Suina looks at Cochiti Lake Dam and knows it won’t crumble, at least not for another 300 years. A Cochiti and San Felipe Pueblo, she grew up near Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the village of Cochiti, the farming community where her grandparents lived. Beside fields where corn, melons, squash, and beans grow looms one of the world’s longest earth-filled dams. More than five miles long, it was built by the Army Corps of Engineers 50 years ago to prevent flooding on the Rio Grande.
“During my lifetime I listened to many stories about how life was prior to the dam’s construction. As a child, it was just a big eyesore and imposition,” says Suina, an environmental engineer and founder of High Water Mark, an engineering consulting company that focuses on water resource projects and was recently honored as one of northern New Mexico’s 20 fastest-growing companies.
Tribal leaders, after much controversy, accepted the need for the dam without understanding its impact—its reservoir sprawls across the tribe’s ancestral land. Suina’s anguish over this loss gives her an intense desire to protect villages and their connection to the past. “When I get tired with work, I return to the dam and read history to reignite my passion for implementing community projects and communicating Pueblo perspectives in a technical way,” she says.
Her female- and Native-owned company tackles projects that range from putting in a $36-million sewer line in southern New Mexico to infrastructure projects for a tribal community on the Rio Grande. She’s proud of High Water Mark’s ability to balance Pueblos’ need for cultural preservation with economic development in ways that weren’t possible when the dam was built.
Since 2011 her company has donated 3,000 hours of professional services to local Pueblos to ensure they will face the future with their heritage intact. “I remember my father and grandfather talking about the activities that would happen down in the fields every year,” says Suina. “Our fields are at the heart and root of carrying on our way of life.”