In Taos Pueblo, the future fuses with the past

Solar panels and memories of the 1847 massacre
All photos: Rashmee Roshan Lall

We visited Taos Pueblo, the Unesco World Heritage site where life is supposed to be lived like a thousand years ago, within days of a significant development. Representatives from the Pueblo (Spanish for village), the Kit Carson Electric Cooperative (KCEC) and the International Center for Appropriate and Sustainable Technology had just recently signed an agreement for the installation of solar panels and battery storage on the 100,000 acres of Pueblo lands.

It’s a long-term project, which looks ahead 25 years, but it will help the Red Willow Creek peoples partake of some modern conveniences at reduced utility costs.

For the moment, they are like exotic beings embedded in amber. Remember Ariana, the tour guide, telling visitors that the folks at World Heritage weren’t keen for the Pueblo to get on the electric grid and have running water? As I said before, I have no idea if that is true but it’s reasonable to think that the mere fact of the idea floating around speaks to a sense of resentment among the Red Willow Creek peoples.

Ariana, a Red Willow Creek woman is studying to be a paediatric nurse. She has two young children – aged six and two – always liked little children and plans to return to Taos Pueblo once she qualifies as her people have a shortage of trained nurses

Speaking of resentment, Ariana also pointed out the bell from Spain in the remains of a church that was subject to cannon fire from US forces in February 1847, killing 150 women and children sheltering inside. The context was a revolt – – against US occupation –  by a group of Taos Indians and Hispanos (people descended from Spanish settlers). When I asked Ariana to elaborate on the bell that came from Spain, she replied that it was put in the church that was built by “forced labour”.

The Spanish bell in the ruined San Geronimo Church

To have some sense of what forced labour meant in those times, amongst those people, I give you the following paragraph from Willa Cather’s remarkable and much-quoted work of historical fiction set in Santa Fe and the northern New Mexico, Death Comes for the Archbishop. It’s about another Amerindian group in the area and their treatment at the hands of Spanish missionaries. The reference to the “great Indian uprising” is the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, which drove out the Spanish and left 400 Spaniards dead, only for the Spanish to reconquer New Mexico 12 years later:

“Some time in the very early years of seventeen hundred, nearly fifty years after the great Indian uprising in which all the missionaries and all the Spaniards in northern New Mexico were either driven out or murdered, after the country had been reconquered and new missionaries had come to take the place of the martyrs, a certain Friar Baltazar Montoya was priest at Ácoma. He was of a tyrannical and overbearing disposition and bore a hard hand on the natives. All the missions now in ruins were active then, each had its resident priest, who lived for the people or upon the people, according to his nature. Friar Baltazar was one of the most ambitious and exacting. It was his belief that the pueblo of Ácoma existed chiefly to support its fine church, and that this should be the pride of the Indians as it was his. He took the best of their corn and beans and squashes for his table, and selected the choicest portions when they slaughtered a sheep, chose their best hides to carpet his dwelling. Moreover, he exacted a heavy tribute in labour.”

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”
– Jack Kerouac

Also read:

In Taos Pueblo, 1000-year-old mud houses with propane and mobile wifi

Different strokes: The Pueblo peoples of the American southwest

The southwest: Snake sticks and ‘America’s first apartment house’

Native wisdom: The North American Indian

Prepping for the American southwest