Main Street Dreams

Zuni-Creek_-MS-Ceremony_Gov-Quetawki-congratsMain Street has a particular  meaning in America. It’s where everything started, and where great memories still live. For Zuni Gov. Arlen Quetawki, Main Street means new life and opportunities for his tribe.

For the Zuni Pueblo of New Mexico, Main Street is Route 53. In July 2012,  Zuni Pueblo became the first American Indian community to be designated a Main Street site by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The New Mexico Economic Development Department helped win the honor to commemorate the 47th state’s  centennial.

Zuni’s Main Street isn’t much now—a restaurant, a few shops—and it does not provide enough jobs in a community where unemployment reaches as high as 67 percent. Governor Quetawki hopes the Main Street’s grants and economic development guidance will change that.

The largest of 19 pueblos in the state, Zuni is about 35 miles south of Gallup,  which has been the beneficiary of Zuni’s poor business climate. Without their own grocery store or shopping malls, pueblo residents spend their money in Gallup. “We want money to stay here,” the governor says. “We want new businesses that hire our own people, and I think we can do that.”

He wants something else, as well: “We want people to know about us and our historical traditions.”

The Zunis count themselves as the “first people in this region,” the governor says. Traditionally farmers, they were one of the few tribes not displaced by the federal government as America expanded westward. The governor says their rich culture includes fascinating social dances, animal fetishes for which they are most famous and turquoise and silver jewelry.

The governor saw the great needs of his people when he came into office in 2011. A Main Street grant appealed to him, and he was surprised to discover the state had proposed that idea several years ago, only to be turned down by a previous tribal administration. He embraced the idea, and he hopes the tribe will too. “[The government is] here to support the effort, not to dictate it,” he says. “The community’s going to make it or break it.”

He’s betting the tribe will make it, as is New Mexico Economic Development Cabinet Secretary Jon Barela. He notes the initial grant of $75,000 is just to get things going. The designation of Zuni Pueblo as a Main Street community means ongoing grants to the pueblo for planning, redevelopment and restoration of its
Main Street.

“The Main Street project is important to New Mexico,” he adds.  “It leads to job creation and a rural renaissance of quality of life…. We get back 19 dollars for every dollar we spend.”

New Mexico has 22 Main Street programs already and is looking for more. “In 10 years, we’ve created over 4,000 jobs in rural communities through the Main Street program,” Secretary Barela says.

Governor Quetawki is counting on that kind of success to revitalize his entire Pueblo. “We have an enrolled tribal population of 11,000, but a lot of our people are living elsewhere—Phoenix, Albuquerque—because that’s where the employment and educational opportunities are.  We want to bring people home.”

Jana Bommersbach has been Arizona’s Journalist of the Year and has won an Emmy and two Lifetime Achievement Awards. She is the author of two nationally-acclaimed true crime books and a member of Women Writing the West.

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