DITCHWORK MARCH 2017

Every spring hundreds of tribal members of Jemez Pueblo gather together to clean miles of irrigation ditches on the Jemez Pueblo Indian Reservation in New Mexico. This is done in preparation for spring planting. Every Jemez tribal enrolled male member, age 18 and older, must participate in this yearly event or pay a fine.  College students and military service personnel are exempt. 

Families are grouped together through patrilineal lineage and are assigned certain sections in the various ditch route. Traditionally, all family groups mobilized together as one organized force to clean the ditches. This use to take about a week to clean but because certain sections of the ditch system were concrete lined, the work days reduced to 4. The current work system, which involves assigned sections to each family group and increasing family members, the work days have reduced to one and a half days for scheduling convenience. A large percentage of employed members work in off reservation communities. Various farming and gardening implements are used to clean out the sand, mud, rocks, and debris from the ditches and culverts as well as clearing out foliage along the route. 

On occasion, after the cleaning is done, a foot race is held from where the workers have finished to the plaza at the pueblo. The two moieties of Jemez Pueblo, the Pumpkins and Turquoise, compete in the kick race. A wooden cylinder, about the size and weight of a D battery, is given to one person of each moiety and is placed on the foot and flung. Wherever it lands, the person nearest to it then kicks it further. the first moiety that arrives to the plaza wins the race. Furthermore, this event has religious and sacred significance, as well as other ceremonies that take place afterwards pertaining to water and the ditch system.

Acequia, a term referring to the ditch system, is used in Northern New Mexico among the Hispanic communities, and their operational systems varies from the one used among the pueblos. The Jemez Pueblo community uses a method that benefits the tribe in the use and distribution of water. After the acequias are cleaned out, the Jemez Pueblo Governor's administration oversees the administration of the program, and the maintenance and expansion of the water system. The tribal administration also negotiates any issues pertaining to water right with state and federal government.

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