Gil L. Vigil, Executive Director, Eight Northern Indian Pueblos, Inc.
In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today. —Dennis Zotigh, NMAI
Gil L. Vigil, executive director, Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council, Inc. (ENIPC). ENIPC is a 501(c3) non-profit organization whose membership includes Tesuque, Pojoaque, Nambe, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, Ohkay Owingeh, Picuris, and Taos Pueblos.
The council was formed in the 1960s by a group of visionaries who realized that with a united effort of combining resources and populations they would be in a better position to compete for federal monies allocated to the “war on poverty.” Since that time the council has evolved into a conduit for federal and state programs that serve not only the eight northern pueblos but many of the surrounding tribes and communities as well.
I've also served as governor of the Pueblo of Tesuque and currently serve on the tribal council and on many boards locally and nationally. I’m president of the National Indian Child Welfare Association and also serve on the Haskell Indian Nations University Board of Regents as vice president. And I'm an alternate delegate to the new Secretary's Tribal Advisory Committee at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Can you give us your Native name, its English translation and/or nickname?
It's not appropriate to share our Native names. Our names are powerful, and to just give them out lessens that power.
What responsibilities do you have in your community?
Governors and members of the council are responsible for the well-being of our community and the people we serve.
How did your life experience prepare you to lead?
Growing up in a traditional community you learn your traditional ways that prepare you for the responsibilities as a leader.
Who inspired you as a mentor?
The elders of my pueblo, my grandfathers, grandmothers, father, mother, uncles, aunts. But my grandfathers and father were my main mentors.
Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so, who?
We all are descendants of our historical leaders.
Where is your community located?
Tesuque is located ten miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Evidence shows that the village has existed in its current location since sometime before AD 1200, and it is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places. Tesuque Pueblo contains over 17,000 acres, including the Aspen Ranch and the Vigils Land Grant in the Santa Fe National Forest.
Where are the Pueblo people originally from?
The Pueblo were never removed from our ancestral home lands. However, our history tells us that our ancestors came from Mesa Verde, Bandelier, and other cliff dwellings, and then from Chaco Canyon before we settled on where we are at now. Our land has diminished in size over time from the original land grants.
What is a significant point in history from Tesuque that you would like to share?
The 1680 Pueblo Revolt, the first successful revolution for independence on this continent, long before the American Revolution of 1776. Tesuque Pueblo had an important role in the revolution. People from the pueblo not only struck the first blow to begin the revolt, but two runners from Tesuque—Nicolas Catua and Pedro Omtua—were captured, tortured, and finally executed, the first to give up their lives in the revolt.
Runners carried a knotted cord throughout the pueblos, and each day a knot would be untied to indicate of how many days were left before the revolt would take place. Catua and Omtua were betrayed by some of the pueblos, who told the Spanish Governor Antonio de Otermin of the revolt. Otermin deployed his army and captured Catua and Omtua.
The revolt was brought about by years of Spanish cruelty and barbarism toward the indigenous inhabitants. The Natives were forbidden, on pain of death, to practice their religion. Our people fought to regain their freedom from tyranny, persecution, and unjust taxation just as the Americans did 96 years later. The revolt chased the Spaniards from our land for 12 years, until their return in 1692.
While independence from the Spanish was short-lived, the Pueblo Revolt gained the Pueblo people a measure of freedom from future Spanish efforts to eradicate their culture and religion. Moreover, the Spanish issued substantial land grants to each pueblo. Spain has acknowledged the sovereignty of the Pueblo people by giving each pueblo a cane to recognize the sovereignty. The governors of the pueblos still hold these canes today.
Tesuque Pueblo still celebrates the Pueblo Revolt on August 10 every year by having an annual run into Santa Fe from Tesuque. In fact, the City of Santa Fe dedicated the courtyard of the convention center in honor of Catua and Omtua at this year's run into Santa Fe.
Approximately how many members are in your pueblo?
Currently Tesuque has a population of around 800.
What are the criteria to become a member of your pueblo?
Lineal decent—an applicant has to prove his or her lineage.
Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?
Yes, about 60 per cent.
What economic enterprises does the pueblo own?
The Pueblo of Tesuque has incorporated a Section 17 corporation that oversees the casino, gas station and convenience store, a flea market, and a trailer village.
What annual events does Tesuque sponsor?
We don’t sponsor any specific events. However, we hold our annual feast days, and they are open to visitors.
What attractions are available for visitors on your land?
Our various dances that we have throughout the year are open to the public.
How is the pueblo government set up?
It’s a traditional form of government while also incorporating a modern form of government introduced by the Spanish.
Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?
The traditional function is part of the overall modern government.
How often are elected leaders chosen?
Leaders are appointed on an annual basis by the elders.
How often does the community council meet?
They meet monthly, or more if it is necessary.
How does your community deal with the United States as a sovereign nation?
As a sovereign nation we deal with the United States on a government-to-government basis. In New Mexico we have a Tribal Consultation Act that requires the governor of New Mexico to meet with pueblo leadership on a quarterly basis. We also work with national Indian organizations in national meetings.
From left to right: Betsy Barefoot, vice president and senior scholar of the Gardner Institute; Gov. Vigil; and Dwight Carlston (Navajo), a student at Navajo Technical College and president of the AIHEC Student Congress. 40th Anniversary Conference of the AIHEC, Santa Fe, New Mexico, August, 2013. Photo by C. J. Heatley III, courtesy of the AIHEC.
What message would you like to share with Pueblo youth?
Never forget who you are and where you come from. That you are rooted to the pueblo is the base of who you are. I give the same advice that I was given on how to conduct and live my life. It is known as our walk of life.
To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below.
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips.
All images used with permission.