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What is a Zuni Native American?

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  • Written By: S. Ashraf
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2016
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A Zuni Native American is a member of a particular tribal society that is indigenous to the southwestern United States. The Zuni tribe is one of four tribal groups that comprise the Pueblo Indian nation. This tribe calls itself Ashiwi, which means “the flesh people,” and it is thought to descend from the ancient Pueblo people known as the Anasazi. Although the Zuni belong to the Pueblo nation, the Zuni language is categorized as an isolate, meaning that it is unique and unrelated to other Native American tongues. The Zuni's home is a remote reservation, the size of Rhode Island, in the arid highlands of western New Mexico.

In contrast to other Native American people, the Zuni Native American's ancestors were not forced to leave their homeland and resettle. The Zuni Native American people have lived in the present location for more than 1,300 years. Hawikuh, an ancient Zuni community, or pueblo, was the first Native American community seen by the Spanish in the 16th century, and the Zuni were the first Pueblo Indian tribe to have contact with the explorers. It was Hawikuh, along with six other communities, that the Spanish called the Seven Cities of Cibola and erroneously reported as sitting upon an empire of gold. This rumor launched a treasure quest by Francisco Vazquez de Coronado and other conquistadors that, ultimately, brought about the defeat and near destruction of the Pueblo Indian nation.

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In the 21st century, it is unusual to find a tribe whose members are not dispersed, but almost the entire Zuni tribe continues to live in the Zuni Pueblo and adjacent community of Blackrock. Largely because of their tribal cohesiveness, they are less threatened with language extinction, and a significant number of children still speak Zuni. Most Zuni Native American people farm, and they continue to have a sedentary agricultural community. Economically, they also support themselves by making and selling traditional handicrafts such as baskets, jewelry and pottery. Core spiritual beliefs of the Zuni Native American people revolve around elaborate ceremonies for rain and fertility, along with a yearly cycle of ritual dances.

The Zuni tribe is organized by kinship around 13 matrilineal clans. Women are considered the life of the tribe. Men may do the building, hunting and gathering of necessities, but whatever they have collected, caught or built is the property of women. Historically, women were the ones who traded with other tribes and took care of financial issues or problems. A woman can divorce her husband for insignificant matters; he then must return to his parents’ house, leaving the children.

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