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. When the group of volunteers and pueblo members gathered on the beautiful, rainy Saturday morning Pino spoke, “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.” Hamilton recruited Steve Vrooman, a professional restoration ecologist, and two of his employees to direct the volunteers and give instruction on building rock dams. Vrooman was optimistic about the spring’s potential to begin flowing again in a couple of years, given normal rainfall. By the end of the weekend, many rock dams later, and after planting native grass seed at the sites, volunteers celebrated the sight of rainwater pooling behind the dams and soaking into the hills instead of running off and taking soil with it. As Hamilton reflected, “it is time for people of all cultures to work together to find solutions to the effects of climate change and environmental damage. We are at a critical place, a crossroads, a threshold where we have to start living differently and more responsibly. We have to figure out a way of being more attentive to each other and to the earth and to respond to things before the degradation becomes insurmountable.”
The participants from the event and others will be glad to know that a second phase of restoration is being planned with the added support of the Quivera Coalition. Former Governor Pino captures the spirit of the effort in the following words, “everything 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.”