Zuni Olla Maidens at the annual Inter-Tribal Ceremonial in Gallup, New Mexico
© Julien McRoberts/Danita Delimon
Preserving a 4,000-year-old culture. Native American Heritage Day
While our photo today focuses on the colorful dress and jewelry of the Zuni Olla Maidens, people who've been lucky enough to see these women perform traditional songs and dances might have been distracted by their 'ollas'—that’s the name for the large clay jars that the women balance on their heads as they dance. The unusual prop has practical origins. The Zuni people have thrived in the Zuni River Valley in New Mexico for 4,000 years, and their handmade clay ollas have long been used to store food and water. A practical—if tricky—way for a Zuni woman to carry a heavy jar of water back home was to balance it on her head. Over time, the women began incorporating this skill into their dances, thus the formation of the Zuni Olla Maidens.
While the entire month of November is Native American Heritage Month in the United States, today is Native American Heritage Day. It's a focused observance of the contributions of Indigenous culture and society to the United States. And, as some Native organizations suggest, it's a day to reflect on both the past and present struggles faced by Indigenous people across the country.