The Business of Culture at Acoma Pueblo:

Case Study and Teaching Notes

Mary Tenorio, Director with ASM Students

 Regina Gilbert, MBA and

Helen J. Muller, Ph.D.


Evalena Boone, BBA

Chris Day, B.S.Candidate

Anita Sanchez, MBA Candidate

Anderson Schools of Management


Forthcoming in P.Buller & R. Schuler,(Eds.), 2000. Organizations and People (6th ed.), Southwestern Publishers.

The authors acknowledge the University of New Mexico Research Allocation Committee grant that provided partial support for this study. We appreciate the generous contributions of the employees of the Acoma Tourism Program towards this case study, especially the Director. We thank the other Acoma Pueblo tribal members whom we interviewed for their invaluable perspectives. We are grateful to Asbjorn Osland for his constructive comments and suggestions.



The Business of Culture at Acoma Pueblo - Case Study




Mary Tenorio, Director of Acoma Pueblo Tourism Center, is dedicated to educating non-native people about the southwestern American Indians, especially the Acoma Pueblo Tribe. As the years pass, more and more visitors are attracted to Old Acoma, also known as "Sky City." The tour and center have become a successful business that is outgrowing the capacity of its facilities. Ms. Tenorio needs to address these issues with the traditional Tribal Council members, who oversee the visitorís center, to convince them to accommodate the increase in tourism. Business development can benefit the Acoma Pueblo Tribe but not at the expense of its cultural traditions and values.


Acoma Pueblo


Acoma Pueblo is a federally recognized American Indian tribe in Cibola County, New Mexico. It is one of nineteen Pueblo Indian nations in the state who continue to live within their own enriched traditional values known to them since the beginning of time. As an American Indian community, the Acoma people are proud of their history, heritage, and cultural values that have kept them unique in the face of Spanish and American colonists. The Acoma Pueblo people are a distinct tribe that has its own religion, culture, and language; they are divided into clans. Each of the tribal clans, fourteen in all, has its particular spiritual significance. The Acoma people are known by their clan which is traced through the motherís side; the mother passes her clan designation to her children. This constitutes the matriarchal descent pattern that most Pueblos tribes follow.

Within the matriarchal tradition, women are responsible for the family and the home. They are not permitted in sacred kivas where men practice in religious ceremonies. An Acoma woman is considered head of the household, has possession of the house, and hands down the sole ownership of the house to her youngest daughter. The youngest daughter is responsible for taking care of family members. If an Acoma man marries outside of the tribe, it is expected that he will move to his wifeís location.

The language of the Acoma people is part of the Keresan tribal language and is shared with the people of Laguna Pueblo and San Felipe Pueblo. The Pueblo of Acoma is adjacent to the Pueblo of Laguna. Granted a tribe may live in close proximity to another tribe and some similar characteristics may exist but there are no two American Indian tribes entirely alike.

Acoma Pueblo is only one federally recognized American Indian tribe out of 511 distinct tribes within the United States (see Tiller, 1996). There are an additional 200 or so unrecognized tribes that occupy various areas in the United States. Tribal people live in a variety of environments, either on or off the reservations that may occupy rural areas or cities. The Pueblo of Acoma has an interstate highway (I-40) cutting through its reservation. Fifteen miles to the west of Acoma is the town of Grants while to the east is the city of Albuquerque 56 miles away.

The Acoma Tribe has reservation land where a majority of the tribally enrolled members occupy their homes. Based on a 1995 census, approximately 6,091 people live on the reservation including both tribal and non-tribal individuals. Many of the people who live on the reservation commute to the surrounding urban areas for employment. Reservation land is also known as trust land, land held in trust by the federal government that is intended for tribal use. The reservation of Acoma Pueblo expands over 378,114 acres: the Tribe owns 377, 794 acres and 320 acres are owned by individual tribal members.

Old Acoma is one of three villages on the Acoma reservation; the other two villages are Acomita and McCartys. Old Acoma is referred to as "Sky City" because of its significant location. Sky City is the center of attraction for tourists who come from miles around to view the spectacular site.


History of Old Acoma - "Sky City"


Old Acoma or Sky City is unique in its history. Archaeologists trace its occupation back to at least 1150 A.D. Sky City is still occupied by tribal elders who continue to live as they did many years ago. Currently, there are about 30 people in Sky City, only a handful of people. The Acoma Tribe preserves Sky City by not contaminating it with todayís modern utilities, such as running water, sewer service, natural gas, and electricity. The people who live on the mesa top store their drinking water and replenish it daily, use lanterns at night, cook their food in traditional adobe bread ovens that are built outside the home, and have out-houses for facilities. Just being within the village, a visitor is set back into time and can experience a sense of peace and tranquillity.

Sky City acquired its name due to the site it occupies. The village of Old Acoma stands on a mesa top 365 feet above the surrounding valley of sparse, dry farmland with a mixture of pinon and juniper trees. Once on top of the mesa, you are able to see for miles in all directions. There is a beautiful view of Mount Taylor at over 11,000 feet in the distance and if you look down from the mesa you are able to see the fields of the villagers who grow watermelon, corn, and other native foods.

The village consists of 250 dwellings. Even though only a handful of people live at Sky City year round, other tribal members come back to the village during ceremonial events throughout the year. Many of the homes at Sky City are used during the ceremonies to feed family members, as a resting place for the young and old, and as a place where everyone can reunite as a family. American Indian cultures are very family oriented. For the people of Acoma, it is important to family members that they all return periodically to the Pueblo for their traditional ceremonies. During this time, all family members share the closeness and security which brings about happiness and joy to everyone.

The people of Acoma chose the location of Sky City for one reason. Acoma oral history tells the story about the beginning of time or "how we came to be at Acoma." In the Keresan language, Acoma is known as "Hakíu" which means a "place of readiness." Also in the Acoma native language, Hakíu means "to prepare." As the Acoma tradition tells it, the location of Acoma was actually prepared for the people. Orlando Antonio, a senior tour guide at Sky City, describes the story which Acoma oral history refers to as the creation story:

Before we evolved from our hole in the ground as whole, there was a religious leader who evolved first; his name was Marcel. What was he looking for? He was looking for the place that had been prepared for the Acoma people. Again Hakíu means prepared. So when he migrated south, every little hill side he came to he would yell out the word Hakíu . . . no response. Every butte he came to, Hakíu, nothing. Then Marcel came to Enchanted Mesa, he yells out the word again, Hakíu. Guess what he probably heard? His echo. So Marcel says to himself, okay, I have found the place that has been prepared for the Acoma people. Then I must return and let the Acoma people know. Marcel returns and the evolution of Acoma people begins.

For centuries, Enchanted Mesa (nearby to the Sky City mesa) served a band of Acoma ancestors as a dwelling, storehouse, and fortress.

The "new home" for the Acoma people at Enchanted Mesa stood 400 feet above the valley floor. A series of single-file handholds and steps cut into the towering rock provided access. Then, one day during a violent storm, part of the descent-pathway crumbled leaving a young girl with her grandmother trapped on the mesa top. Rather than starve, they leapt to their deaths. Upon hearing of this event, the tribal elders realized that they must move to a different mesa, one known as "Sky City," to reestablish their homes and continue to live their lives as Acoma people.

Many people considered Sky City an ideal site for protection from marauding enemies. Before settlers occupied the surrounding valley, nomadic American Indian tribes would raid the area for their livelihood, stealing food and supplies. During this time the Acoma Pueblo people farmed and raised many fruits and vegetables below Sky City. But times have changed. During the past 37 years, the people have moved away from farming due to pollution of the nearby Rio San Jose waters caused by the growth of Grants. The crops do not grow as well as they did in the old days. However, there are still some Acoma people who continue the ancient tradition of farming.


History of Tourism at Sky City


The idea of being in the tourism business is new to the Pueblo of Acoma, yet tourism began with the people of Sky City in the beginning of the 1900ís. The enterprise that started out as touring an historical Pueblo village and seeing "real live" American Indians has become one of New Mexicoís top five tourist spots attracting more than 115,000 visitors a year.

The tourism business at Sky City has a unique history and is connected to the San Esteban del Rey Mission which occupies the mesa top among the houses and ceremonial kivas. The mission was begun in 1629 under the direction of Friar Juan Ramirez of Spain and was completed in 1640. Friar Juan Ramirez chose the people of Acoma for conversion to Christianity (Catholicism) because he had heard that they held the distinction of being the most rebellious of all the southwestern tribes. He was determined to save these rebels because he believed it was his work as a man of the church. Friar Juan Ramirez set out on the journey to Acoma alone. When he arrived there, warriors greeted him with arrows. The villagers feared any visitor with white skin because such previous encounters had resulted in war, bloodshed, and the loss of many people.

According to Acoma legend, Friar Juan Ramirez gained entry to Old Acoma because he saved an infant falling off the high edge as he approached the mesa to deliver his message of the church. The people of Old Acoma and the tribal leader considered the delivery of the child to its mother to be a miracle. Knowing how high their mesa was and seeing a man in a robe must have made the people of Acoma believe that the Friar, a white man, had special powers.

This event bestowed a special significance to Friar Juan Ramirez and allowed him to stay with the people of Acoma. Friar Juan Ramirez did not reveal until years later that the infant girl had fallen onto a ledge, was stunned, and he had simply picked her up. This "miracle" inspired the devotion of the Acoma people to Friar Ramirez and it helped to build San Esteban del Rey Mission. The establishment of the mission resulted from peace yet the Spaniards indentured the Acoma people to build it.

As time passed into the current century, the church caretakers needed financial assistance to maintain the mission and to preserve its significance. Ms. Tenorio says that there are records dating back to the 1930ís showing the number of visitors at Sky City who made monetary donations to the mission to help with renovations. It is believed that in those days, the mission caretakers served as tour guides and they told the history of the mission but no real history of the Acoma people.

Ms. Tenorio believes that, in these earlier days, the visitors would roam the village, look into peopleís houses, and take food for themselves. Hollywood motion pictures, in those days, depicted Natives as savages. These images instilled the visitorsí conceptions of American Indiansí appearance and livelihood. The visitors who arrived during those times came from other missions and included curios seekers and historians. A rudimentary road that was built for a motion picture in the twenties served as the only access route to the top of the high mesa. Before that time, toeholds carved into the cliff and several systems of long ladders functioned as the access route to the top. That depicts the beginning of the tourism business at Sky City: visitors came to see the historic San Esteban del Rey Mission and made monetary donations for the restoration and preservation of the mission.

Ms. Tenorio recalls another significant event that helped boost the small tourism business. The exact time frame is not known but during the late 1950ís or early 60ís another motion picture company came to Sky City to film a John Wayne movie and it reconstructed the original road. The motion picture was "African Sunset." The new road, exchanged for filming the movie, gave the people of Acoma Pueblo much needed vehicle access to the top of Sky City.


The Acoma Tribal Council


During the 1960ís, the Acoma Tribal Council became formally established. In 1936, the United States government established the tribal government system under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). Yet, Indian people did not have the right to vote in New Mexico state elections until 1948. That is why for years after the IRA, the Pueblo of Acoma still had not realized the need for a formal tribal council.

The U.S. federal government considers the tribes on the reservations to be quasi-sovereign, domestic, and dependent nations. Such sovereign rights include the power to determine their own form of government, to define conditions for membership in the nation, to administer justice and enforce laws, to tax, to regulate domestic relations of its members, and to regulate property use. Each tribal entity has its own governmental organization that usually opts for a constitution and council that oversees tribal businesses, finances, programs, and policies. Because the tribes are inherently sovereign, individual states may not exercise authority over them unless authorized by Congress.

Because sovereignty means the power or authority to govern, and because tribes are sovereign, they must be allowed to choose the manner and form by which they will govern. Many Native Nations chose to adopt constitutional government models similar to that of the United States. Others, like Acoma Pueblo, chose to retain their traditional form of governance. Under traditional forms, religious leaders (also known as caciques) or tribal chiefs maintain the authority to make decisions on behalf of their tribe. The United States recognized this type of government in treaty agreements with the various tribes. The Supreme Court decreed that American tribes are not required to function under a "normal" constitutional government if they so chose. Therefore, the Pueblo of Acoma could select their traditional form of government with one particular clan having responsibility for appointing the Tribal Council and the Governor of the Pueblo. The Governor is also the head of the Tribal Council.


Economic Growth in Tourism


The Acoma Tribal Council members began to see an opportunity for tribal economic development by focusing on the tourism trade that the mission caretakers had managed. They knew the mission still received donations from visitors. During the 1960ís to the mid-1980ís, the Tribal Council tried to formalize the tourism business. Being fairly new to matters of administration and having no significant knowledge of business, they did their best to manage the business. The Acoma Tribal Council, as a traditional government, looked to the tribal elders for wisdom, took traditions and customs as decision making tools, and progressed by abiding to traditional Pueblo religion and values.

Within a few years, the Tribal Council constructed a dwelling at the Sky City entrance for use as a "guide office." Visitors would pay a small fee here to roam freely within the village. After years of operation, however, the office could not handle the influx of visitors because Sky City lacked electricity and running water. An additional problem related to parking. Most of the visitors had to park below the mesa and walk up the road to the top.

After deliberating the situation, the Council agreed to use some land at the base of Old Acoma to build a new visitorís center that would be a mandatory stop and a starting point for the Sky City tour. The inclusion of modern utilities added to the relatively large construction costs of the center. Since Sky City had no contemporary utilities, all of the resources had to be brought in from the village of Acomita, 11 miles away. With construction plans in hand, they began to install water, sewer, and electrical lines from Acomita to the new visitorís center. Because Sky City is a National Historic Landmark, the utilities had to be designated as an underground utility resource. Now, as you travel to Sky City you do not see electrical poles; this preserves the beauty of the land as it has been seen for centuries.

After installation of the utilitiesí infrastructure, construction began on the visitorís center building and parking facilities. The new center could not have been built without financial support from the federally sponsored Community Action Program (CAP) that assisted economic development on American Indian reservations. The Acoma Tribal Councilís proposal to CAP for the tourism facility was a success. In 1978, the Pueblo of Acoma Tourist Visitorís Program officially opened its doors at the new center.

The new tourism center had a snack bar and gift shop at the same counter. The snack bar sold a few items of food including candy and drinks. The gift shop sold postcards, Acoma pottery, T-shirts, and other small items. Even though a restroom existed, both the visitors and the employees had to share it. An old school bus transported the visitors up to Sky City. Known as "Old Blue" to the employees, the bus was the only means of transporting the visitors.

Initially, the visitorís center had a handful of employees and visitors paid a reasonable fee for the tour. At this time, no formal structure to the tour existed. Visitors still went to the mesa top to roam the village. They asked many questions as they went from site to site: how the people at Sky City cook their food, where they get their drinking water, and why the people chose to live a life style without any utilities. More specific questions focused on the Acoma people: how is it possible to construct the earthen dwellings, what is a kiva and what is its significance, and what religion do the Acoma people practice? The tour guides gave out information based on their own personal knowledge from stories that had been passed on to them as young children. They answered questions as best they could about the Acoma people and their long history.

Acoma people are well known for their unique pottery and their hard work to create the beautiful designs of parrots and detailed art work with different designs that represent the rain, the sun, and the other elements of the Earth known to the Acoma people. The residents of Sky City saw an opportunity to make some money from the visitors who came on the tour. The women set up a stand in front of their houses and displayed their pottery. Visitors are fascinated by the beauty of the intricate pottery designs, their purchases have helped these "works of art" to become famous.

The hard work put into the visitorís center by the Acoma Tribal Council spoke for itself. In the past, it had generated a small amount of revenue but not enough to be recognized as a functional business. The revenue from the tourists, who stood in awe of the wondrous ancient site, enabled the Tribe and the center to break ground into something big.

Economic development through tourism is a management strategy to foster the economic independence of the Acoma people. Developing an ancestoral site as a tourism attraction must be balanced with business concepts involving fiscal accountability, on the one hand, and with preserving the delicate cultural traditions and harmony of the Pueblo people on the other hand. While Native people throughout the world share many of the same challenges, and certain Native traditions and values may appear to be similar, they do not share the same culture. The preservation of the Sky City historical site, its location and spirituality, and its peacefulness are features that attract the visitors from all over the world to the "place of readiness."


Mary Tenorioís Role


It was not until 1986 that Mary Tenorio became involved with the Acoma Tourism Center. A social worker by profession, Ms. Tenorio came to work for the tourism center as a retreat from her previous job. She had intended to stay with the center for a year to recover from job burn-out. The Acoma Tribal Council granted her job request and she became the ninth permanent staff member. During her first year, Ms. Tenorio worked as a cashier. She helped a co-worker develop forms to keep track of daily fees paid by tourists. During this time, the center had no formal way of keeping track of how much daily revenue it received or of other information on the business in general.

From then on, Ms. Tenorio continued to develop other forms to account for inventory, for record keeping of tour fees, where visitors traveled from, and so on. Because the forms contained detailed information, she believed that any person should be able to look at a particular sheet at the end of the day and review the information about how many people took the tour. Other information that she proposed to be collected included the number of T-shirts sold, their sizes, and even the T-shirtís type of design. Ms. Tenorio played a major role in transforming the tourism center into a business entity.

As the years went by, Ms. Tenorio continued to work at the tourism center. She enjoyed her job and continued to develop an accounting system to make work more efficient. She did not entertain any thoughts about returning to her old profession because she enjoyed the challenges in the tourism industry. Having a little business background from classes she took at a local community college, she continued to learn the basic concepts of business in her day to day experience.

A few of her successes in the early years of her work at Acoma included the approval by the Acoma Tribal Council of a cultural and historical "script" for use by all tour guides. She designed brochures, furthermore, as a marketing tool to promote the Sky City tour. With much motivation and devotion to her job, she traveled to different areas around the state and requested that the colorful brochures be inserted into conference packets (see Appendix A). She also distributed brochures to local business outlets that promoted tourism information. In sum, she put much hard work and effort into developing the Acoma tourism program.


Dealing with a Traditional Tribal Council


As Ms. Tenorio continued to work on promoting the tourism center in the early 1990ís, she realized that the existing building could not handle the increasing inflow of tourists. She decided to request funds from the Acoma Tribal Council to expand the facility. As part of this expansion request, she included a plan to expand the restroom as there was only one facility for everyone.

She realized that dealing with the members of the Tribal Council could be difficult. The traditional form of Pueblo government is associated, for the most part, with cultures characterized by reliance on a council of elders, highly valued communal and kinship bonds, and decision making through consensus building. Moreover, a traditional council does not consider a womanís voice in decisions. Traditional tribal members consider a womanís place to be in the home and not in tribal governmental affairs. Tension between these frameworks of governance and contemporary business organization introduced an important political dynamic for Acoma tourism development (see Appendix B for comparisons between Anglo-American and traditional Acoma Pueblo cultural patterns).

Ms. Tenorio had to learn how to properly address the male tribal council members in order for her ideas to be taken seriously. Because of her gender and the traditional tribal decision patterns, she would have trouble addressing the Council about the pressing issues she recognized as important to the tourism center. After much frustration, she recognized the need to develop her own way of communicating in a traditional tribal society. Her father had helped her with this effort by teaching her how to do business with the Tribal Council. She learned how to formally address the Council and, at the same time, to talk professionally in her native tongue, and to show her respect to the Councilmen. Along these lines, she made a considerable effort to advocate for the effective protection of the Tribal communityís interests as it embarked upon increasing its business participation in the capitalist framework of the tourism industry.

Because the Tribal Council members recognized Ms. Tenorioís potential and her capabilities, they grew to respect her as a professional business woman. Soon, the Council promoted her to the position as director of the visitorís center. In this new position, Ms. Tenorioís responsibility expanded. Due to the respect bestowed by the Tribal Council, she developed more confidence in her work-relationship with its members.

Ms. Tenorio wanted to be more professional in her approach to management and, at the same time, she felt it important to honor traditional Acoma customs. Thus, she needed to redefine her method of working with the Council when she had to request changes for the visitorís center. She eventually developed a strategy that reflected a "win-win" situation for both sides. When approaching the Tribal Council with a request that needed their approval, she would bring up a topic by feeding the members ideas and making suggestions. She would make the suggestions in a "round about way" that could create a vision for the Council. This new technique worked: the Council members began to feel like they had done all the brainstorming. They felt, furthermore, that they had made the recommended changes. As a result the Council members felt inspired by their decision to make improvements to the visitorís center. The strategy resulted in Ms. Tenorio coming out of the meetings with approval of the plans that she needed.

Although Mary Tenorioís story may now seem like a success, she did go through very hard times in learning to gain the Tribal Council membersí respect and in learning to effectively process her suggestions. As a result, Ms. Tenorio says: "I have developed Ďthick skiní which allows me to handle any situation that may come my way in the future."


Development of the Business Board


The Acoma Tribal Council developed a Business Board in 1997 with the Board reporting to the Council. The purpose of the Board is to place all of the Tribeís economic development under the direction of the Business Board instead of the Tribal Council. This allows the Tribal Council to concentrate on other policy and administrative matters while still maintaining oversight of business development on the reservation.

Three years ago, the Tribal Council conducted a formal assessment of all the business activities of the tribe. The committee with this charge realized the need to create a group of business professionals who understood the concepts of managing economic development. It recognized, furthermore, that a substantive difference between business affairs and traditional tribal governmental affairs exists. With a casino now under the Tribeís operation, an additional reason for the new Board became apparent. The State Indian Gaming Regulatory Commission had advised on the separation for business on one side and governmental affairs on the other.

Before the Business Board existed, a tribal official oversaw the tourism center and found this to be a difficult task. Tribal officials had many different matters to attend to which made it impossible to have a person available during working hours. Now, the visitorís center administrative staff has a formal chain of command to follow with ready access to an office and person to whom they can report. Indirectly, the tourism program is still under the Tribal Council because it represents the people.

One of the many advantages for the five new members of the Business Board is that business activities are now separated from tribal politics. Work on economic development issues have a quicker turnaround time. Another advantage is that appointments are staggered in three year terms. Consistency can be maintained by the Board with regard to the business functions that must operate in a professional manner.

The Tribal Council appoints the Business Board members. Three Acoma tribal members and two non-tribal members, one of whom is non-Indian currently serve on the Board. Of the two non-tribal board members, one is an attorney from Albuquerque and the other is married to an Acoma family member. The Tribal Governor and one other representative from the Tribal Council sit on the Board but they do not have a vote. The Board has a charter with by-laws; it makes recommendations to the Governor concerning business opportunities from "outside" corporations as well as local tribal entrepreneurs. Currently, the Business Board has eight business operations under its direction. As with any new organization, it is experiencing growing pains. There is a need for additional staff. The President of the Board is employed full time by the Council. The other Board members serve on a voluntary basis. Support staff is provided by the Acoma Tribal Administration. Qualified people are needed to assist in developing the Board to its fullest potential.


The Tourism Program Today


Acoma Pueblo draws thousands of visitors every month of the year. The tourism center now houses the admissions office, a small restaurant, a gift shop, and a museum. The admissions office handles the ticket sales for the tours and the permits for still-cameras only. The restaurantís menu offers both Anglo-American and traditional Pueblo dishes as well as snack-bar type items. The gift shop sells merchandise such as Acoma Pueblo pottery, jewelry, T-shirts, posters, and postcards. The hand-crafted items are bought directly from local Natives who guarantee the authenticity of their work. Commercial items are usually purchased from "outside" businesses. The centerís museum, with its "1,000 Years of Clay" exhibit, depicts the history and customs of the early inhabitants of Acoma. And a comfortable bus takes visitors up to the mesa top.

The guided tour of Sky City lasts approximately one hour and involves a one-mile walk. As people become more aware of the history of the Americas, their curiosity deepens about American Indian people. This is apparent at Acoma: visitors continue to be fascinated by its rich culture and historical significance. For example, they learn that Acoma is one of the oldest continuously inhabited villages in North America, and that, in 1599, a famous battle over religious freedom was fought between Conquistadors and the Acoma people. Having an opportunity to experience and learn about another culture is the very origin of why people visit Sky City.

The essence of the tourism program is to teach the world about the Acoma Pueblo people. There are individuals who still believe that Natives wear buck skins, beads, and feathers. They believe, furthermore, that American Indian people live in desolated areas, have tipis for homes, have no formal education, and that Native men are either warriors, alcoholics, or are uncivilized. These common misconceptions of Native people are corrected by the patient Acoma Pueblo tour guides during the educational tour at Sky City.

According to the records kept by the center, the top ten states of annual visitor origin are: California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas. Visitors come from every state in the U.S. and from around the world: Australia, Canada, England, Germany, Holland, Italy, Sweden, and Switzerland to name a few. With this in mind, the visitorís center is planning to market their program to people in other countries. The Acoma Tourism center is developing a web site as a marketing tool. With the overwhelming influx of tourists, once again, the center has outgrown its existing facilities.

The number of visitors fluctuates during the year. The busiest time is from May through October. Tour companies, both large and small and both local and national, bring buses filled with customers, public schools bring children on field trips. And the various events in surrounding cities, such as the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and the Gallup Inter-tribal Indian Ceremonial, draw visitors to Acoma. The slowest time of the year is November through April when the cold winter months causes the drop in visitors. Although Sky City is open year round, the Tribe closes the facilities a few times a year in observance of its religious ceremonies. This very fact is a point of discussion by managers and Business Board members because it is interfering with the flow of visitors who travel for miles to visit Sky City.

The tourism center has nine management positions with 27 permanent employees. During the summer months, there are 50 to 55 employees all of whom are members of the Acoma Pueblo tribe. The center is organized into departments: security, facility maintenance, gifts, admissions, kitchen, and administration. Non-management personnel include: tour guides, vendor-guides, bus drivers, security guards, custodians, sales clerks, cashiers, and cooks.

Permanent and part-time staff in the areas of hospitality and customer service as well as some other areas participate in training programs. Some of the training contractors include: 1) Fred Pryor Seminars, 2) Marriott, 3) U.S. Forestry Department, and 4) New Mexico Department of Tourism. Ms. Tenorio stresses the importance of incorporating ethical values and practicing professional manners along with relying on traditional values as a framework in staff training activities. The articulation of traditional Acoma Pueblo values are critical for motivating employees and these are conveyed by stressing the importance of Acoma history and the significance of the staffís role in portraying Acomaís history to visitors.

Staff meetings are positively-oriented to correct any misunderstandings or problems staff may encounter while in the presence of non-tribal visitors who may convey negative feelings or stereotypes towards the Acoma people and its particular cultural traditions. All staff members receive training to become experts on the history of Acoma. No one is to say the three deadly words: "I donít know." The culturally-based attractions and the hospitality of the destination tour-hosts serve to empower the Acoma people. The manner in which the Acoma Pueblo hosts interact with visitors is a critical determinant of the travel experiences and resulting satisfaction of guests. Visitors upon returning home can influence others to visit the Pueblo.

A substantial amount of revenue is brought into the Acoma tourism business. It is estimated that over $1 million is generated on a yearly basis. This revenue is used for operating costs and the remaining profits go into the "general tribal account." At Acoma Pueblo, the strategies and projects that are most likely to lead to tribal financial success must be based on community control rather than on individual enterprise. Funds generated by tribal enterprises go directly into the community to help with water lines, road maintenance, and community centers used by the elderly and youth. The tourism center, furthermore, is establishing scholarships and internships for employees who are seeking higher education. Acoma Pueblo tradition means that the Tribe must first be able to take care of its own people before it can contribute to others.

The spread of tourism is driven, in part, by a perpetual search for new destinations, and, in part, by an increasing interest in and marketing of things natural or unspoiled. Acoma Pueblo offers a natural beauty that is unspoiled. The Acoma Tourism program gives a clear picture of how Acoma Pueblo was many years ago and shows how, over the centuries, it resisted outside Euro-American influences that sought to change its culture and traditions.

Appendix A



Source: brochure of the Pueblo of Acoma, "Acoma-Sky City" (1996).

Appendix B

Traditional Acoma Pueblo Tribal and Anglo-American Cultural Patterns




Acoma Pueblo





Communication is face to face and

verbal; consensus-oriented and status conscious.

Communication is written and spoken. Differences of opinion are encouraged as is competition.



Family organization based on clan; matriarchal in origin; land is held by youngest daughter.

Family organization based on nuclear family. Land is individually owned.




Ascribed authority Ė Spiritual leaders have significant power; today tribal government is based on traditional appointed system.

Secular authority, achieved status, U.S. federal system of government with elected representation.





Originally agrarian-based; "work" is part of life activity and may be subordinated to other activities such as traditional religious ceremonies.

Industrialized economy; technical orientation; work holds high priority in life; people value money and material goods.



Present-oriented. Time measured by the season or task to be accomplished (cyclic-oriented).

Time measured by minutes and hours and is extremely important; time is lineally-oriented.



Teaching is verbal; learning is by mimic and rote; instructors are respected elders.

Teaching is multifaceted - emphasis is on practical & applied. Teachers have college degrees.



Religion is an integral part of life in general and in everyday life; religion pervades all activities.

Religion and work are separate entities and is so stated in the constitution.

Natural Resources


Adapts and respects the environment. People and nature are integrated and inseparable.

Seeks to control and exploit the environment. People are separate from nature.

Sources: Acoma Pueblo material is adapted from Muller (1998), Winfield (1995), Stewart & Bennett (1991), and the members of the American Indian Business Association, NM; Anglo material is adapted from Harris & Moran (1991) and Stewart & Bennett (1991).



The Business of Culture at Acoma Pueblo - Instructorís Manual for Case Study

Case Study Discussion Questions

  1. Distinguish some attributes of the Acoma Pueblo tribal community that are unique to it as a distinct American Indian community.
  2. In what ways may visitorsí stereotypes of American Indian people be transformed as a result of their experience at Acoma Pueblo?
  3. Identify some traditional Acoma tribal cultural values and explain how it is possible that contemporary business values and traditional cultural values can co-exist at Acoma Pueblo.
  4. Define the program managerís role in influencing the development of the visitorís program and explain her strategy to address the critical issues she faced? How has gender influenced her role?
  5. Identify some of the critical issues that tribal managers and other decision makers encountered in developing this enterprise and how they have been resolved or managed. How do such issues differ from those in a conventional business or organization?

Case Overview


Acoma Pueblo may be the oldest continuously inhabited site in the continental U.S. Spanish explorers attempted to control its lands and people since the 16th century. Early visitors came in the 1930s and, in the 1980s, mainly due to the efforts of one visionary manager, the Tribe slowly and conscientiously developed its visitor program to attract and educate people from throughout the world. What began as a modest and small business that could shut down its operation for tribal ceremonials is now a profitable and highly visible entity that must respond to customer demand. Existing in a fragile environment of place, people, and culture, the newly created Tribal Business Board and seasoned tourism program manager are learning to respond to the marketplace that is largely non-tribal and, at the same time, to preserve their heritage and traditional Pueblo tribal traditions, values, and practices.

Acoma Puebloís economy was relatively small and undeveloped until the mid - 1980s. The fundamental management question for the tribe is how it can effectively enhance the tribal economy by developing its tourism program and some other businesses without compromising its cultural heritage and traditions. By utilizing modern management techniques, the Tribe has an opportunity to enhance its economic viability and generate revenue that will help other business development activities.


Specific Teaching Objectives


The teaching objectives of the case are the following:

  1. to improve awareness about our American Indian heritage and to debunk the Hollywood Indian with the intent that tribal people will be more accepted in the workplace and in college programs.
  2. to introduce the notion that American Indian tribes are engaging in viable business activities with culturally relevant management strategies.
  3. to analyze the intersections among cultural, business, and organizations.
  4. to increase knowledge of the diversity of American Indian cultures and organizations.
  5. to understand how business activities can contribute to tribal economic development and tribal integrity.
  6. to explore the similarities and differences between conventional American business values and business as practiced in Native communities.
  7. to compare Pueblo Indian society and the dominant U.S. society with regard to cultural values, governance, gender relations, and approaches to business development.

Intended Audiences and Courses


The case is intended to be used in both upper division undergraduate courses and graduate courses in business and management. It can be a module in an organizational behavior or theory course, alternatively, it could be a module in a workforce diversity or business and society course. It could be used, furthermore, in an American Indian business and management course or a related course that addresses alternative management and organizational systems. There are possibilities for using the case in American Indian study programs.

The case grew out of a student team case study field assignment in a newly organized course for upper division undergraduates and graduate students entitled "American Indian Business and Management" at the University of New Mexico. The case was originally presented by student team members as their final project. This case study can be positioned within general management courses after introductory material and after a discussion on cultural values and the workplace including gender relations and workforce diversity within organizations. It could be part of a teaching module on organizational culture and design; it could also be used in a course on workforce diversity or cross-cultural management/behavior as an example to illustrate how particular cultures design culturally relevant organizations and businesses. We designed the case study to have broad application rather than narrow appeal.


Discussion Questions, Answers, and Analysis


This section is organized according to the discussion questions that are found at the end of the case study.

1. Distinguish some attributes of the Acoma Pueblo tribal community that are unique to it as a distinct American Indian community.

Based upon a reading of the case, we can assume that students will be able to identify some attributes of Acoma Pueblo life such as the importance of religious activities and how they permeate everyday life in contrast to the duality of the dominant culture where religion and secular life are rarely intertwined. Acoma Pueblo decided to adopt a traditional form of tribal government that is common in some other Pueblo Indian communities in New Mexico but that is distinctive in terms of this Puebloís particular traditions. The traditional government is not an elected one but it is appointed by the leaders of a particular clan and it consists of only male members. Thus Acomaís residents do not vote for their tribal government council members, and women cannot sit on the tribal governmentís decision making body nor be selected to be governor. This fact, in itself, should generate some interesting discussion.

Acoma people speak Keres and they share a common linguistic affiliation with the Laguna and San Felipe Pueblo tribes. These three Pueblos Indian tribes belong to the Keresan language group. The Keresan tribal language and the Hopic tribal language (of the Hopi people) belong to the Numic language group. Acoma Pueblo people belong to distinct clans and they are matriarchal in origin. This means that when a marriage occurs, the man will live in the village of his wifeís relatives and it is through her that the family lineage is traced. This is a particularly interesting academic issue to discuss since in contemporary times, womenís decision making authority is not in the public or governmental realm, as discussed above, but they are influential in other ways. Appendix B that we have prepared is intended to help tease out the cultural value similarities and differences between Acoma Pueblo people and the dominant Anglo or Euro-American culture.

  1. In what ways may visitorsí stereotypes of American Indian people be transformed as a result of their experience at Acoma Pueblo?

One of the goals of the tourism program is to educate visitors about the history and culture of Acoma Pueblo. The tour guides, visitorís center and vendors all play a role in relating or exhibiting various aspects of culture and history in ways that make it nearly impossible for the visitor to leave the Pueblo without a deeper sense of American history and the various groups of actors, including missionaries and Spaniard colonists, that have sought to transform Pueblo life.

The tour guides go through a careful training program to acquire a uniform historical account about their people and culture so that they are thoroughly prepared to represent their Tribe in the best possible manner to non-tribal members and to answer the many questions that they are asked. Such questions and many statements from visitors often exhibit an appalling lack of knowledge about American Indian history and colonialism and demonstrate the inaccurate and cruel stereotypes that exist and persist about Native people who live in the U.S. Stereotypes and misinformation have been formed early in life and are reinforced in history books, Hollywood movies, public debate, and in university classrooms where few instructors have accurate information about American Indians. A good source of further information about stereotypes and myths about American Indians is found in the book American Indian Stereotypes and Realities listed in the references. It may be appropriate, furthermore, to tease out myths and stereotypes about American Indians and to clarify how stereotypes are formed and how they can inhibit effective workplace performance (see Kolb, Osland, and Rubin, 1995).

An interesting notion to bring up to students is the concept of cultural mediators. Visitors to the Pueblo who go away with such a transformative experience could serve as a bridge to inform others about American Indians and, indeed, American history and cultures. By the fact that a visitor has experienced Acoma Pueblo from the Native point of view gives the visitor legitimacy to pass on such information to others. In this way there is a snowball effect in educating people and in reducing stereotypical notions about American Indian people in general and Pueblo Indian and Acoma Pueblo people in particular.

  1. Identify some traditional Acoma Pueblo cultural values and explain how it is possible that contemporary business values and traditional cultural values can co-exist at Acoma Pueblo.

In discussing this question, there is an opportunity to get into as much depth as time permits about the nature of cultural values and business values and how these are reflected in tribal environments today and contemporary U.S. business organizations. The idea of societal cultural and organizational culture can be introduced. It would be helpful to begin to articulate the values that pertain to the above categories and then to begin to explore the commonalities and differences.

Some contemporary business values that could be identified include: making a profit for the individual or organization; a market orientation whereby people attempt to maximize their own self interests which assumes an individualistic orientation; the notion of material goods for consumption purposes; the notion of individual ownership of land and "wealth;" the idea that people exploit the environment or are involved in conquering it; the idea of strategic planning where businesses attempt to gain market share, compete in an effort to do so, and plan for future growth of the organization; and the principles of separation of state and religion. In contrast, some of the tribal cultural values that could be identified include: living in harmony with people, nature and thus the environment; the integration of the spiritual realm with the physical and all other realms - these are not distinguishable entities; the idea of communal lands and tribal ownership as a collectivity of people; the idea of matriarchy and the passing of lands through the motherís lineage; and the sharing of goods and the distribution of wealth among tribal members to benefit the whole. Appendix B may be useful in this section.

The co-existence of both business and tribal values has slowly evolved in this particular community with pressures from the external environment to expand the Tourism Program. This has not been a quick process but a slow learning process for the manager and the Tribal Council who have sought to preserve tribal integrity and, at the same time, develop their sought after visitor program into an organization that can respond to the increasing demand. For the tourism program to remain attractive to customers it has had to modernize and to become more conscious of its business role including human resources, marketing, data processing, finances, strategic planning and other functions. Without adopting a business mentality, the Tourism Program could have remained small and non-profitable rather than the visible entity that it is today in the state, nation and internationally.

What is interesting about this case is how the business of the Tourism Program has adapted to respond to the cultural environment in which it exists. These include the distribution of profit to the Tribe; the closure of the program for tribal holidays - a practice which is now being looked at as to whether this can continue; the need to develop a story line about the Tribesí heritage and cultural practices that are understandable to the visitor yet not revealing of practices that lie at the heart of the spirituality of the Tribe that are not disclosed to outsiders; the need for alternative visitor logistics to help preserve the integrity of the Pueblo environment and Sky City, in particular; and the development of business principles to make the program more efficient and effective as a business entity, and how the manager has played a key role in gradually educating others that such principles and practices can enhance the tourism business without detracting from the integrity of the Tribe.

  1. Define the program managerís role in influencing development of the visitorís program and explain her strategy to address the critical issues she faced? How has gender influenced her role?

Mary Tenorioís presence has been critical to the successful development of the Tourism Program and organization. She began as a clerical assistant and in that capacity grew to understand the organization well. She developed a broad perspective on the program that included envisioning the organization as a whole entity and one that could be improved upon with some application of business management techniques that she learned at the community college. But this was not enough; she recognized that in order for the program to be successful, the Acoma Tribal Council would have to become more involved in developing a strategy for the program and that their concerned involvement was a key to its growth and success.

Because the Acoma Tribal Council is a traditional form of tribal government, Council members are male and tribal members do not vote for the Council; it is appointed by religious/clan leaders who hold the most prestigious tribal positions in traditional culture. Because of the composition of the Tribal Council and because it served as the "board" of the Tourism Program, Ms. Tenorio confronted some interesting issues because of her gender. In the public and political spheres in traditional culture, moreover, although this is a matriarchal society, males hold the reigns of power. Thus women are influential but their power is behind the scenes and within the family lineage. Thus Ms. Tenorio had to exercise caution in asserting her modern management ideas because they could appear either to be inappropriate or because her role as manager in the public sphere could be out of the boundaries of traditional practices.

In pre-contact time (prior to the arrival of the Spaniards), gender roles may have been complementary and not hierarchical in social life (although the religious order may have been hierarchical) (Klein & Ackerman, 1995). Due to the patriarchal influence of the Spanish colonists and their missionaries, many Pueblo Indian tribes adopted patriarchal practices. Paula Gunn Allen (1992), a noted Laguna Pueblo social scientist, contends that Pueblo Indian gender roles in many tribes in the Southwest were fundamentally altered by the Spanish. And many tribes learned to exist with simultaneous Spanish and Pueblo practices because they were forced to adopt some of the colonizersí practices such as Catholicism. Early on, Pueblo Indian communities practiced their traditional religion and governance while simultaneously overtly practicing the colonistsí religion and appointing a tribal governor who would relate to the Spaniards for negotiation purposes. The practice of simultaneous social and other systems that to the outsider observer might appear to be contradictory evolved from tribal cultural survival strategies (see Crozier & Hogle, 1998 and Muller, 1998).

  1. Identify some of the critical issues that managers and other decision makers encountered in developing this enterprise and how they have been resolved or managed. How do such issues differ from those in a conventional business or organization?

The intent of this question is to engage students in a discussion about how business and organization within the American Indian community (in particular on the reservation) may differ from traditional business in the dominant community. Some relevant issues include:

  1. The creation of a Business Board that reports to the tribe to oversee the development of the tourism business. The Board is appointed by the Tribal Council (government) and includes both Acoma tribal members and others; it must approve economic development and business plans. Prior to the Business Board, the Tribal Council was the "governing board" of the tourism program.
  1. Holidays at Acoma Pueblo differ from those of the dominant society. The visitor center and tour has closed on certain Acoma religious days in response to the Tribal Councilís authority to set religious ceremonies even when those days conflict with visitor demand.
  2. The profits from the tourism business, a Tribal enterprise, belong to the Tribe and are used for economic development that benefits the Acoma Pueblo community at large. There is no individual ownership or corporate ownership that is separate from the Tribal Council and ultimately the Tribal people.
  3. The staff of the visitor program not only are educators and tour guides but they are skilled in handling offensive questions and statements and inaccurate and stereotypical comments in constructive ways. This requires great patience, goodness of heart, and cross-cultural sensitivity. The tour-guide-visitor interaction is the essence of the Acoma visitor program and it has taken years to cultivate and to be exemplary. There is much to be learned from the tour guides that could apply to students and workers in cross-cultural contexts.

Teaching Plan


We suggest that students first discuss what they perceive the case to be about and any impressions or further questions that they have. This will help to tease out the various perspectives that students have about the material and will alert the instructor to any points of confusion or contention. If this case is used by itself, then a discussion of each of the case study discussion questions is appropriate. Students could be divided up into groups with each group tackling one of the questions in depth for presentation to the whole class, or, alternatively, students could prepare short answers to each question prior to coming to class and then engage in a whole class discussion. If the case is used with other cases involving American Indian business and management, then this enterprise can be compared with other American Indian organizations to assess similarities and differences around pertinent organization and management criteria.

We have developed several teaching aids that instructors may want to use along with this case study. These include Appendix B that is a chart comparing certain attributes of Acoma Pueblo culture with the dominant culture, and Appendix A that is a reproduction of the pamphlet that the Toursim Program uses for marketing and educational purposes. The video used at the Acoma Tourisim Center may become available in the future for classroom use.


Research Methodology and Sources of Data


This field study was part of a class team assignment to develop a case study of an American Indian enterprise in the first offering of the "American Indian Business and Management" class at the Anderson Schools of Management at the University of New Mexico (see Muller, 2000). The instructor of the course had met the Acoma Tourism Program manager prior to the course and they jointly arranged for the class to visit the center and manager on-site. After the field visit by the class and because the unique nature of the enterprise presented an interesting organizational study, some of the students with the instructor selected the tourism business as one of six case studies for development as a final course project. The "Acoma" student team secured permission from Ms. Mary Tenorio to obtain further information about the program. They subsequently made more field trips to Acoma Pueblo to talk and interview staff and Tribal Council members. Following the end of the course, the two lead authors worked further to refine the case study for presentation at the 1999 Western Casewriters Association.

The data collection methods for the case study included scanning the world wide web for information on the program; making additional site visits to Acoma Pueblo, including Sky City, and the visitor program, holding discussions and conducting interviews with Ms. Tenorio, the Assistant Director, several tour guides, a Tribal Business Board member, and Mr. Conroy Chino who is an Acoma Tribal member and investigative reporter with the local NBC-TV affiliate. Mr. Chino, subsequently, gave a talk to our class in which he elaborated on some of the historical issues related to the development of the tourism program.

In obtaining consent for developing the case studies for the class, our students encountered a variety of responses from organizations and individuals in the Albuquerque area. Some people were much more willing to talk with students than others and we noted that ethnicity can play a role in securing permission to discuss business and organization. In some cases, potential participants asked students about their ethnicity and tribal origin, in other cases they did not.

In general, we found that tribal people are reluctant to disclose current and background information about their businesses. We attribute this, in part, to an issue that Hall (1994) raises concerning Anglo-American culture and how it goes about securing information. "White" culture, according to Hall (1994), obtains information from "what other people tell us in words" and "our way of getting information is by asking questions, an art with its roots in Socrates and Plato (p. 91)." The tribes of the Southwest have "one belief in commonÖ questions not only are not a good way to get information but are actually intrusive, as though we were taking over the mind of the other" (p. 91). Another factor in such reluctance may be that some people in the region have been studied previously especially by anthropologists conducting field studies. Because of these issues, we are very careful in establishing relationships for organizational case studies and we find that working through already existing channels of relationships is a better route than approaching an individual or organization with whom we have no prior relationship.

We welcome your comments as instructors and students in using this case study. We would like to receive your feedback about how it is received and how you use it in your classrooms. A final note: Ms. Tenorio has reviewed an earlier draft of this case and we are awaiting her final comments on the case study draft that is going to press.




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