New Mexico: Acoma


The Acoma Pueblo is located about one hour west of Albuquerque. The Acoma people moved to this mesa to defend themselves against raids by the Apache and Navajo. 

The main attraction of this 449,000-acre reservation is “Sky City,” located 365 feet above the surrounding valley. Self-claimed to be the oldest continually inhabited village in the United States, Sky City has 250 well-preserved dwellings dating back to 1150 – none of which have electricity, sewer or water. Each family on the reservation owns one dwelling on the Sky City mesa, yet only 40 Acoma live atop the mesa year-round. 

These ancient dwellings are often three stories tall. During the hot summer months, they would use the bottom floor for food storage, the middle floor as a living space and the top floor for the kitchen so heat could easily escape. During the cold winter months, this system was reversed so the kitchen heat could warm the rest of the home from the bottom floor.  

Throughout history, not once did an attack against Sky City succeed until the Spanish came in the late 1500s. Then for 82 years, the Acoma were enslaved by the Spanish and converted to Catholicism. Prior to the Spanish inquisition, the Acoma had over 6 million acres of land. 

The Spanish destroyed the Acoma religious sites called “kivas” that were on the Sky City mesa and had the Acoma build a Spanish mission on top of these ruins. The Acoma cleverly disguised new kivas as homes and continued to practice their Native beliefs. 


The Acoma Pueblo is home to about 3,000 residents and has about 6,000 enrolled members. Most community members live in the villages of Acomita and McCartys. Today, the Acoma practice both their traditional religion and Roman Catholicism. They are still a matriarchal society, meaning women own all the dwellings and household possessions. The youngest daughter in each family is the first to inherit the home. If the family only has boys, the youngest daughter of the youngest son would inherit the home. 

Traditionally dry land farmers, the Acoma still trap water using cisterns. Once a rainy landscape perfect for growing beans, squash, maize and pumpkins, the land is quite arid now. Acoma have raised livestock ever since the influx of Spanish settlers. Ancient hornos – traditional outdoor ovens that bake bread by using radiant heat from the fire inside – can also be found throughout the reservation and on the mesa. 

With a per capita income of roughly $16,000, about 22-24% of Acoma people live below the poverty line. Unemployment is low at roughly 6%. The Indian Health Service (IHS) operates the most accessible health facility, the Acoma-Canoncito-Laguna Indian Health Center that offers primary care, dental services, diabetes clinics and more. The Acoma Health and Wellness Department also provides preventative care through outreach, wellness checks and disease prevention services with their people. 

The Pueblo of Acoma is continuously improving quality of life in their community one step at a time, offering scholarships for tribal members and funding for other endeavors made possible by events like the Governor’s Golf Classic.