The Heritage Experience

Hotel Santa Fe is a veritable museum, showcasing the art and architecture of the Picuris Pueblo

By: Grace Lichtenstein

SANTA Fe, N.M. “Mah-waan mah-waan” reads the inscription above the turquoise-painted wooden doors of the Hotel Santa Fe, a three-story faux-adobe structure that resembles the Native American pueblos scattered throughout New Mexico.

In the Tiwa language, the words mean “welcome.” The hotel, just a few blocks from Santa Fe’s central plaza, is the only full-service hotel owned by Native Americans, in the state’s premier tourist city. It is also the only Native American-owned hotel in the United States that is not on reservation land.

The hotel is an unusual multicultural success story.

The Picuris, a Tiwa-speaking tribe with merely 300 members, have their home deep in the mountains, 61 miles north of Santa Fe. They hold a sizable 51 percent interest in the hotel, in partnership with local private investors. The hotel, which opened in 1991 with 40 standard rooms and 88 junior suites, is profitable, according to Paul Margetson, its British-born general manager and partner. It was financed with an $11.5-million loan package to the Picuris, guaranteed by the U.S. government through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

In 2001, the hotel added the Hacienda, an $8 million super-luxury wing with 35 rooms and suites. Personal butlers are on call, at the push of a button, to unpack a guest’s bags or arrange opera tickets.

“We were a solid 3½-star property,” said Margetson. “Now the Hacienda allows us to provide a higher level of service.”

A monumental bronze figure, “The Offering” by Allan Houser Haozous, New Mexico’s most renowned Indian sculptor, dominates the tree-lined front drive. Inside, guests see the faces of Native American workers as well as authentic Indian-made furniture, art and design.

The hotel displays hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of pottery, kachinas, rugs, paintings and other Native American artwork from the Southwest.

The hotel embraces its Picuris (pronounced pick-oo-REES) heritage. It offers a three-day Native American package ($749 to $829, double occupancy) that includes guided visits to several pueblos.

Dancers from Picuris pueblo perform each week at the hotel and cooks give bread-baking demonstrations. There are free lectures on New Mexico’s Spanish and Indian cultures, both ancient and contemporary. And the lobby café, which has just been renovated, features buffalo and other native foods.

Although the hotel must compete with casinos for Native American workers and the casinos are closer to their homes 15 percent of the hotel’s 100-member staff are Native Americans. Two Picuris tribal members hold key supervisory jobs.

How did Picuris become involved in the competitive Santa Fe hotel market?

“I wish we could take the high ground and say that we thought, ‘Let’s find a pueblo as a partner.’ But it was a business proposition,” said Margetson, who formerly ran the city’s biggest four-star hotel, the Eldorado.

Initially the private investors could not raise enough money. Then they discovered that having a pueblo as majority owner would qualify the project for government-guaranteed loans. It took two years but ultimately the Picuris tribal council signed on.

“At first our people were hesitant. They worried we would lose our land base if we defaulted,” said Gerald Nailor, the governor of Picuris. Ultimately, a majority voted for the venture and, Nailor said, a great trust has grown between the pueblo and its business partners.

Picuris members were employed in the hotel’s construction and also were able to train at the Eldorado before taking on jobs at the Hotel Santa Fe. Nailor himself, an artist, contributed the new hotel’s distinctive “sleeping deer” logo and also was its first breakfast chef.


Hotel Santa Fe, 1501 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe NM 87501, 800-825-9876,

Rates in the original building are $109 to $229 per night, double occupancy. Hacienda rates range from $199 to $499 for the three-room White Buffalo Suite. In addition to butler service, The Hacienda rooms have 10-foot ceilings, remote-controlled fireplaces (as well as televisions and in some cases, DVD players) and humidifiers.

The hotel draws about 50 percent of its revenues from meetings. With 4,676 square feet of meeting space, the hotel can accommodate groups of 150 and has been host to businesses ranging from Los Alamos National Laboratory to McGraw-Hill Companies. It pays a 10-percent commission.

Queen Noor of Jordan was among the guests during the Hacienda’s inaugural season. Others who have stayed at the hotel include King Constantine of Greece, jazz artist Wynton Marsalis, singer Neil Young and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton.