The Pueblo of Acoma’s Cultural Inheritance & Archaeological Partnership in the “Lands Between” of Southeastern Utah

Located among the arid canyons and mesas of southeastern Utah are some of the best-preserved archaeological sites in the world. However, while other areas within the northern Southwest have been recognized and protected via federal designation, the area known as the “Lands Between” (named for its position between Bears Ears National Monument to the west and Canyon of the Ancients National Monument to the east) has received no such protection. The Lands Between, and the larger southeastern Utah region, encompass an archaeological record consisting of thousands of years of Pueblo Indian, Ute, and Navajo history. One important site assemblage in this area, however, dates to the Early Pueblo period (AD 650-950). This time and place, dubbed the “Crucible of Pueblos” by archaeologists, was where the first Pueblo villages emerged some 1,300 years ago as small family groups and began to settle into centralized locations. Modern-day Pueblos, including the Pueblo of Acoma, also consider southeastern Utah to be a vital part of their respective ancestral homelands; where their First Ancestors emerged into the now world before embarking on migrations to reach their permanent homes. For Acoma, stewardship of the cultural resources has a crucial additional meaning: these are homes of the ancestors that are to be visited by present and future generations to protect, request guidance and blessings, and ensure the Pueblo’s cultural inheritance.

Amidst the pandemic we (a small group of individuals from the Pueblo of Acoma, academics, and a non-profit) planned and gathered in southeastern Utah to begin a project to explore and strengthen Acoma’s deep and inalienable connections to the north. We soon found that the process of building meaningful and long-lasting partnerships was as important, if not more so, than the work itself. This talk details our next steps in a community-based partnership: that of facilitating Acoma’s pilgrimage to their ancestral homes and to work with archaeologists and land managers to ensure continued access and protection of Acoma’s cultural inheritance.