North of Santa Fe, there are many wonders and marvels. Some are well known in tourism and even on the national stage: Taos and Bandolier National Monument to name a few. Others are just as monumental, important and historic in their contribution to culture and identity—but little known.
Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, with its historic plaza, is one such example. What is challenging to consider for most Americans is that this pueblo—along with several northern New Mexico Pueblo communities—is one of the longest continually inhabited communities in North America. Locals say people have lived there for nearly 800 years. The community saw much early history of New Mexico, such as the first capital to be located in the United States.
The plaza is an important setting for key community events, such as ceremonial dances. But, over time, many of the houses needed work. Work has been ongoing for decades through the Ohkay Owingeh Housing Authority (OOHA), the tribe’s entity for advancing housing for its people. Renovation and preservation work specifically on the pueblo’s historic plaza has been a focus for nine years. This project, called Owe’neh Bupingeh (o-WEH-neh Boo-peen-geh), has already rehabbed more than 34 homes. This is not just any housing program; it is cultural preservation, fostering sovereign independence.
The U.S. federal government has been a primary funder for Indian Country for many years. Programs like HUD have funded many homes in New Mexican pueblos—but according to their rules. Tomasita Duran, executive director of OOHA: “We’ve built hundreds of new homes over the years to house our people, but they have taken us away from the center of our pueblo. Owe’neh Bupingeh brings families back to instill life in our plaza, which is the soul of our community.”
OOHA has recently been recognized for two national awards. The tribe received highest honors from the Harvard Project on the American Indian Economic Development for this project and its impact on tribal people. From more than 60 applicants nationwide, OOHA was one of the top three. For more on this award, check out hpaied.org. This month, the Historic Preservation Trust will also feature OOHA and Ohkay Owingeh on the national stage.
Cultural sensitivities had to be navigated by the tribe before any construction could be done. So a number of innovations were developed, such as establishing a spiritual committee of tribal members to ensure the sanctity and viability of any construction. A short video that describes the great complexities of the project, with interviews and visuals of the homes and work being done on the adobe, can be viewed at: www.seedocs.org/projects/oweneh-bupingeh/
Many tribal members had lost the art of the old ways of working together and repairing adobe walls. Adobe is very strong but, if it is not cared for, the thick walls literally melt away. Construction has involved hiring local youth to be a part of the work crew. A local, Native women-owned company, Avanyu (www.avanyullc.com), developed a mentor program to ensure tribal participation and expertise.
OOHA is seeking to upgrade the final 14 homes on the plaza, pending funding. It has already used many federal resources, bringing more than $9 million to the tribe. It is now seeking to diversify the funding. OOHA recently became the second organization in New Mexico to be granted credits from the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority (MFA). Five hundred thousand dollars in state taxes was authorized for deductions for donors who make a contribution to the project through the New Mexico Affordable Housing Charitable Trust, which is administered by the MFA. Donors get 50 percent off any state tax liability. If you pay any state taxes over the next five years, the tax credit is applicable. In addition, donors still get their federal tax deduction.
For more information about Owe’neh Bupingeh, see a case study by the Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative: www.sustainablenativecommunities.org/fieldnews/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/130611_16_CS-HUD-OweNeh-Bupingeh.pdf
The staff of OOHA invites visitors to see the pueblo and learn about the community. With advance notice, group visits including tours, a traditional meal and dances can be arranged. Contact Jodie Martinez at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ohkayowingehhousingauthority.org
Drew Tulchin is managing partner of Upspring (formerly Social Enterprise Associates), a New Mexico-based consulting firm that uses the power of the marketplace for good. www.upspringassociates.com