Linguistically connected to four other Keres-speaking pueblos, relations and cultural exchanges have traditionally been closest between Santa Ana and nearby Zia and San Felipe Pueblos. For the Santa Ana people, the annual cycle of life is tied closely to the position of the sun and to the agricultural and hunting seasons. Some of their traditional rituals have had their dates changed to Spanish holy days to accommodate Catholicism. Santa Ana's Day, for example, is celebrated every year on July 26 with a corn dance, a mass, a feast and by visiting among family members.
According to Keresan oral tradition, the gods left behind sacred societies and officers to maintain social order before they departed from the people. The cacique, essentially the head priest, is charged with assuring that order, authorizing communal rituals and appointing key officials in the pueblo administration. The pueblo governor acts as the principle intermediary between the pueblo and the outside world but then person who sits in the chair is replaced every few years. The cacique is the most sacred and most important position in the pueblo hierarchy. He is appointed for life but he can be removed from the office by the oldest two-spirit woman in the village.
The people of Santa Ana Pueblo have occupied their current site about 27 miles northwest of Albuquerque since at least the late 1500s. They believe their ancestors came from an underground world to the north. Oral history says Iyatiko, their mother, helped their ancestors ascend through four subterranean worlds: the white, red, blue and yellow worlds - before emerging here through a Sipapu into this fifth world. Those ancestors, then called Keresans, migrated south to a place they called White House where they lived with the gods who taught them what they needed to know so that they could survive in this hostile world. Eventually, the Keresans began arguing with the kachinas (the gods who essentially control the rain). Then they started arguing amongst themselves. This angered Iyatiko and she altered the Keresan language so that each group spoke a separate tongue. That caused the Keresans to leave White House and settle in different places. The group that moved furthest south settled in the present area of Santa Ana.
White House is in the Four Corners region. Like every other settlement in the area at the time, White House was abandoned in the late 1200s CE. Following the architecture and the pottery they left behind, their movement has been followed down the San Juan River to cross the mountains to the Jemez River and then travel down that to the junction with the Rio Grande. They originally stopped along the Jemez River because the environs of the Rio Grande were already populated. 12 or 13 pueblos in the region were decimated in the so-called "Tiguex War" and the aftermath of Coronado's passage through the region in 1540-1541. Within a few years only the pueblo at Alameda still stood, the rest of the countryside was vacant. Then the Santa Anas moved in and were in place on fertile agricultural lands along the Rio Grande and the Rio Jemez before 1600.
Their first pueblo in the area, Tamaya, was located about 5,400 feet above sea level against a rocky mesa wall on the north bank of the Jemez River. Historically, travelers in the area followed the north-south trade route along the Rio Grande or headed east and west to the south of the Jemez River without making any contact. The site of Tamaya provided both protection and seclusion and made Tamaya one of the least visited of the New Mexico pueblos.
The first Spaniards came in the 1540s, looking for gold and finding none. But they kept coming back over the years and Tamaya finally submitted to Spanish rule in 1598. The pueblo was assigned the patron saint Santa Ana and that was when the "official" name changed. The relationship between the Spanish invaders and the pueblo peoples exploded in 1680 when the pueblos staged a successful revolt and drove away their oppressors. Freedom lasted twelve years, twelve years in which the relationships between the pueblos broke down and they were no longer united. Then the Spanish returned and forced the Santa Anas to flee their village. They took refuge on nearby Black Mesa and in the Jemez Mountains while the Spaniards overran their pueblo and destroyed many of their buildings.
In 1693, the Santa Ana people returned to the present pueblo location and formally submitted to Spanish rule. Then they began acquiring adjacent land near the Rio Grande to use for agricultural purposes. They supplemented their diet by hunting and gathering. The Santa Ana population rose through most of the 18th century but was reduced in 1789-1791 by a smallpox epidemic. Other epidemics reduced the pueblo's population further in the late 1800s.
Today, from the raising and selling of blue corn products to Native American clothing to Native American foods to the wholesale and retail distribution of native Southwestern plants to Indian gaming and other investments, the pueblo is flourishing, enveloped in a spirit of entrepreneurship.
Pottery is not a large industry at Santa Ana. Traditionally, the people of Santa Ana traded with the people of Zia: crops for pottery. Those few Santa Anas who did make pottery usually emulated the potters of Zia with their wares and their designs.
Then the Santa Anas moved further east to the Rio Grande. There they found a fine sand they could use for a temper agent and it produced a different product than the crushed basaltic rocks the Zia potters still use today for tempering their pottery.
Most Santa Ana pottery produced in the 1800s had an architectural style with a white slip but by the 1920s, Santa Ana pottery was almost extinct. A revival began in the 1970s when Eudora Montoya (the only Santa Ana potter left) began holding classes to teach the craft to other women. But even now, there is hardly any Santa Ana pottery being produced.