Last Updated on May 14, 2023

Visitors traveling to New Mexico often fly into the Albuquerque International Sunport (airport) – one visit and you’ll understand the name – rent a car, and blow through ABQ on their way to Santa Fe or Taos or White Sands National Park without stopping. I’ve done it. More than once. Big mistake. The Pueblo Indian Cultural Center is the biggest reason why anyone traveling to New Mexico via Albuquerque should spend at least an afternoon in ABQ.

Specifically referred to as the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, the museum rightly considers itself the “Gateway to the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico.”

Anyone, anywhere in the Western Hemisphere is on Indigenous land. Few places, however, maintain their Native spirit, a connection to Native ancestry, better than New Mexico and the Pueblo Indian Cultural Center makes for the perfect introduction – or reminder – of that reality.

The Puebloans were not nomadic like the Plains Indians. They didn’t travel seasonally following the bison. They were among the first farmers on the continent, growing corn especially, using sophisticated irrigation techniques to supply water where it is naturally scarce.

“Pueblo” means village in Spanish and when the Spanish colonizers first came to the area in 1598, they found communities of Indigenous people widespread.

Many of these communities, these villages, the “pueblos,” featured a common architecture of homes and buildings made from adobe. This is a mixture of the abundant mud/clay available in the area with water with plant material. The tan adobe homes had low profiles and geometric construction, well suited to the area’s wildly variable climate which alternately features extreme heat, extreme cold, extreme wind, extreme rain and extreme drought conditions.

As with everywhere else throughout the Western Hemisphere, war, disease, genocide, removal and assimilation practices of European colonizers devastated Indigenous populations in New Mexico. Not only the Puebloan people, but the Diné (Navajo) and Apache as well.

While Indigenous culture represents the history of what is now called New Mexico and Albuquerque – the state’s largest city – it is important to understand Indigenous culture also represents its present and future.

Today, 19 distinct, sovereign Pueblo Nations remain in New Mexico. Their story is shared at the Pueblo Indian Cultural Center.

Pueblo Indian Cultural Center Albuquerque

Turtle Rain Dance mural by Jose Rey Toledo (Jemez Pueblo) at Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
Turtle Rain Dance mural by Jose Rey Toledo (Jemez Pueblo) at Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. Photo by Chadd Scott.

Travelers to New Mexico from around the world visit looking to experience the state’s unique culture, landscape and cuisine. All of this can be found in ABQ – the locals’ abbreviation for Albuquerque – at the Pueblo Indian Cultural Center.

Begin or conclude your visit to the Pueblo Indian Cultural Center Albuquerque at the Indian Pueblo Kitchen, an innovative teaching kitchen and restaurant centered around Indigenous foodways, education and exploration.

Open Tuesday through Sunday from 9AM to 4PM, the Indian Pueblo Kitchen introduces guests to Indigenous cooking, ingredients and recipes. Owned and operated by New Mexico’s 19 Pueblos, enjoy homemade stews, fresh breads, bakery items and savory sauces prepared by chefs and culinary staff all possessing Pueblo heritage.

Dishes are inspired by Pueblo food traditions and utilize ingredients such as red and green chile, blue corn and fresh local produce and spices.

You do you, but I recommend the Native Superfoods Griddle Cakes for $12 made from blue corn, quinoa, amaranth, currants, piñon, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds with triple berries and pure maple syrup on top. Breakfast is served all day!

If you’re a breakfast food fiend like I am, check out these other great, local breakfast restaurants in Albuquerque.

Adjacent to the restaurant you’ll find the Indian Pueblo Store selling traditional and contemporary jewelry, pottery, rugs, and more from award‐winning, internationally renowned artists as well as emerging talents. Visitors can also shop for authentic Native American art directly from artists in the IPCC courtyard. Here, you can meet the artists, elevating your retail experience.

To me, the highlight of the Pueblo Indian Cultural Center is the campus courtyard. The circular space reflects the Indigenous perspective of life as circular. The seasons are circular. Time is circular.

Western outlooks are linear. Starts. Ends. Completion.

One of many examples demonstrating how Native American and Western philosophies directly oppose each other.

Surrounding the courtyard at the Pueblo Indian Cultural Center are a series of murals depicting Puebloan ceremony and culture, history, dance, agriculture and animals painted by some of the greatest Native American artists in history including Pablita Velarde (Santa Clara) and her daughter Helen Hardin (Santa Clara).

Mural tours are available Wednesdays and Fridays at 11AM and 1PM and make for an ideal introduction to the Pueblo Indian Cultural Center and the history of the area’s Indigenous people. Mural tours are included with the purchase of regular museum admission which is only $12 for an out-of-state adult. Seniors and kids pay $8.

Herd Dance mural by Pablita Velarde (Santa Clara Pueblo) at Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
Herd Dance mural by Pablita Velarde (Santa Clara Pueblo) at Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. Photo by Chadd Scott.

The IPCC also features traditional museum galleries with permanent and rotating exhibitions displaying historic and contemporary cultural objects and storytelling from the Indigenous perspective.

Pueblo Cultural Center Albuquerque

While there, keep an eye out for Avanyu.

The Tewa deity “Avanyu” is the guardian of water. In the often-parched climate of New Mexico, water, obviously, was essential to the Native inhabitants’ existence – then and now. Many of their ceremonies, across all nations, centered on water.

Avanyu is depicted as a horned serpent with a curved body suggestive of flowing water or the zig-zag of lightning. Once you recognize “Avanyu,” you’ll see it EVERYWHERE across New Mexico, particularly in Indigenous artwork including pottery.

The Pueblo Indian Cultural Center even has a hot air balloon!

“Eyahne,” which means “blessings” in the Keres language, Keres is spoken by seven Pueblo nations, floats above Albuquerque along with hundreds of other balloons during the Albuquerque festival of hot air balloons, the biggest annual event in town held each October along with April’s Gathering of Nations, the largest inter-tribal powwow in North America.

As you can imagine, the buzz during Gathering of Nations at the Pueblo Cultural Center Albuquerque is off the charts!

Once introduced to the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico, surely you’ll be interested in visiting these people and places in person. You can do that, with some exceptions.

If you do, visit humbly. Tread lightly. Remember the Pueblos are sovereign nations which exists within the United States. Ask before taking pictures. Visit as a friend. Listen more than you talk.

Pottery display inside Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
Pottery display inside Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. Photo by Chadd Scott.

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

Open Tuesday through Sunday, 9AM to 4PM

2401 12th Street NW

Albuquerque, New Mexico 87104

Phone: 505-843-7270

Follow the Pueblo Indian Cultural Center across social media @indianpueblo.