Rebuilding the Tigua Nation

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

The Tigua Indians of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo in Ysleta, Texas produced this 16-minute film in 2013 to demonstrate how a Native American tribe can work hard with business skills and tribal customs to shape a prosperous future through education for all levels of the Tigua Nation.

Native Nations

Riggs, Patricia. "Rebuilding The Tigua Nation." Honoring Nations, Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. Capstone Productions Inc. El Paso, Texas. February 27, 2013. Film.

Rebuilding the Tigua Nation

June 13, 2011



“We are the People of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. We came from the open lands of what became Central New Mexico and now we live in West Texas and our lands are surrounded by El Paso, Texas.”

Saint Anthony
Feast Day


Ysleta Mission


“In 1680 the Spaniards forced our ancestors to move here. They built this mission church in 1682.”

Javier Loera:

“In this display we have photographs and images of our mission, of our church, which we helped build. The oldest image, it’s actually a drawing, that we have of our mission is this one in the year 1881. It was a very simple structure without the added bell tower which was added a couple years later.”


“For more than 300 years our people have performed corn dances on June 13th at the Feast of St. Anthony.”

[Singing/bell ringing]

Carlos Hisa:

“It’s the way of life, it’s who we are, we’ve been doing this for hundreds of years and we just continue to do it. It’s who we are as a people.”

[Singing/bell ringing]


“The Tigua People honor our ancestors who kept the ceremonies and traditions, also the traditions of the elaborate feast preparations, which takes weeks to prepare for. Our people come together to share in the responsibilities to prepare for the feast, which is served after the rituals and blessings at the mission. These activities show that our tribe keeps the customs and practices that we have always valued. We now live in a modern world and must balance traditions with the present day needs. The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo has proven strong willed and has persevered over the changes of time.

Tiguas have been faithful to our traditions, sometimes hiding our ceremonies to avoid punishments from non-Indians. Our people have proven to be resilient time and again in our extraordinary struggle for cultural preservation.

Our struggle continued into the 1960s when a lawyer named Tom Diamond helped us get federal and state recognition as a Native American tribe.

As a declaration of tribal sovereignty and economic development efforts, the Pueblo decided to enter into casino gaming in 1993 and our financial future brightened. The State of Texas fought our right to have gaming in Texas and through a federal lawsuit managed to shut the Pueblo’s Speaking Rock Casino in 2002. The casino was profitable while in operation and provided for better healthcare, housing and education of tribal members. The Pueblo still runs Speaking Rock, but now it operates as an entertainment center.”

Trini Gonzalez:

“Speaking Rock has kept us afloat during this economic struggle, both money wise and also creating jobs for our tribal members. The success would have to be free concerts. We’ve used the concerts to draw people in to actually show people that Speaking Rock isn’t closed. A lot of people were saying, ‘Oh, it’s closed. It’s not a casino no more.’ Which it isn’t, it’s an entertainment center and we do provide quality entertainment for free to customers who come in here.”

Joseph P. Kalt:

“Well, when we look across Indian Country we see a consistent pattern of the tribes who get their act together and really worked successfully to improve the economic and social and political and even cultural conditions in their communities and Isleta del Sur Pueblo stands out as one of these examples. They show first what all these successful tribes have is a sovereignty attitude. Their idea is, ‘We’re going to do things ourselves. We are a sovereign nation and we can govern ourselves. We’re going to take those reins and we are going to put ourselves in control of absolutely everything we can.’

Secondly, and you see this at Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, they recognize that you can talk the talk of sovereignty and nation building, but you’ve got to walk the walk and what that means is you’ve got to be able to govern yourselves and govern yourselves well. And Ysleta del Sur Pueblo is an Honoring Nations award winner because it has invested very systematically in building its governmental capacity, its laws, its ordinances, its regulations, its accounting systems, its personnel policies, its judicial system in a systematic way to say, ‘We’re going to put ourselves in position so we’re not dependent on any other governments.’”


“Ysleta del Sur Pueblo has been building the capacity for economic growth. It has established structure and policy such as a highly capable economic development department, a small business development program and tribal ordinances dealing with corporation establishment and tax laws. The Pueblo was restored as a federally recognized tribe in 1987. Our goals are to preserve our culture, sustain our community and raise the standards of living for tribal members. We have built capacity over the years and recently established our long term economic development and nation building goals. Our entire Pueblo had input on the process.”

Patricia Riggs:

“We started this process to change and transform our community and through economic development, through education and through services and infrastructure so it was a whole comprehensive strategy that took place at Ysleta del Sur Pueblo.”

Joseph P. Kalt:

“Ysleta del Sur, what you see is another thing we see across Indian Country more and more and that’s an attention to culture, making what we call cultural match. The way they govern themselves here at Ysleta del Sur Pueblo is under a traditional structure with no written constitution. There is no contradiction for the Tiguas between having their traditional cacique system, no written constitution and running a very good day-to-day government because it’s founded in that traditional system. And having that cultural foundation underneath your government is absolutely critical. If it isn’t there, you’re not legitimate in the eyes of your own people and Ysleta del Sur stands out for recognizing that in everything they do they’re doing it based on and flowing from their traditions, their culture, their traditional governance systems. And then lastly, Ysleta del Sur also shows a fourth thing that stands out with tribes that are successful—leadership. Leaders not only as decision makers, but leaders as educators and the leadership at Ysleta del Sur has systematically invested in everything from the broad community to the youth with education on what it means to be a self governing Tigua nation. And so Ysleta del Sur Pueblo stands out for that sovereignty attitude, for strong capable tribal government founded on the tribe’s culture with a leadership that understands it needs to educate the people as to what this sovereignty game is all about.”


“In order to become effective in the modern world, the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo is striving to become a self determined and self sufficient Pueblo while preserving our cultural foundation. With our economic development plans now in motion, we have taken the first steps in forging a prosperous and strong Tigua nation and we have established Tigua, Inc. that operates tribal businesses.”

John Baily:

“We are the business arm for the Pueblo itself. We manage and operate all the business functions that contribute to the success of the Pueblo. We’re able to focus on a long term strategy and build that for five, 10 years out and really start implementing plans as we go down. So our goal is to develop the long term stream of profit and revenue that is repeatable regardless of the environment we’re in. We’re for real. We’re going to be a force to be reckoned with.”


“Is it going to hurt?”


“No, you’ll be fine.”


“We have increased our administrative abilities and have created a grants management and program development branch of the Economic Development Department resulting in programs that provide health and other services.”

Al Joseph:

“And we’ve managed to build 63 new housing units last year after a big infrastructure project the year before so we’ve got a lot of projects going on to the total of about $20 million worth right now. The quality of life for the average Pueblo resident I think has been greatly enhanced by the combination of construction of new housing, very affordable housing and the rehabilitation of 160 houses on the reservation has definitely improved the quality of life for the residents that have been living in those houses, some of them for as long as 35 years. They now have modern, up-to-date housing that everything works and it’s a much nicer place to live.”


“One part of the economic development of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo is the attention our tribe gives to educating tribal members on various subjects in order to improve individual quality of life and skills for all age groups.”

Christopher Gomez:

“Things are different now because we’ve gotten on the nation building path now where we’re doing a lot of long term visioning, we’re thinking beyond what’s coming ahead the next month, the next year and we’re thinking 20, 30, 40, even 100 years down the line. What do we want Tigua culture to be in a hundred years? Where do we want to see our community? That visioning has really put things into a different perspective.”



“With our Tigua youth, we stress tribal traditions and working together.”

Christopher Gomez: [to students]

“Here we have language, social dances, Pueblo arts, Tigua history, nation building, tutoring, traditional culture, Native American games, environmental issues…”

Christopher Gomez:

“We’re thinking about the next generations now. Just like we were left a legacy from the generations that came before us who established the Pueblo, we want to make sure that we’re continuing that legacy and that our people are able to in a changing world adapt and utilize new skills to be able to carry forward the Tigua legacy and really define what that Tigua legacy is.”


“Our younger children learn about computers and nature from tribal program experts. We have established new programs such as pre-K and modern care facilities where children are taught general education and tribal traditions through tribal arts and crafts. At the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo education for our people goes hand in hand with our economic development because as we increase our understanding of Native American heritage and strengthen the businesses of our tribe, we multiply the return to our people many times. It is a great time to be a Tigua as we graduate more members from college and create higher paying jobs. Outcomes include increased revenues and more programs and better tribal member services.”

Joseph P. Kalt:

“One of the things that Ysleta del Sur has done in its nation building efforts is it’s bootstrapped itself into this little engine that could, is it’s invested in communication and you can…any of us can go to their website and in their economic development section you’ll find a systematic laying out of the many steps that they’ve taken from community education, youth programs, the development of their strategic plans, the development of their laws and ordinances, the development of their new institutions, even their financial development. So Ysleta del Sur is doing a service to all tribes by providing this information in an easily accessible way and I encourage anyone who’s interested in how Ysleta del Sur has bootstrapped itself in this way, it’s on their website and it’s just a tremendous resource for anyone engaging in this challenge of building native nations.”

Trini Gonzalez:

“Recently we just got accepted by our brothers up north into the AIPC, the All Indian Pueblo Council and a lot of the Pueblos up there model themselves after us. They see that we’ve been a…I guess a big hitter here in our economy and the way we go after grants and the way our money is utilized, the housing that we do, the entertainment center the way it’s operated, our smoke shop. Everything that we do, it’s being looked at and dissected and I think that’s a huge feather in our cap to say that they’re looking at us to try to correct some things on their reservations.

The powwow enlightens a lot of people on the culture, the dance, the regalia, everything that has to do with a powwow let’s people know there is a tribe here in Texas and it’s Ysleta del Sur Pueblo.”


“In May 2012 our Economic Development Department opened the Tigua Business Center on tribal land in a renovated building.”


Frank Paiz:

“The Tigua Business Center demonstrates the will and spirit of the Tigua people to grow and prosper. The tribal journey began at the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, which resulted in our migration to an establishment of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo 1682. Since, we have been determined to preserve and continue Tigua way of life and flourish as a community."


“As our Tigua nation becomes stronger, we will continue our traditions and our success in this modern world.”

Carlos Hisa:

“We are Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. We are a community strong with tradition and culture. We have survived in the area for over 300 years and with economic development behind us, I can very easily say that we will continue to be here for hundreds of years.”


Rebuilding the Tigua Nation

2012 Tribal Council
Cacique Frank Holguin
Governor Frank Paiz
Lt. Governor Carlos Hisa
War Captain Javier Loera
Aguacil Bernando Gonzales

Chris Gomez
David Gomez
Francisco Gomez
Trini Gonzalez

Saint Anthony Dancers
Feast Preparation
Trini Gonzales Tribal Councilmen
Adult Tribal Social Dancers
Joe Kalt Harvard University
Youth Nation Building
Youth Financial Literacy Class

Pat Riggs, Economic Development Director
John Baily, CEO of Tigua Inc.

Tigua Inc. Board
Ana Perez, chair
Chris Gomez
Rudy Cruz
George Candelaria
Al Joseph

Housing Director Al Joseph
Empowerment Director Christopher Gomez
Cultural Center Dance Group
Tuy Pathu Daycare children
Pre-School Dance Group
Pow Wow Dancers

Patricia Riggs

Jackson Polk

Aaron Barnes
Fernie Apodaca
Jackson Polk

TV Facilities
Capstone Productions Inc.

Funding provided by Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development Honoring Nations

Rebuilding the Tigua Nation © 2013 Yselta del Sur Pueblo

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