2014 RWJF Culture of Health Prize Winner: Taos Pueblo, New Mexico

Located in northern New Mexico, the Taos Pueblo, a World Heritage Site, is a sovereign nation of 2,500 members within the United States. Living on this land for the past thousand years, tribal members still carry on many of its original traditions—farming, the Tiwa language, and respect for tribal elders and its rich culture. The tribe is led by a Tribal Council that oversees the Pueblo’s natural resources, land, and animals. When describing the community’s journey toward better health, Shawn Duran, Tribal Programs Administrator, says “one of the pivotal points in that journey was when we became a self-governance tribe in 2007” which gave the tribe stronger, more independent control in setting its own goals and priorities and more responsibility for the programs and services provided to tribal members. 

The community is working to build a Culture of Health through a holistic approach that emphasizes sharing information and seeking input from everyone in the community. Duran believes that their deep connection to the land is key to their journey. “We’ve always had that strong culture that tied us to this land, to this place.” Initiatives like the Red Willow Community Growers Cooperative are revitalizing the community’s agricultural-based heritage and spurring grassroots economic development through the Red Willow Farmers Market. The farmers market supplies fresh and organic fruits and vegetables for the community, and the produce is also sold to non-tribal members at the Pueblo’s farmer’s market, as well as other farmers markets across the state. 

Building a Culture of Health also means strengthening educational opportunities. The Taos Pueblo Head Start serves nearly 60 young students and has been recognized in New Mexico as a model head start program for its innovative teaching strategies as well as its efforts to develop and encourage healthy lifestyles. “The early childhood and Head Start programs are really the beginning pieces of health,” said Duran. Students, teachers, and parents maintain the school’s indoor organic garden, and the school is the first Head Start in New Mexico to purchase all their food from local organic markets underscoring the importance of healthy eating.  The school also reinforces a strong tribal identity as the Pueblo’s youngest children are taught English and Tiwa. The building used for Head Start also has a parent lounge, with a kitchen and two computer stations, furthering their mission to support families at all stages of life.  

To strengthen a comprehensive approach to tribal members’ health needs, the Pueblo Health and Community Services created the Public Health Nursing Department in 2012 to address the immediate health needs of the community.  A registered nurse and two Community Health Representatives provide comprehensive case management for those living with chronic conditions. Their services include diabetes prevention training, prescription delivery, and much more.   According to Duran, the Community Health Representatives are successful because, “they have that way of coming in and not being intrusive and truly being a partner with that family.” 

“On our journey to health, the ultimate destination would be that everyone has healthy choices that they can make,” said Duran. Physical fitness is a critical component to overall health and wellness. The Taos Pueblo Fitness Program is helping residents’ live active lives by offering a diverse schedule of free weekly classes that range from “Enhanced Fitness” for Pueblo elders; to Zumba, Yoga, and Spinning classes for adults; to recreational events and activities for youth. 

“The connection between health, education, economic development, jobs, and housing, it is all intertwined because it does have a huge impact on health,” said Duran. Taos Pueblo is working to build a Culture of Health by making these connections. 

Learn more about the Taos Pueblo's efforts to improve health at RWJF.org.