Taos Pueblo: A Contemporary Story of Resiliency + Vibrancy
Taos Pueblo: A Contemporary Story of Resiliency + Vibrancy
This August we welcome back the opening of Taos Pueblo. Inhabited for over a 1000 years, the story of Taos Pueblo is a story of origin. Red Willow Tribal Members have been living in harmony with the land and its resources for time immemorial. Located on the lush lands of Taos Valley, the Pueblo’s history of determination, resiliency, and vibrancy has been an inspiration for many Indegenous communities.
This edition we take a look at the many facets of Taos Pueblo history and how it translates to a contemporary Native identity. H.I. is committed to partner and grow with Taos Pueblo as we engage with Tribal guides, as well as, create experiences that will contextualize Taos Pueblo with the land and the artistry of the region.
Join us as we explore the impact of travel with Taos Pueblo Director of Tourism Ilona Spruce and H.I. CEO Angelisa Espinoza Murray, and ask the question “what is good change?” The answers are layered with many considerations. Inspired by the traditions of the Pueblo, H.I. strives to walk in harmony with the land, people, and culture it engages.
Find out more about life on Taos Pueblo in times of profound change and why Ilona reflects
“Culturally we don’t want to look back, we live now. How can we remember our past as we move forward?”
Stories of Vibrancy + Resiliency
A Conversation with Director of Tourism for Taos Pueblo Ilona Spruce and H.I.enthusiast Anee Ward
Ilona Spruce has been in her position as the Director of Tourism and Marketing for Taos Pueblo for the past 11 years. Known for her elegant and diplomatic ways, Ilona has worked to bridge the gap between the desires of Pueblo visitors and the needs of Taos Pueblo Tribal members. From training guides and working with Tribal Government, to tackling the practical issues of parking and plumbing, Ilona is a contemporary Tribal professional who wants the world to know the indigenous people “are not a dying race,” but very much alive.
Anee: Could you tell me a little about your background with Angelisa and H.I.?
Ilona: I met Angelisa when she was with Backroads. I saw her make the transition from guide to owner. She talked to me about her intent to create authentic immersive experiences. I thought this was a wonderful opportunity to work together to put together more intimate and culturally sensitive tours.
Many other tour groups rotate through the Pueblo and get a faux sense of the southwest. Plains Indian traditions get incorporated into the Pueblo story. And it is confusing, at times artists have depicted Pueblo Tribal members with headdresses and teepees instead of drawing on Puebloan history like Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon.
Anee: What is the difference between blatant fabrication, and honoring the perspectives of differing stories?
Ilona: In oral tradition everyone has their own perspective of history. Tourists move here for their own reasons. Taos Pueblo tells a story of the origin of the valley, how people used to live, the humanity. In oral tradition everyone has their own perspectives. When the Spaniards came they did awful things to our ancestors but there was an exchange of ideas and relationships that is how they learned to be here. Both communities survived.
But we also talk about the European attacks leading up to the Pueblo Revolt. In modern times we remember the history of the Pueblo Revolt, as a way to talk about assimilation or it could happen again. This is a balance as we honor all the varying perspectives.
Anee: What were some of the ripple effects of Taos Pueblo closing during the pandemic?
Ilona: During the pandemic people took on different roles. People had to figure out how to make money. That is when I approached Karina Armijo (Town of Taos Marketing + Tourism Director) about the use of the Visitor Center as a place for our artists to set up and sell their goods.
Technology is also more apparent even our grandmas and grandpas know how to zoom. And we had a chance to turn inward and connect with our traditions. During San Geronimo our annual feast, women could enjoy themselves and be “outside.” They were not stuck inside houses with preparations. They could spend time with their friends and families and not miss out on the activities so much.
It certainly raises the question, “DO we really have to go at it so hard?” We are now open 5 days a week instead of 7.
Anee: What changes have you noticed since you re-opened?
Ilona: We are seeing a different kind of visitor. They are more curious about our culture, and patient when we have real life problems like plumbing issues. That is why it is important to ask what is good change? What is our accessibility? With increased visitation, there is increased need for amenities. We do have the luxury of our sovereignty, we don’t have to follow a placard of guidelines. We can determine what efforts will best serve our community. Working with Angelisa and companies like H.I. we can share our story from a Native perspective, and let people know we are still alive, we are still here, and quite far from “a dying race.”
A Place Like No Other
A Conversation with H.I. CEO Angelisa Espinoza Murray and H.I.enthusiast Anee Ward
Anee: Can you tell me a little bit about your relationship with Taos Pueblo and how it has evolved?
Angelisa: This is a very personal story for me. When I had worked with previous tour companies there was a gap in perception. Visitors could only see the external trappings and stereotypes of Pueblo life. I wanted to show a beautiful and ancient community and turn the stone back on the Pueblo experience. Working with Ilona Spruce as a sister and a partner, we crafted richer, more in-depth experiences that bring a different narrative to the table.
Anee: What are some common misconceptions visitors have had about Taos Pueblo?
Angelisa: I have often heard Taos Pueblo Tribal Members say “We have been around since time immemorial.” Taos Pueblo is not a reservation. They have always been here. Their oral history straddles the line in modern times between preserving and protecting. “The sacred is secret, and the secret is sacred.” We engage Taos Pueblo Tribal Members as guides because we understand and respect this is not our story to tell. Our job is to set our guests up for success to experience something authentic, vibrant, and alive.
Anee: How does this approach inspire your other Taos experiences?
Angelisa: On our Taos Artisan Walking Tour we not only visit with contemporary Taos artists, but we dive deep into the rich history of the Taos Society of Artists which depicts another chapter with Taos Pueblo. When artists like Couse, Sharp, Blumenschein came to Taos they began relationships with Puebloans. Their paintings reflect an intimacy of relationships with the Puebloan models and their families, but may present a stylized, romanticized, and at times inaccurate version of history. At Heritage Inspirations we go beyond the canned answers about Taos, and introduce you to the texture of New Mexico’s first art colony.
This sensitivity is also integral to our wilderness experiences. We talk about the sustainability of the rivers, the history of trappers, the reintroduction of Bighorn sheep, and protecting the Native Cutthroat Trout. We are here to share that Taos is a radically wild, radically adventurous place, while still being romantic and bucolic. No place is perfect, but Taos is a place like no other: beautiful, timeless, diverse.