The Zuni people have lived in the American Southwest for thousands of years. Their cultural and religious traditions are rooted, in large part, in the people's deep and close ties to the mountains, river ways, forests, and deserts of this ancient Zuni homeland. Primarily being farmers, the Zuni people raise maize and wheat and engage in Jewelry making. It has become an important additional source of income for the people. Traditional Zuni life is oriented around a matrilineal clan system and a complex ceremonial system base on a belief in the ancestors (ancient ones). There are six specialized esoteric groups, each with restricted membership and its own priesthood, devoted to the worship of a particular group of supernaturals. During the well-known Shalako Festival, held in early winter, dancers representing the couriers of the rain deities come to bless new homes. One way the Zuni people express these cultural traditions is through their art: in painting, pottery, jewelry, and fetish carving, for example. These things have significant meaning, and, to the Zuni, serve to help unite the past with the present. So, on the one hand, Zuni art is a material record of the past.
The Zuni Pueblo is nestled in a scenic valley, surrounded by the enchanting mesas, located about 150 miles west of Albuquerque. The main reservation, is located in the McKinley and Cibola counties in the western part of New Mexico. The estimated number of acres encompasses about 450,000 acres. The tribe has land holdings in Catron County, New Mexico and Apache County, Arizona, which are not adjoining to the main reservation. With elevations that range from nearly 8,000 feet on the western slope of the Continental Divide to about 6,000 feet in other areas, Zuni lands encompass a great variety of habitats and natural resources.
After the Mexican-American War, New Mexico including Zuni Pueblo became United States Territory in 1848, with full statehood coming in 1912. However, continual appropriation and abuse of Zuni lands by the Government and unscrupulous land grabbers led to the shrinkage of Zuni's aboriginal territories and confinement to a reservation a small fraction of the original size of Zuni's original land-use areas.
As a result of the Act, the Zuni Conservation Project (ZCP) has begun work toward sustainable natural resource development on the reservation (Enote et al., 1993). The approach combines local knowledge with scientific study of natural resources to fight desertification and to revitalize agriculture as an economic entity. The once important traditional practice of runoff agriculture holds promise for both endeavors: combating desertification through mitigation of erosion, sedimentation and flooding while improving crop and forage production by utilizing eroded soil and water resources.While large scale movement of sediment has been a dominant process in formation of the Southwest's mesas and canyons through geologic time, the construction of permanent reservoirs turned this natural process into an expensive problem. In their eagerness to capture and store valuable water resources, early government engineers on the Zuni Reservation failed to recognize the other valuable resource leaving the uplands with runoff or the menace it poses to permanent dams across Zuni water courses. Soil eroded from Zuni lands has filled every impoundment built for irrigation, flood control, or erosion control, rendering them nearly useless and often causing washouts and further erosion of stream courses.This article describes an interdisciplinary effort that recognizes the value of local knowledge in dealing with local natural resource issues. The effort combines Zuni farmers, Tribal natural resource managers, and research sponsored by the National Science Foundation.
The Zuni Indian Reservation lies within the Colorado Plateau on the western slope of the Zuni Mountains in the mesa country of western New Mexico. Elevation ranges from 1838 meters (6030 feet) near the Arizona border to 2347 meters (7700 feet) on eastern mesas, near the continental divide. Average annual precipitation ranges from 300 to 400mm (12 to 16 inches), with over half coming in July, August, and September. During this period, known locally as the monsoon season, moist air moves over the hot and dry southwestern uplands, generating very localized convection rainstorms that can be frequent and intense. The storms are especially erosive because the semiarid climate supports only sparse ground cover vegetation. The remainder of each season's precipitation comes as snow and low-intensity rain during fall, winter, and early spring. May and June are typically dry.