Courtesy C.J. Heatley III/AIHEC
Gil L. Vigil, executive director of the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council, and councilman and former governor of Tesuque Pueblo.

Gil L. Vigil, Executive Director: NMAI’s Meet Native America Series

Dennis Zotigh
August 16, 2013


In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of the Native peoples today.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Gil L. Vigil, executive director, Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council, Inc. (ENIPC). ENIPC is a 501(c3) non-profit organization whose membership includes Tesuque, Pojoaque, Nambe, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, Ohkay Owingeh, Picuris, and Taos Pueblos.

The council was formed in the 1960s by a group of visionaries who realized that with a united effort of combining resources and populations they would be in a better position to compete for federal monies allocated to the “war on poverty.” Since that time the council has evolved into a conduit for federal and state programs that serve not only the eight northern pueblos but many of the surrounding tribes and communities as well.

ENIPC has developed into a service business that continues to provide, health, education, and economic programs, including child care and development, the Circles of Life Behavior Health Network, employment and training, an environment department, Food Distribution on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), Head Start, a higher education scholarship program, the Peacekeepers Domestic Violence Program, and Woman and Infant (WIC) programs. 

I've also served as governor of the Pueblo of Tesuque and currently serve on the tribal council and on many boards locally and nationally. I’m president of the National Indian Child Welfare Association and also serve on the Haskell Indian Nations University Board of Regents as vice president. And I'm an alternate delegate to the new Secretary's Tribal Advisory Committee at the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Can you give us your Native name, its English translation and/or nickname? 

It's not appropriate to share our Native names. Our names are powerful, and to just give them out lessens that power.

What responsibilities do you have in your community? 

Governors and members of the council are responsible for the wellbeing of our community and the people we serve. 

How did your life experience prepare you to lead?

Growing up in a traditional community you learn your traditional ways that prepare you for the responsibilities as a leader.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

The elders of my pueblo, my grandfathers, grandmothers, father, mother, uncles, aunts. But my grandfathers and father were my main mentors.

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so, who?

We all are descendants of our historical leaders.

Where is your community located?

Tesuque is located ten miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Evidence shows that the village has existed in its current location since sometime before AD 1200, and it is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places. Tesuque Pueblo contains over 17,00 acres, including the Aspen Ranch and the Vigils Land Grant in the Santa Fe National Forest.

Where are the Pueblo people originally from?

The Pueblo were never removed from our ancestral homelands. However, our history tells us that our ancestors came from Mesa Verde, Bandelier, and other cliff dwellings, and then from Chaco Canyon before we settled on where we are at now. Our land has diminished in size over time from the original land grants.

What is a significant point in history from Tesuque that you would like to share?

The 1680 Pueblo Revolt, the first successful revolution for independence on this continent, long before the American Revolution of 1776. Tesuque Pueblo had an important role in the revolution. People from the pueblo not only struck the first blow to begin the revolt, but two runners from Tesuque—Nicolas Catua and Pedro Omtua—were captured, tortured, and finally executed, the first to give up their lives in the revolt.

Runners carried a knotted cord throughout the pueblos, and each day a knot would be untied to indicate of how many days were left before the revolt would take place. Catua and Omtua were betrayed by some of the pueblos, who told the Spanish Governor Antonio de Otermin of the revolt. Otermin deployed his army and captured Catua and Omtua.

The revolt was brought about by years of Spanish cruelty and barbarism toward the indigenous inhabitants. The Natives were forbidden, on pain of death, to practice their religion. Our people fought to regain their freedom from tyranny, persecution, and unjust taxation just as the Americans did 96 years later. The revolt chased the Spaniards from our land for 12 years, until their return in 1692.

While independence from the Spanish was short-lived, the Pueblo Revolt gained the Pueblo people a measure of freedom from future Spanish efforts to eradicate their culture and religion. Moreover, the Spanish issued substantial land grants to each pueblo. Spain has acknowledged the sovereignty of the Pueblo people by giving each pueblo a cane to recognize the sovereignty. The governors of the pueblos still hold these canes today. 

Tesuque Pueblo still celebrates the Pueblo Revolt on August 10 every year by having an annual run into Santa Fe from Tesuque. In fact, the City of Santa Fe dedicated the courtyard of the convention center in honor of Catua and Omtua at this year's run into Santa Fe. 

To read the full interview with Gil L. Vigil, executive director Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council. visit the NMAI series here.