Ortiz was born and raised in the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico, about 65 miles west of Albuquerque. For centuries, the Acoma Pueblo existed at the top of a mesa, 7000 feet above sea level, in what is now referred to as “Sky City.” The Acoma people first came to the attention of Europeans in 1598, when the Spanish governor of New Mexico, Juan de Onate, sent troops to conquer the indigenous people of the area. Because of their location at the top of the mesa, the Acoma were able to hold off against the Spanish for a while, but a returning force the following year wiped out much of the population and burned many of the buildings. A truce with the Spanish was achieved in 1628, when the construction of the Catholic San Esteban del Rey mission was begun in Sky City. The church, a national landmark, remains to this day, making it the oldest Spanish mission in the United States. As of 2005, only about fifty members of the Acoma tribe live at the ancestral location in Sky City, on top of the mesa. The rest live in the surrounding areas and only go to Sky City on holidays. The Acoma reservation consists of 378,114 acres around Sky City: the tribe owns most of that area, with 320 acres owned by individual tribal members. Commerce has never been easy for the Acoma, since they are situated in the desert with just the barest hope of sustainable agriculture. Starting in the early 1900s, the chief commercial enterprise has been the tourist trade. For one thing, the reservation has the marvel of Sky City, which archeologists guess dates back to the middle of the eighth century. Early on, the tourist trade focused on the mission, with people of European descent ignoring the cultural significance of pueblo history. The city had no water or electricity and was difficult to reach until the 1950s or early 1960s, when a motion picture company making a John Wayne film restored the road up the side of the mesa, making Sky City accessible to travelers.
Throughout the sixties, seventies, and eighties, interest in Native American culture grew, and the Acoma made use of the opportunity to make money while spreading awareness of their history. A tourism center was built at the base of the mesa, with water and electricity run in from the village of Acomita eleven miles away; this improvement gave the tribe the opportunity to control access to the ancient city via an old school bus that made the trip up and back throughout the day and offered visitors toilets and cold refreshments. This interest has put a premium on traditional Native American arts and crafts: the Acoma are especially known for their delicate clay pottery and beautiful weaving patterns, and the tourist trade provided a stream of interested buyers. The citizens of the Acoma Pueblo are unique among the 29 pueblos that are scattered from Colorado to the Mexican border in that they have retained their own language. Many of the Acoma traditions and legends have remained intact, most likely because their isolation at the top of the mesa kept the Acoma from mixing with Spaniards and Americans for most of their history. Ortiz was raised in McCartys, the second largest city on the Acoma reservation after Acomita.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 22, Simon J. Ortiz, Published by Gale Group, 2010