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What is the Zuni Tribe?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2016
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The Zuni tribe is one of the Pueblo tribes of Native Americans. Most live in the Pueblo of Zuni in western New Mexico in the United States, or in the surrounding Zuni Indian Reservation. The tribe also holds areas of land in Catron County, New Mexico, and Apache County, Arizona. The Zuni tribe is known for its traditional art. Many people in Zuni Pueblo still live a traditional lifestyle, including living in pueblo housing and practicing irrigation farming.

The ancestors of the Zuni tribe, along with the other Pueblo groups, are believed to have lived in the American southwest for centuries. The language of the Zuni tribe is a linguistic isolate, meaning it is not related to any other known language. It is spoken by about 9,500 people, including a large number of children. The Zuni language is the main language of communication in Zuni Pueblo, particularly in the home.

The Zuni tribe continues to follow traditional religious practices as well. The culture is based around a cycle of religious ceremonies, including pilgrimages to Zuni Heaven and Zuni Salt Lake. The deities of the Zuni religion are called kachina; the most important are Awitelin Tsita and Apoyan Tachu, or Sun Father and Earth Mother.

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The tribe is well known for its turquoise and silver jewelry, which tribal members have crafted since the 1880s. The Zuni tribe learned silversmithing techniques from the Navajo, but later improved the art. Zuni jewelry often makes use of small, oval-shaped pieces of stone set into silver to make a pattern. Other traditional Zuni crafts include pottery and needlework. Many Zuni make a living from selling their artwork.

The first European contact with the Pueblo peoples was between Estavanico, an African slave of Spanish explorers, and the Zuni. In 1539, Estavanico entered the Zuni Pueblo of Hawikuh alone, as most of his original exploration group had died and the remaining members were taken ill. The Zuni eventually killed Estavanico, allegedly because he offended them in some manner.

Hawikuh was also the first pueblo to be conquered by the Spanish, in 1540 by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado. A mission was established at the site in 1628, and the Zuni revolted and burned the church four years later. The Zuni tribe abandoned Hawikuh in 1680. Today, the ruins of Hawikuh are a National Historic Landmark located in the Zuni Indian Reservation, about 12 miles (19.3 km) southwest of Zuni Pueblo.

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