is that it is again delayed,” Wider said.