The Journal continues “What’s in a Name?,” a once a month column in which writer Elaine Briseño will give a short history of how places in New Mexico got their names.
There’s not always a lot of thought when bequeathing a name. Sometimes it’s done out of pragmatism. (Think Central Avenue). Sometimes it takes inspiration from nature. (The Sandias). Other times it reflects the locale (Rio Grande Boulevard steps from the Rio Grande) or a prominent local family (Coors and Eubank boulevards).
But sometimes a name is selected with serious deliberation and intent, it’s choosing a claiming of power and identity. That’s the story of Kewa Pueblo.
Most non-Native people know the pueblo by the name Santo Domingo. It’s a name the Spanish explorers gave to the pueblo in the 17th century and subsequently adopted by other outsiders, including non-tribal government officials. As the territory of New Mexico passed through the hands of various countries, finally becoming American soil and eventually a state, the name prevailed.
Until 14 years ago in 2009, when the tribal council quietly made the unanimous decision to officially change its name to reflect what it had always called itself – Kewa Pueblo. It made no formal announcement and instead relied on word of mouth. The quiet gesture became a public statement in March 2010 when the state announced its new Rail Runner Express stop would be called Kewa Pueblo Station.
The pueblo sits about half-way between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, just west of Interstate 25, within the borders of Sandoval County. According to the tribal website, it “has been one of the central pueblo communities in New Mexico” with “ancestral ties (that) can be traced back to Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon ancestors.”
The people there are known for their artistry, especially jewelry and pottery, and often travel to Santa Fe to sell their creations under the portal at the Palace of the Governors on the Plaza. It was there, in early March of 2010, that some of the tribal members told a reporter from the Santa Fe New Mexican that even they were not aware of the official name change.
The name change, according to the article, had been disclosed to a larger sector in January of 2010 at a meeting of the All Indian Pueblo, which is now called the All Indian Pueblo Council of Governors. Former Kewa Pueblo Gov. Everett Chavez told the New Mexican it was he who had suggested the name change, saying it was how his tribal people referred to themselves privately.
“Historically, that’s our name,” he said. “Everybody knows us as Kewa. It’s just going back to our original name.”
After voting for the name change, the tribe hired Zia Graphics to redesign its tribal seal. The mission church, which dominated the original image, was reduced and became part of a more varied seal design that also featured cornstalks along with the pottery and jewelry styles for which the pueblo is well-known.
Harlan McKosato, host of the syndicated radio show Native America Calling, said at that time in a column for the New Mexican, that the tribe’s action was a “culmination of the tribal rights movement.” He grew up in the Cimarron Valley on Iowa lands in Oklahoma.
“Red Power is only fully displayed when a tribe changes its name back to what they call themselves in their traditional language,” he said. “And Santo Domingo did it.”
McKosato passed away July 21, 2020 in Albuquerque at the age of 54.
So how did it come to be called Santo Domingo? Its Spanish-given name means Holy Sunday when translated into English. It’s not unusual that Spanish people would bestow a religious name upon a place they “discovered,” because converting the Native people to Catholicism was one of the missions of Spanish officials and clergymen who came to New Mexico. The religious traditions Native people had practiced for thousands of years were banned and categorized as paganism.
According to “The Place Names of New Mexico” by Robert Julyan, the mission church there commemorates St. Dominic, the 13th-century Spanish preacher who founded the Dominican order and it is for him that the pueblo was named. Others believe it was Don Juan De Oñate who gave the pueblo its holy name because he arrived on a Sunday in the late 16th century.
There is no dispute, though, that the pueblo’s modern-day name of Santo Domingo was not chosen by its members. Kewa was its chosen identity.
“The present pueblo was established in 1770 and given the name Kiva, referring to the underground ceremonial chamber of pueblo Indians,” Julyan writes.
Chavez stressed at the time that the change was not made to demean St. Dominic, but instead “a long-awaited move back to recognition of ourselves. We were Native first and foremost, before Catholicism and the Spaniards.”
Curious about how a town, street or building got its name? Email writer Elaine Briseño at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-823-3965 as she continues the monthly journey in “What’s in a Name?”