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Zuni First Native American MainStreet Project

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Posted: Tuesday, July 3, 2012 12:00 am

ZUNI - The Pueblo of Zuni will make history by becoming the first Native American MainStreet Project in the nation on July 5.

The pueblo will hold a proclamation signing ceremony to formalize this important project at 2 p.m. at the Zuni Visitor and Arts Center.

Pueblo of Zuni Governor Arlen Quetawki, Sr., said, “The pueblo is honored to be designated an official New Mexico MainStreet site and as the first Native American MainStreet in the country.”

The governor continued, “We are excited that the eyes of many state and national organizations and communities will be upon us. We have our work cut out for us, but Zuni is known for often taking the lead.”

Quetawki emphasized that the pueblo holds an ideal position, “We believe that this grass-roots type of economic development fully matches our community’s needs, which is based on small, individual cottage arts production.”

Guests attending the proclamation signing will include: Norma Ramirez de Miess, National Trust MainStreet Center senior program officer; Jon Barela, State of New Mexico economic development secretary; State Senator George Munoz, and representatives from the offices of U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman and U.S. Congressman Steve Pearce.

The MainStreet project is a licensed program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and has been adopted by the state of New Mexico’s Economic Development Department.

Tom R. Kennedy, Zuni tourism office director, said, “This successful model of downtown and community revitalization is a vital strategy for economic renewal for Zuni Pueblo as it strives to preserve the ancient cultural traditions and create new opportunities for the future.”

“Zuni being the first Native American Mainstreet is a big deal, because state and the national organizations are now beginning to look at ways to learn from tribal communities,” he continued. “As a tribal MainStreet project, there is a huge difference. Keep in mind that the State Highway 53, which is open 24/7, lies within one block of where the most significant cultural practices of that community occur.”

“There are certain times, places and things that visitors need to respect regarding cultural privacy,” Kennedy explained. “It is quite different from main street U.S.A.”

The Zuni MainStreet Project is being driven by a nine-member steering committee made up of business and community leaders, artists, and residents who reside along Highway 53.

Kennedy said that the pueblo didn’t have a tourism program until 2002. The vast majority of the pueblo’s workforce, 80 to 90 percent, is involved in arts’ production. “There was no tribal agency promoting the most immediate market…tourism,” said Kennedy. The Pueblo of Zuni is known worldwide for its jewelry and other arts and crafts.

In 2002, Kennedy said that he was transitioning from the directorship of the tribal museum to becoming more involved in tourism. He said that while he was the director, people had encouraged him to take a more active role in tourism.

He mentioned that during Governor Malcolm Bowekaty’s administration they began to look seriously into tourism and its potential.

“What we found,” recalled Kennedy, “is that people come to Zuni for the cultural story.” He added, that the governor had commented, “If we do the cultural story well for our people, it will be of interest for the visitors.”

At the beginning, as part of a grant, there were big plans to build a cultural center that would include a visitor’s center, a museum and a retail complex.

“The planning part was easy, but the hard part was coming up with the multimillion dollars to build the center,” commented the tourism director.

Kennedy said that they were successful in getting and paying for a building, with state capital outlay funds that met their needs at one-tenth of the cost of building a new center.

“The idea of Zuni being a part of the MainStreet project came to be when they were looking for ways to restore Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission that was in dire need of repair,” said Kennedy. “I took some historic preservation workshops offered by MainStreet and thought this would be a terrific opportunity for Zuni.”

While making a program presentation before Governor Quetawki’s administration, Kennedy said the first words from the governor were, “Tom, if we are going to be successful in promoting tourism, we have to do something about our main street. It needs to be active and more vital to the community.”

So, Kennedy contacted New Mexico MainStreet immediately.

“I am looking at creating a more active business climate by giving our main street a facelift, which will also improve the quality of life for our citizenry,” emphasized Kennedy. “The real advantage I see for the program at Zuni is that it is an organic, grass-roots, bottom-up development. It is the community coming together to decide what is important.”

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