Hands on Heritage: Native Archaeologist Mary Weahkee
In downtown Santa Fe in 2006, Mary Weahkee (Comanche/ Santa Clara Pueblo) peered through the fence surrounding the site of an Office of Archaeological Studies excavation. She was so intrigued, she signed up to volunteer. Eventually, she joined OAS—one of two Native Americans now on staff.
“Native Americans were part of the archaeology staff when I joined in 1988,” recalls Eric Blinman, Office of Archaeological Studies director. “Although it can be challenging to be Native and an archaeologist, in the right hands, knowledge of the past can strengthen identities and communities.”
Today, Weahkee is known as a skilled analyst and versatile crew chief whose archaeological abilities are complemented by her commitment to education. In early January, Weahkee’s knowledge and experience resulted in a $52,500 grant to OAS from the Futures for Children Legacy Fund, earmarked for supporting Native education. The fund is housed at the Santa Fe Community Foundation and supported by longtime Museum of New Mexico Foundation member and donor Mary Anne Larsen.
The grant supports OAS educators’ time and travel to Native communities throughout New Mexico. Their programs are designed to support the educational and cultural development of Native students by providing accurate, stimulating and relevant information about their history and culture.
“Being Native American and doing archaeology across the West has given me a broad perspective about tribes and the relationships between the past and present,” Weahkee says. “Archaeology emphasizes technologies and survival skills, and the sophisticated knowledge and artistry of my ancestors are an inspiration and a bond between all of us. When I can demonstrate making things the old way, and when children and adults feel and use what I’ve just made, the connections are remarkable.”
Weahkee and the other OAS educators will work directly with teachers, aligning programs with classroom goals and providing connections to Indigenous community representatives. In Nick Felipe’s seventh and eighth grade classes at the Native American Community Academy in Albuquerque, Weahkee says, “They learned Pueblo Revolt history as I demonstrated using yucca to make the knotted cords that synchronized the revolt.”
For this summer, Weahkee designed special programs for youth at Santa Clara and San Ildefonso pueblos, the Alamo Navajo Nation School and other communities. “The value of programming with strong heritage content is especially important for urban Native American children, such as those who are in public schools,” she says.
“The enterprise side of OAS produces knowledge of the past, but that’s where client funding stops,” says Blinman. “Mary’s commitment to using knowledge to strengthen Native communities is totally dependent on private philanthropy.”
To support the Office of Archaeological Studies, contact Lauren Paige at 505.982.2282 or Lauren@museumfoundation.org.
This article is from Member News Summer 2022. Image of Archaeologist Mary Weahkee (Comanche/Santa Clara Pueblo). Photo courtesy Office of Archaeological Studies.