U.S. World Heritage Update: Introducing the Work of the Taos Pueblo Conservation Corps

Taos Pueblo Conservation Corps at work on historic preservation of Pueblo structures

Continuously inhabited for over 1,000 years by the Red Willow people, Taos Pueblo in New Mexico was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1992. The Pueblo is a Sovereign Self Governing Nation which is Governed by a Traditional Governing Body consisting of the Tribal Council, Governor’s Office and the Warchief’s Office. Taos Pueblo is currently closed to visitors due to the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure the safety of its community and visitors. Please consult the Taos Pueblo website for updates.

The inspiration to develop a Taos Pueblo Conservation Corps began with a group of dedicated young tribal members who had the courage to approach the Pueblo Governor and ask him for support in creating a conservation corps at Taos Pueblo. The youth already knew about Rocky Mountain Youth Corps; they knew about the conservation projects and the paid work opportunities; they knew about the scholarships; and they knew about the training and certifications they would receive if they could develop a program at the Pueblo.

In 2019 the Taos Pueblo Rocky Mountain Youth Corps (RMYC) Program, led by Taos native Dwayne Lefthand, had its first successful season, accomplished through a grant that was funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor and remove non-native fish species from nearby rivers. Project work in 2020 for the Taos Pueblo RMYC crew continues to focus on the completion of the 2019 project and has been expanded to include other conservation projects and historic preservation work on the adobe structures of Taos Pueblo in league with the Taos Pueblo Preservation Program.

The physical integrity of the historic Pueblo structures is an important element of any preservation plan for Taos Pueblo. The Pueblo structures are listed as National Historic Landmarks and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Like all areas of Taos Pueblo, these areas are sacred to the people of the Pueblo and efforts to restore them or rehabilitate them require careful planning and yearly maintenance required sometimes twice a year, depending on the weather. Rain and snow have perhaps the most immediate and detrimental effects, and maintenance and restoration work is a constant concern. The Crew works in collaboration with Tribal Government and Tribal Fiscals that take care of and maintain the main Pueblo structures and the St. Jerome Church, as well as everything within the interior walls of the Pueblo. Project work consists of the following:

  • Adobe Structure Restoration
  • Adobe Making
  • Mud Plastering
  • Foot Bridge Maintenance/Construction
  • Tool Use and Safety

Another component of the Taos Pueblo RMYC is to collaborate with Federal agencies such as the Carson National Forest Service implementing conservation projects on public lands. The Taos Pueblo crews are currently assisting the El Medio Hazardous Fuel Reduction project, a Collaborative Forest Restoration Program project grant. The goal of this project is to reduce the threat of high intensity wildfire, reestablish historic fire regimes, utilize small diameter timber and create local forest-related jobs.  The El Medio project also will benefit and protect a traditional pilgrimage route that Taos Pueblo Tribal Members still use today once a year for a 35 mile trek by horseback. Both of these projects will benefit public and private lands.

US/ICOMOS would like to thank Ben Thomas, Executive Director of Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, of which the Taos Program is a part, for the program update that this article was adapted from.

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