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Ohkay Owingeh, New Mexico: Tribal-Led Cultural Preservation

Case Studies
  A map locating 19 federally recognized Pueblo Indian Tribes in New Mexico (courtesy of Atkin Olshin Schade Architects).
  A historic photograph of Owe’neh Bupingeh from the late 19th century and a photograph taken at the same location in Owe’neh Bupingeh in the early 21st century before restoration efforts (image left, “Street Scene at San Juan,” Edward S. Curtis, courtesy of the Northwestern University Library; image right, courtesy of Atkin Olshin Schade Architects).
   A photograph of three high school students measuring the dimensions of the building, and a photograph of six high school students working on computers.
  A thematic map detailing building conditions in the Owe’neh Bupingeh.
  Two exterior and two interior photographs of pueblo homes in varying states of repair (courtesy of Atkin Olshin Schade Architects).
  A photograph of six women, men, and children mud plastering an adobe home (courtesy of Tanya Hammiddi).
  Three photographs of kitchen and living areas in restored pueblo homes (courtesy of Kate Russell Photography, 2012).
  A rendered graphic viewing Owe’neh Bupingeh from a low altitude after phases I and II of the restoration, and a second rendered graphic of the same area from the same angle after the entire preservation plan is implemented (courtesy of Atkin Olshin Schade Architects).
  A photograph taken at street level in Owe’neh Bupingeh looking west. Pueblos are on the right and left sides of the picture and a church is in the background in the center of the photograph (courtesy of Kate Russell Photography 2012).

Home > Case Studies > Ohkay Owingeh, New Mexico: Tribal-Led Cultural Preservation


Ohkay Owingeh, New Mexico: Tribal-Led Cultural Preservation


Nearly 30 traditional pueblo homes have been restored in Ohkay Owingeh, New Mexico as part of the ongoing restoration of Owe’neh Bupingeh, the Ohkay Owingeh tribe’s historic center. Rooted in a tribal-led and community-informed planning process, the preservation of Owe’neh Bupingeh is being guided by the tribe’s cultural values and self-determined principles. The restoration efforts are the product of the Owe’neh Bupingeh Preservation Plan — the first such plan ever developed by a tribal community in the United States and a recipient of the 2013 HUD Secretary’s Opportunity and Empowerment Award.

Background and Context

Located approximately 30 miles north of Santa Fe on the Rio Grande, Ohkay Owingeh (“Place of the Strong People”) is one of 19 federally recognized Pueblo Indian tribes in New Mexico. The pueblo is believed to be more than 700 years old, and its historic core, Owe’neh Bupingeh, serves as the spiritual and cultural center for the people of Ohkay Owingeh.1 Consisting of four ceremonial plazas and surrounding adobe dwellings, the tribe’s historic center was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 in recognition of its cultural and historic significance.2

Most of the village remains physically intact despite centuries of tribal instability brought on by Spanish colonization and the westward expansion of the United States. The introduction of modern infrastructure and changing social and physical conditions have constituted the most recent threats to the pueblo, as tribal members have taken jobs outside the pueblo and building maintenance has declined. In the 1970s, HUD attempted to improve housing conditions in the pueblo by constructing single-family homes on the periphery of the historic core. Most of the community’s residents moved from the center, leaving their pueblo dwellings uninhabited and untended except for special occasions.3

In 2005, as concerns about the pueblo center mounted and the tribe’s need for affordable housing persisted, the Ohkay Owingeh Housing Authority, with the support of the Tribal Council, began developing a preservation plan to reverse the physical deterioration of Owe’neh Bupingeh’s traditional buildings. Tribal leaders developed the plan to help restore the tribe’s cultural values and provide much-needed affordable housing to Ohkay Owingeh families. The housing authority recognized that a successful plan and vision must come from the community, so they engaged members of the tribe in the planning process from the outset — including residents, the Tribal Council, and cultural and resident advisory groups.4 This self-determined tribal approach complies with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, a requirement when federal funds are used to support preservation efforts.

The process began when tribal youths started working with professional preservationists to document the exact location of the 90 remaining pueblo buildings as well as other historic and landscape features, using geographic information system (GIS) technology. In subsequent phases, the inventory was expanded to include assessments of building conditions and oral histories from tribal elders. The inventory provided much-needed documentation of the pueblo core’s history and current condition and helped tribal members better understand their past.5

Restoring the Pueblo’s Living Core

The Owe’neh Bupingeh Preservation Plan offers detailed guidance for preserving and restoring the pueblo dwellings. Defining a “period of characteristic integrity” from 1875 to 1950, the plan recognizes that, although no single era in the tribe’s history is more important than another, most of the traditional pueblo construction methods were abandoned after 1950.

The plan seeks to balance the tribe’s cultural values with practicality and contemporary housing needs in its approach to restoring the traditional pueblo dwellings. Where feasible, the rehabilitated dwellings incorporate adobe wall construction and mud plaster for the exterior finish. These traditional construction methods address the deterioration caused by the widespread application of Portland cement on adobe in the 20th century; the two materials did not bond well, which caused water to accumulate in building walls and destroy the earthen bricks. Another effort to preserve cultural traditions is the restoration of vigas — structural timbers in pueblos of the Santa Fe region that were traditionally given as gifts among tribal families. Although the use of salvaged materials often violates the Secretary of the Interior’s standards, the plan calls for the reuse of the vigas because of their cultural importance to the tribe.6

In balancing practical considerations, the preservation plan does not incorporate every original construction technique. For example, the cost of restoring the roof with traditional earthen materials was deemed prohibitive.7 The plan also calls for modern improvements, such as installing kitchens and bathrooms to make dwellings habitable and using energy-efficient appliances and improved insulation to promote affordability and environmental sustainability.8

The tribe’s Resident Advisory Committee prioritized restoration of the 60 dwellings in Owe’neh Bupingeh based on building condition, record of maintenance, and frequency of use, among other considerations. Restoration of 20 dwellings was completed in 2012, and 9 units were restored in 2013.9 In addition to restoring the dwellings, electrical lines were placed underground and utilities were extended to previously unserved homes. Installation of these significant improvements was coordinated so as not to interfere with tribal ceremonies.10

Financing for the rehabilitation work completed thus far includes $3.9 million in HUD Indian Housing and HUD Indian Community Development block grants and $2 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The preservation planning process was initiated with a grant from the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division and received subsequent financial support from the National Park Service, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the McCune Charitable and Chamiza foundations, as well as a grant from the HUD Rural Housing and Economic Development program.11

Sustainable Tribal-Led Community Development

The Owe’neh Bupingeh Preservation Plan and ongoing pueblo restoration efforts represent a comprehensive effort to use sustainable community development practices to balance cultural values with the usual preservation strategies. Future restoration projects will include infill construction to strengthen the historic relationship of buildings and plazas while providing more housing in Owe’neh Bupingeh. The Ohkay Owingeh Housing Authority established Cha Piyeh, a community development financial institution, to create an additional financing source for housing improvements among families who exceed income limits for housing assistance used in restoration efforts thus far. Through self-determined preservation goals and close collaboration, the Ohkay Owingeh tribe is restoring life to their community.

HUD’s Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative’s 2013 Case Studies Project highlighted preservation efforts at Owe’neh Bupingeh. See “New Paradigms in Tribal Housing: Part II,” a featured article in Edge, 28 June 2013. The case study can be found here.

  1. Atkin Olshin Schade Architects. 2010. “Owe’neh Bupingeh Preservation Plan,” 3; Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative. “Southwest Case Study Series: Ohkay Owingeh.”

  2. Atkin Olshin Schade Architects, 3–6.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Interview with Shawn Evans, Atkins Olshin Schade Architects, 26 June 2013.

  5. Owe’neh Bupingeh Preservation Plan, 8.

  6. Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative.

  7. Interview with Shawn Evans.

  8. Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative.

  9. Internal documents provided by Atkins Olshin Schade Architects.

  10. Interview with Tomasita Duran, executive director, Ohkay Owingeh Housing Authority, 2 July 2013.

  11. Internal documents provided by Atkins Olshin Schade Architects.


The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.