A dream comes true for Pojoaque Pueblo

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By Roger Snodgrass

POJOAQUE – Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino officially opened under a gentle rain near midday on Wednesday.

George Rivera, tribal governor for the Pueblo of Pojoaque, said it was a blessing, just like the rain that fell on Aug. 12, when the complex held its “soft” opening,” at least two months ahead of schedule and in time for Indian Market, the biggest tourist attraction for the region.

Rain is a propitious sign in an arid land.

Rivera dedicated Buffalo Thunder to the tribal members “past, present and future.”

Construction began on the 586-acre site at the beginning of last year, but there were other beginnings that figure into the story.

The pueblo cites archeological evidence that their Tewa-speaking ancestors have inhabited the area for at least a thousand years.

There are currently 386 enrolled tribal members who live on the land that now sports a $280 million-or-so Las-Vegas-style hotel casino and recreational destination with 395 rooms, golf courses, restaurants, boutiques and vast halls for banquets and entertainment.

Rivera recalled the last hundred years, which included a period when the pueblo was abandoned and then slowly reconstituted.

“In 1932, the American government admitted they had failed to protect the Pueblo of Pojoaque,” Rivera said. “They looked for heirs.”

Eventually, tribal members began to trickle back. In the line of leaders, who contributed to the rebirth of the tribe, Rivera gave special credit to his uncle and former Gov. Jake Viarrial, for having the original vision that led to the resort as it stands today.

The current governor also dedicated the resort to “all of you – the public.”

Several hundred people, including many tribal members, employees of companies who built, supplied and furnished the building, state and local officials and their representatives, press and media, and others from the surrounding region, attended the festivities.

Marty Mongold, an electrical engineer with Cummings Electric, looked on with pride.

“I was here when this was dirt,” he said with the towering structure now filling the horizon in the background.

Representing the partnership with Hilton Hotels Corporation, President of International Operations Ian Carter, played on the name of the establishment in his remarks.

“It is better to have a little thunder in your mouth than a lot of lightning in your hand,” he said, recalling a saying.

Although he neglected to mention that Conrad Hilton was born in San Antonio, N.M., Carter saw a common philosophy shared by the corporate founder of the chain with 3,000 hotels worldwide and the hospitality of Native Americans.

“Always assume a guest is cold, tired and hungry and offer them the best you can offer,” he said.

The resort will employ more than 700 people.

Katy Korkos of the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce said she was happy to report that Buffalo Thunder was a member of the organization and that the resort was a sponsor of this year’s United Way golf tournament and Halloween festivities.

Native American accents dominated in the opening ceremony with a prayer and a Buffalo Dance, but Las Vegas made an appearance as well.

As a few drops began to fall, a corporate jet flew over releasing “The Flying Elvi,” the skydiving Elvis look-alikes who landed with kicking swoops on a nearby patch of the golf course, before hamming it up and posing with visitors in the hotel lobby.

After a ribbon cutting, visitors piled into the resort for a tour of the spa, overnight rooms, museum-quality displays of Indian art, fabulously appointed architectural details, nine eateries and beckoning gambling tables.

In the 1,200-seat Tewa Grand Ballroom, work crews set the stage for the opening night performance of Gladys Knight.

There were refreshments, quenching cucumber-flavored waters and virgin cactus-pear margaritas, chocolate covered strawberries, rare roast beef on crisp bread with a baby lettuce leaf and olive and a prosciutto-wrapped gorgonzola-stuffed fig, among other delicacies.