This New Mexico Pueblo Is Ensuring Tourism Happens on the Community's Terms

Meet three Indigenous entrepreneurs in Zuni.

Zuni, with 10,000 Indigenous residents, is the largest of New Mexico's 19 pueblos, the state's traditional Native American villages — and one of the most remote. The 1,300-year-old settlement in the Colorado Plateau, at the foot of the Dowa Yalanne mesa, is home to adobe houses, archaeological sites, and thousands of petroglyphs. Most of the area's modern economy is based on traditional craft: woven textiles, painted pottery, inlaid mosaic jewelry.

Until recently, visitors to Zuni were few due to its location and lack of infrastructure. Young people were moving out for much the same reason, drawn to jobs in larger cities. But pueblo leaders saw potential in tourism — not only to generate revenue but also to increase awareness of Zuni culture and its role in U.S. history. Now the pueblo is developing a responsible-tourism model that prioritizes sovereignty and authenticity. Here, meet three entrepreneurs who are sharing their ancestral heritage — and preserving it for future generations.

Contact the Zuni Visitors Center (505-782-7238) to book these and other experiences.

Related: Visiting Native Land: The Importance of Considering Whose Land We're on When We're Traveling

Five people standing on rocks and grass with a blue sky behind, in Zuni Pueblo
Archaeologist Kenny Bowekaty leads a tour group. Leslie Davis/Courtesy of New Mexico Nomad

Kenny Bowekaty

After studying archaeology at Stanford, Bowekaty returned to help develop a series of history- and culture-focused initiatives. His most recent projects involve new programming at the Zuni Visitor Center, including Zuni-led walking tours of the pueblo's Middle Village, trips to the ruins at Hawikku and the Village of the Great Kivas, and meals catered by local women. "This work allowed me to see how deep our history is," he says, "and to create an infrastructure that not only helps bring people here but also supports our artists and businesses."

Revenue goes to ongoing excavations of historic sites and creating more tourism offerings. The Zuni Tribal Government hopes to eventually build a hotel in Zuni. (Right now, most visitors stay in Gallup, 30 miles away.) Still, Bowekaty stresses the importance of respecting the sacred land: "We welcome visitors, but they have to honor our tribal rules by keeping distance, obtaining photo permits, putting cameras away during sacred ceremonies, and exploring only with local guides."

Celia Tsabetsaye

After retiring from her post at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., Tsabetsaye returned to the pueblo, drawn back by its peaceful open spaces and her ancestral connections to the land she grew up on. To keep her mind active (she recently turned 78), Tsabetsaye decided to share her passion for food, converting her 19th-century family home into a neighborhood restaurant, the Village Bistro. She offers cooking demonstrations and seasonal lunch menus with Zuni staples such as pozole, blue-corn tamales, and a thin, rolled bread called piki, along with homemade red and green chile sauces.

A woman making traditional Zuni bread in an oven made from the earth
Ava Hannaweeke bakes hebogo mula, a traditional Zuni bread, in her backyard ovens. Leslie Davis/Courtesy of New Mexico Nomad

Ava Hannaweeke

Prior to 2020, Hannaweeke had a thriving catering business at the pueblo. But after many Native American communities went into lockdown, she pivoted to making hebogo mula, a Zuni bread. Hannaweeke and her family collect wood from nearby forests to fire their hornos, the beehive-shaped clay ovens in the backyard, and knead the sourdough by hand before molding it into the traditional horn shape. They sometimes have 100 loaves baking at any given time. News of her bread quickly spread across neighboring communities, and people drive for hours to buy a loaf. Through Ava's Bread Experience, she offers hands-on baking lessons to visitors who want to learn the tradition.

A version of this story first appeared in the November 2021 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline People Power.

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