Opinion: Ojo rebuilding should include access for Tewa people

Seen from above on Friday morning (Aug. 7), the historic bathhouse at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa was destroyed in a structure fire.

In 1932, when my grandfather, Frank S. Mauro Sr., purchased the historic Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs, he and his family became stewards of the sacred, healing waters for the next 75 years.

One of the most important agreements included with the acquisition of the sacred springs was this: A free, private hot spring pool would be available for the descendants of the Tewa tribe (the current Eight Northern Pueblos) who lived at Poseuingue (the original Tewa pueblo at the hot springs site).

The descendants of the Tewa, the Indigenous elders and their families, refer to this special sacred pool as Ojito, or Little Eye. The Ojito agreement stated that descendants of the Eight Northern Pueblos, including elders and their families, were to have free access to the healing waters of Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs -- specifically the Ojito -- to use as they wish, for ceremonial healing, in perpetuity.

For hundreds of years, access to the Ojito was stable; for 75 of those hundreds of years, my Mauro family abided by and honored the agreement, providing Tewa descendants private access, thereby respecting their historic legacy and Indigenous birthright.

In 1999, I helped organize a gathering at Ojo of hundreds of Indigenous elders from around the world. While conducting their gathering at Nambé Pueblo and at the Navajo's Big Bead, their main meeting place was at a "tepee campus" at the hot springs. While there, they blessed the sacred springs, including the Ojito.

When the hot springs were acquired from the Mauro family by an outside entity in a hostile stock takeover around 2000, it was assumed the Ojito agreement would be honored and respected. However, on July 1, a local inhabitant informed me that the current management of the hot springs had blocked the entrance to the Ojito with a dirt berm and drained the sacred spring, supposedly to divert the mineral water into another area for the use of their guests. I was shocked, but not surprised, to hear the current management would discount the original agreement and block the usage of the Ojito from community members with bloodlines that date back centuries in the community.

A short time later, on Aug. 6, one month and five days after the informant's dire plea to help find historical evidence proving the Ojito agreement, a fire gutted the historic Ojo bathhouse, along with what was left of the sacred pool.

Perhaps Devic fire elementals purified the area, giving rise like a phoenix to a new hope that in the rebuilding, the Indigenous Tewa descendants will have their sacred Ojito returned to them in a totally accessible, sacred and honorable way.

Mary Jo Mauro is a former part-owner and lifetime historian of Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs. She is a freelance writer and filmmaker, currently living in Colorado.

This letter originally published in the Santa Fe New Mexican, a sibling publication of the Taos News.

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