December 2015

Rina Swentzell

A Tribute to Rina Swentzell 


Porter Swentzell


Rina Swentzell, a noted scholar from Santa Clara Pueblo, passed away on Oct. 30, 2015. She was a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and member of the large, well-known Naranjo family of artists and scholars from Santa Clara Pueblo.

Her great-grandmother, Lupita Sisneros, or Jiya Khun, was influential in shaping Rina’s views as a child and also helped to raise her and her siblings. Part of her youth was spent at Taos Pueblo, where her father, Michael Naranjo, had built a Baptist mission. Her father’s Baptist activities were influential in Rina’s educational journey, which initially led her to a Christian college before she transferred to Highlands University, where she met her future husband, Ralph Swentzell.

Rina received her B.A. from Highlands University in 1972 and her M.A. in architecture from the University of New Mexico in 1976. Her thesis focused on the architectural history of Santa Clara Pueblo. She continued her education at the University of New Mexico, in American Studies, and earned a Ph.D. in 1982. Her dissertation compared European/American educational philosophies with traditional Pueblo world views. She was among the first Pueblo women to receive a Ph.D., and she laid the foundation for others to travel the same path. Rina used her education to contest narratives of the Pueblo past and present.

As one of her grandchildren, I remember traveling with her to places like Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez, Colorado. I was a child, but I remember her vigorously attacking (verbally) an archaeologist she disagreed with. I felt afraid for him. My grandma liked to be thought of as an introspective thinker, but she also couldn’t help herself when an opportunity to be belligerent presented itself. This quality stayed with her to the end. Her impact on scholars of Pueblo people was anything but understated.

Rina’s legacy continues on in her four children, Cleo Naranjo, Athena Steen, Roxanne Swentzell and Poem Swentzell, as well as in her 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.


Porter Swentzell, Rina Swentzell’s grandson, is among the core faculty at the Institute of American Indian Arts. He formerly taught courses as an adjunct faculty member at Northern New Mexico College.





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