Ben Lewinger


2011 was a year that severely tested a number of communities in northern New Mexico. With the coldest two weeks in memory, a natural gas shortage and the second most destructive fire in the state’s history (only to be trumped by the Little Bear fire this year), New Mexicans came together to support each other and work toward widespread recovery.


West of present-day Santa Fe, tribal ancestors of Santa Clara Pueblo lived at Puje Owinge, near the Puje Cliff Ruins, until about 1300 CE. At that point a village was established seven miles east, which is where Santa Clara Pueblo remains today. Having been continually inhabited for hundreds of years supporting dozens of generations of men, women and children, the area is considered sacred.


The Las Conchas fire decimated 17,000 acres of stunningly beautiful Santa Clara Canyon, nearly 80 percent of the Pueblo’s total land. Santa Clara Pueblo Governor Walter Dasheno describes the canyon as the Pueblo’s “Church.” “It’s where our culture tells us we’re from,” he says. Subsequent severe flooding, as was feared, further decimated the canyon and additional pueblo lands.


As the wildfires raged, the Pueblo, in a dynamic alliance with the New Mexico Community Foundation (NMCF), established an emergency fund that was able to provide flexible resources for immediate needs and for long-term costs of land rehabilitation. Within a month, the fund had collected over $6,000 in contributions. NMCF also facilitated a program at Santa Fe Indian Market that provided a space for people from the Pueblo to share their stories of tragic loss and personal recovery.


In November, Santa Clara Pueblo benefited from national attention through an article in Parade Magazine’s annual Giving Issue. Contributions to the We Will Heal Fund began to come in from across the country, making a large-scale seedling project possible.


Everyone knows it will never be as it was; however, Santa Clara Pueblo has begun to heal, pull together and recover as a community.


There is still much restoration work to be done. Just last month, 1½ inches of rain fell in about 30 minutes, sending a wave of water through Santa Clara Creek that reached 6 feet in places, exposing a gas line that feeds the tribe’s government building and senior center. A state of emergency was again declared.


The New Mexico Community Foundation, founded in 1983, has always placed an emphasis on the philanthropic impact possible in rural parts of the state, with a special focus on developing relationships with Native communities. NMCF was able to act swiftly to raise funds and provide crucial support to aid the healing efforts of Santa Clara Pueblo. “As the state’s ‘Philanthropic First Responder,’ we have placed ourselves in a unique position,” says Jenny Parks, NMCF President and CEO. “We are able to respond to a wide variety of needs. Our mission guides us to walk alongside our nonprofit partners, working together towards better outcomes for New Mexico.”



If you would like to help with the ongoing restoration efforts at Santa Clara Pueblo, call the New Mexico Community Foundation at 505.820.6860 or visit


Ben Lewinger grew up in the village of Tijeras, NM. A religion teacher by training, he now uses words to further the mission of the New Mexico Community Foundation.




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