New Mexico: Zuni


The Zuni Pueblo is the largest and most populous pueblo in New Mexico. The Zuni and their ancestors have been at this site for more than 2,000 years. The soil is rich and there is plenty of water for irrigation. 

Zuni was the first pueblo to be visited by the Spanish explorers in the 1500’s. It was thought to be the site of one of the “seven cities of gold.” This turned out to be a myth, perpetuated by a rogue Spanish explorer. A year later, Coronado’s expedition came looking for streets lined with gold and instead found a hostile Zuni people. War ensued, and the Zuni ultimately relented, accepting the Spanish but never adopting their ways. Many Friars at the mission here were even killed by the Zuni for their intrusion. 

In the mid-1800s, the Zuni had become the wealthiest and largest political force in the region. They grew crops and became sheepherders. However, settlers began to creep into the area, as did the transcontinental railroad, so the Zuni lost most of their land. 


There are several communities on Zuni land today, none of which are dominated by the adobe style houses that most other pueblos have. Their year is still marked by the cycle of ceremonial activities, including the most recognized Sha’lak’o (winter solstice) event. 

The Zuni people are famous for their mosaic-patterned inlay jewelry, needlework and fetish stone carving, which can be found in shops and trading posts throughout the Southwest (including 10 within the Zuni community). Zuni also features various shopping and dining facilities, an arts center, visitor center and many service and convenience stores, though their main attraction is the historic Our Lady of Guadalupe mission church with life-size murals of kachinas on the inner walls. 

Though many residents find themselves traveling 40 miles to Gallup for groceries and other necessities, the tribe operates a busy senior center, career development service, social services unit and more. The Indian Health Service (I.H.S.) operates the Zuni Comprehensive Health Center in the community, offering a 24-hour emergency room, optometry, radiology, mental health, obstetrics, dental health, diabetes prevention, podiatry, nutrition and infant care in additional to general medical services. 

The population of Zuni is nearly 7,900 people today, and the tribe has over 10,200 enrolled members. The median income is $48,155 and poverty impacts 26.3% of the residents.