Who are the Zuni Indians?

James Doehring
James Doehring
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The Zuni Indians are a Native American group that lives in northwestern New Mexico, United States. They are part of the Pueblo peoples and are especially known for their jewelry and other works of art. Unlike many indigenous tribes, the Zuni Indians have generally retained their ancestral lands since contact with Europeans. The Zuni Pueblo area has approximately 12,000 inhabitants and has been continuously occupied by the Zuni for many centuries. The Zuni language is still spoken in many Zuni households.

The ancestors of modern Pueblo Indians, which are sometimes called the Anasazi, were living along the Zuni River in New Mexico over 2,000 years ago. Those that would diverge into the Zuni are thought to have been in place by 500 A.D. The Anasazi are often known for their complex stone and adobe structures built along cliff walls.

In 1540, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, a Spanish explorer and treasure-seeker, set out to conquer the mythical Seven Cities of Gold. In need of food, the explorers arrived at the area inhabited by the Zuni Indians. Coronado and his men saw the Zuni living in multi-story homes, termed pueblos, but no gold was in sight. After some amount of fighting, the Spanish succeeded in obtaining food and information about neighboring lands. They later set out on another search for riches, taking some Zuni as guides.

In resistance to later Spanish attempts to convert the Zuni to Christianity, the Zuni attacked and killed hundreds of Spanish settlers in 1680. During the subsequent three centuries, the Zuni Indians have primarily lived in a single village that bears their name. A number of smaller outlying villages were established for corn and wheat farming. The Zuni Indians are one of the few Native American groups that were generally not displaced from their lands by European settlers.

The Zuni Indians express many of their cultural traditions through artwork. Before European contact, the Zuni made jewelry from stone and shells. More recently, they have incorporated silver into their jewelry. Today, the Zuni Indians create artworks both for personal use and for trade.

The Zuni language, unlike many indigenous languages in North America, is still commonly spoken in the home. It is also a language not closely related to any other language. In linguistics, this is called a language isolate. Verbs in the Zuni language are relatively complex compared to nouns. The Zuni language is spoken by nearly 10,000 people around the world.

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Discussion Comments


The language of the Zuni tribe is an interesting part of their culture. They must have lived in isolation with very few other tribes visiting them. Most of the other Native Americans had a lot of contact with other tribes and also the immigrants moving to America.

Their language is quite unique, probably because for some reason they didn't mix with others. The Spaniards came, and tried to conquer the Zunis and convert them to Christianity. But they were strong and independent and drove them away.


The Zuni Native American tribe, that live in the northwestern section of New Mexico, are really unusual in that they are about the only tribe in the U.S. that were allowed to stay in their own area.

It's a shame that other tribes were forced off their ancestral lands by the American government and were placed to live on some of the worse land in the country.

Does anyone know how it came about that the Zuni tribe was able to remain on the land they had occupied for centuries?

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