In traditional practices of Native Americans of the southwest, one day every spring, all community members come together for a day of work and sacred celebration marking the new year, praying for plentiful harvests, and maintaining the infrastructure of the acequias canals irrigation system which is vital to agriculture in this arid region. Some of these canals have been in place for several hundred years and predate European settlement. Men are responsible for digging and maintaining the canal, while women prepare a feast for the celebration afterwards.
In New Mexico, Native Americans combine indigenous irrigation techniques with technologies and expertise imported from Spanish colonial times, and even from the Moorish and Roman eras before that. Acequias is in fact an Arab word meaning “water-bearer” and also “water conduit.” In arid regions, they are essential to life, food security, and community. Researchers like Sam Fernald, assistant professor of watershed management at New Mexico State University have shown that acequias are also beneficial to regional groundwater and rivers. “The main thing the research has shown is that acequias, operating the way they have for generations, seem to have a lot of value for New Mexico.”
Acequias developed highly organized leadership and decision making structures, that in the absence of local Spanish or American government, served as political resources for communities to resolve legal disputes, in addition to organizing water usage.
According to acequias tradition, every parciante or member, has one vote, which is used to elect the mayordomo, the manager and decision maker for all matters water related. The mayordomo determines how much precious water is allocated to each parciante and at what time, for the benefit of the entire community. The decisions made by the mayordomo are considered final.
The highly democratic, organized, and participatory nature of the acequias political and cultural structure is notable in how successfully it has provided for food and water security, as well as community, over more than four centuries in the American southwest region.