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Posters honor Native American workers at Mesa Verde National Park

Navajo/Diné day laborers at their hogans, 1929 in Mesa Verde National Park. (Courtesy Mesa Verde National Park)
Navajo laborers played pivotal role in early construction; work program recruits Indigenous workers for stabilization projects

Mesa Verde National Park recently unveiled two posters to honor the contributions of Native American workers at the park.

The posters were presented during the Pecos Archaeological Conference held in August on Rowe Mesa south of Pecos, New Mexico.

One poster honors Navajo/Diné day laborers who have played a pivotal role in the construction of entrance roads, drainage structures and housing at the park since 1913, according to a Facebook post by park archaeologist Karen B. Supak.

The crews also worked on stabilization and excavation crews, firefighting teams and as interpretive dancers for campfire programs.

In the 1930s, Navajos also worked as actors in plays held at the park about Ancestral Puebloan life.

Supak said the employees were paid a per diem and in many cases lived in traditional hogans they build in the park near the location of their workstations.

Navajo/Diné day laborers working on the Knife Edge Road, 1920s. (Courtesy Mesa Verde National Park)
Mesa Verde National Park archaeologists document a historical Navajo/Diné hogan site in 2022. (Courtesy Mesa Verde National Park)

They would “erect new hogans and abandon their previous occupations as they moved along the path of the project under construction,” the post states.

Park archaeologists have documented the remains of these hogans, accompanying sweat lodges, and other areas used by Navajo/Diné day laborers at the park.

A conference abstract of the poster presentation noted that before the establishment of Mesa Verde National Park in 1906, Navajo/Diné and Ute peoples had been using the landscape for hundreds of years after Ancestral Puebloans migrated south. Remnants of their presence from that era are scant but present within the current park boundaries.

Archaeologist Alesia Hoyle also presented a poster at the Pecos conference as part of “Helping Hands: A Mesa Verde and Ancestral Lands Stabilization Story.”

Stabilization is the preservation treatment most often recommended for the continued preservation of these architectural structures, states Hoyle in a conference abstract for the poster presentation.

While Mesa Verde has had Indigenous crew members, including a crew composed mostly of Navajo men, most stabilization efforts have been undertaken by nonindigenous archaeologists and stone masons.

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To support more Indigenous crews, Mesa Verde National Park has partnered with Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps, a nonprofit dedicated to cultivating upcoming generations of Native American land stewards.

Since fall 2021, the park has hosted an Ancestral Lands Zuni Pueblo stabilization masonry crew four times.

Their efforts are concentrated on the stabilization of Far View’s House Kiva A, the largest kiva and primary social center within the structure.

The poster illustrates “the invaluable knowledge, and contribution of Ancestral Pueblo young adults in the continued preservation of their heritage through stabilization work,” states the conference abstract.