The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree received a lot of love from Native communities in New Mexico. From the selection of the tree to its delivery and setup, Native people contributed more than an ornament this year.
Erica Enjady, Mescalero Apache, worked on the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Project all year. In fact, they knew they were going to provide the tree since last summer.
The forestry and fuels program manager of the Carson National Forest was the co-lead for the tree section of the project. Her role meant she helped choose the candidate trees with the criteria given by the Architect of the Capitol.
Today she was in Washington to witness the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. The tree arrived on Nov. 25 and took a few days to anchor into the ground and decorate.
She told Ruidoso News that the tree needed to be “a typical pyramid conical shape with a good view 360 degrees around” since it would be on the west lawn of the Capitol.
This was the third time New Mexico provided a tree to the nation’s capital. This time the tree was a 60-foot blue spruce tree with the theme of “Delivering Enchantment.” In 1991, the tree also came from the Carson National Forest and it came from the Santa Fe National Forest in 2005. U.S. national forests have been providing the Capitol with a tree since 1964.
Another part of Enjady’s responsibilities was selecting the 55 companion trees from the Carson National Forest that would decorate legislative and executive offices in Washington. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi chose the 55 offices.
“For New Mexico, all congressional delegation received a tree,” Enjady said.
Rep. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, even tweeted the tree and said, “Our tree from New Mexico made it to my DC office. It smells and looks like home.”
After the tree lighting ceremony on the west lawn, Haaland said in a video interview that, “It’s important that tribes had an opportunity to offer their blessings and to wish the tree well on its journey.”
Picuris Pueblo Governor Craig Quanchello gave a blessing during the tree cutting ceremony on Nov. 6 in the Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico before touring to 25 communities in the state. It included four tribal nations: Taos Pueblo, Jicarilla Apache, the Navajo Nation, and Mescalero Apache.
The former Acoma Pueblo Governor Ron Shutiva gave a blessing to the tree when it stopped in Albuquerque on Nov. 14.
Children and residents of the Land of Enchantment made a total of 11,000 ornaments that now decorate the 56 trees. The schools chosen were a result of relationships forest rangers had as well as public notices being distributed and organizations calling Enjady’s office.
Enjady packed the tree after it was cut and traveled with it to each tribal community. She saw the excitement from tribal community as the tree came through. People even signed the covering for the tree.
“At several of the tribal locations, it was plainly stated that folks at those communities recognize that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and they expressed heartfelt gratitude for our efforts to stop at their tribal community,” she said.
There was an event on Nov. 13 at Shiprock High School where the Navajo Nation Second Lady Dottie Lizer took part in the U.S. Capitol Tree tour.
“It’s truly a blessing from God this morning for the community of Shiprock to be recognized at the National level,” she said on social media. “The National Christmas Tree is a reflection to families, friends, and communities across the Nation that the upcoming Winter Holidays is a special time to be together and thankful.”
She added that the students from Ojo Amarillo Elementary, Shiprock High School, Shiprock Associated School Inc., and Naschitti Elementary were in attendance to the presence of the Christmas tree.
Ojo Amarillo Elementary School made 50 ornaments on Sept. 29, according to the school principal Pandora Mike. A total of 46 students, three teachers, and one from herself.
The entire experience was unique for Enjady but what really resonates with her was driving the tree into her community, Mescalero Apache.
“I had the honor to ride in the truck that carried the tree onto my reservation,” she said. “That experience is something I’ll never forget.”
President Gabe Aguilar of the Mescalero Tribe said a few words about it on social media.
“We are pleased to host the U.S. Capitol Christmas on our beautiful reservation on its way to Washington, D.C.,” Aguilar said. “Our Tribe looks forward to being a part of this gift to the nation and the enjoyment it will bring to our own community this holiday season.”
During the tour, people could see a few hundred ornaments hanging on the 68-year-old tree through window panes. The other thousands of ornaments were packed and shipped to Washington.
“When you see the tree, you’ll just automatically see the theme of New Mexico with the decoration,” Enjady said who participated in some of the ornament-making events. “To see them up close and in person on the tree was really exciting.”
Many of the ornaments have tribal designs, she said. Some have pueblo designs, the Zia symbol and Pueblo characters.
The congressional delegation shared pieces of their home state with the crowd at the tree lighting ceremony earlier today, such as the diversity of the state in cultures, histories, landscapes and people.
Rep. Ben Ray Luján said: “Diversity doesn’t define us. It is our strength.” Part of that diversity, as he said, is in the Pueblo feast days, too. Diversity can also be seen in the ornaments and the tree skirting with red and green chile, the yucca plant, hot air balloons, and luminaries, he said.
The recent winner of The Voice, Chevel Shepherd, sang a Christmas carol during the tree lighting ceremony. Asher Dean, a fourth grader from Arroyo, New Mexico, also helped turn on the lights for tree.
Enjady found the project to be “valuable” because she got to collaborate with communities in a way that she had not before.
“I’m very proud that the forest service was able to provide a forest service experience to tribal communities,” she said. “I’m proud that we were able to be inclusive to Native Americans on this project who otherwise who may not have the opportunity to experience the forest service in this way.”
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