On May 23rd and 24th, 2009 Rio Grande Return joined Zia Pueblo members in a project to restore a sacred pueblo spring that had gone dry. A group of enthusiastic volunteers spent two rainy days helping members of Zia Pueblo build rock dams above the spring in order to slow erosion, allow the soil to recharge with rainwater and hold moisture in the surrounding hills.
The spring has long been an important sacred site and water source for Zia Pueblo. The water from this spring was traditionally collected during summer solstice pilgrimages, and then taken back to the pueblo. But erosion, climate change and increasing water needs have kept the spring from flowing for the last several years.
Peter Pino, former Zia Pueblo Governor, contacted Alan Hamilton of Rio Grande Return with the idea of organizing a project to restore the spring.
Hamilton recruited Steve Vrooman from Keystone Restoration Ecology to design and manage the restoration activities. Steve gave detailed instructions on the one-rock dams and seeding techniques that were used to address the degraded watershed.
It was an amazing group process. No hierarchy here. Everyone figured out quickly where they could fit in and and how to collaborate.
The landscape and the pueblo culture had both suffered generations of abuse and neglect. A profound camaraderie developed through our shared vision and intention that was fortified by the difficulty of the work itself.
After the one-rock dams are constructed, native seeds were planted to armor the dams and further slow the water.
Most of the volunteers hadn’t known each other previous to the event but everyone united quickly in a shared purpose of environmental and cultural restoration.
This was physically challenging work. Peter Callen moved many, many rocks, oftentimes by himself.
Fortunately, there was no shortage of rocks at the at the project site.
Peter Pino and his granddaughter Vivian building a one-rock dam.
Vivian, Jai, Olivia and Cyrus.
Vrooman developed a very comprehensive plan that was implemented by the 25 volunteers with Steve’s guidance. Steve’s optimism was infectious and we all trusted that the spring would begin flowing again in a couple of years, given normal rainfall.
Oscar Simpson from Back Country Horseman and former Executive Director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation rakes in some native seed.
Peter Pino, surveys the progress in a Rio Grande Return hat.
Olivia planting native seeds
Several of the elders from the pueblo came out to support the project both in the form of encouragement, and by preparing us incredible meals.
Kent Salazar from the National Wildlife Federation
This was an opportunity for healing, not only for the land but for all the volunteers.
Here you can really feel the sense of community in all the activity in one little drainage. Everyone is engaged, either carrying rocks, building dam, or seeding.
Kaisa Lappalainen brought a Scandinavian sensibility and cultural perspective to the project along with an abundance of optimism, joy and laughter.
Jai Lakshman, former natural resource manager for Zia with two of his pueblo brothers and sisters.
Peter was a a wonderful leader as he was simultaneously teaching and learning.
The difficulty of the work somehow increased the feelings of satisfaction and joy.
Vivian catches a ride
The sense of joy that accompanied the hard work was especially evident in the children. Here Leonard helps illustrate the cultural dimensions of the work- so much more was getting moved than rock.
The rains, the most fundamental element to this work, were celebrated and and never dampened our spirits. Peter told the group that “Mother Nature and the spirit world are showering us with rain. I personally believe that when people are coming together for a good cause that these kinds of things happen. This is good weather.”
Ann Beckett and Sarah Sisk standing in the mud after a long day of work.
Volunteers celebrated the sight of rainwater pooling behind the dams and soaking into the hills instead of running off and taking soil with it. Here a small Zuni bowl catches some rain water.
Rain water pooling in an area that had just been seeded.
Food, stories and laughter highlight the meaningful connections made through a shared vision and a lot of hard work.
Back at camp there is still important work to be done. Here Vivian is cleaning the mud off of Ellen’s boots.
Jai and Vivian. Different generations and different cultures united in a shared vision of a renewed landscape and flowing springs.
As we were finishing up on the second day, Peter disappeared and we found him on a hillside engaged in a different kind of rock work.
Peter felt that that the importance of this event needed to be commemorated by putting it in stone. “Everything”, said Peter, “that we do within our lives in the pueblo has to do with realizing that we don’t have much water … We should accept the fact that we are part of Mother Earth and that we don’t own it. It’s really ownership that is a foreign concept to tribes … In the past, everything was shared by the people, the animals, the birds, the insects, the plants, all of that. If you try to assist nature, you can make things happen.”
Peter chiseling a figure depicting Alan who he said represented all the volunteers who came to help the pueblo restore their spring. What an incredible honor is was to be a part of this historic event.
Native Americans have been victims of both conscious and unconscious acts of genocide from our European ancestors who justified taking their lands, and the countless efforts to destroy their culture ,by claiming it as manifest destiny. After centuries of betrayal and abuse, it is astonishing that these same people would ask us for help and give us the opportunity to work collaboratively with them to restore a spring. It was evident when we gathered around Peter and his petroglyph, that our work on the landscape was also soul work and an opportunity for our cultures to come together meaningfully with a shared commitment to a place. Thank you Peter!
The weekend was a beautiful manifestation hard work, joy and the heartfelt sincerity that comes through community.
Peter’s explains that when an important event occurs, it needs to be documented and remembered. We will all certainly remember this restoration project because of all the dimensions of restoration and healing that were taking place simultaneously – environmental, cultural, personal and spiritual.
Peter had everyone trace the figures on the petroglyph. Here Ellen and Vivian are together tracing a bird.
2009 A PETROGLYPH CREATED BY GOVERNOR PETER PINO TO COMMEMORATE THE THE COLLABORATIVE WORK BETWEEN ZIA PUEBLO, RIO GRANDE RETURN AND KEYSTONE RESTORATION ECOLOGY TO RESTORE TWO SACRED SPRINGS IN THE OJITO WILDERNESS Thanks to all the volunteers and members of Zia Pueblo who came worked together for the benefit of the environment and each other.