There’s been quite a bit of research on relations between the Pueblo and Athapaskan peoples of the American Southwest, most of it falling within the broad domain of ethnography or sociocultural anthropology. That is, there is quite a lot of evidence that some of the Athapaskan-speaking Apache groups, especially the Navajos, have been in close contact with the Pueblos and have adopted many Pueblo cultural practices. It’s not clear when or how this happened, however; with regard to the Navajos specifically the Pueblo Revolt period (AD 1680 to 1692 or a bit later) has often been posited as a time when an influx of Pueblo refugees to the Navajo country led to the adoption of many Pueblo cultural practices by the Navajos, but recent archaeological research has cast doubt on this theory. (More on that later.) In general, there has been plenty of documentation of Pueblo influences on Apaches, but little progress on figuring when and how these influences occurred.
The issue of influences in the other direction, from Athapaskan-speaking groups to Pueblos, has received much less attention. This is probably due mostly to the longstanding if mostly implicit idea among anthropologists that the Pueblos, as settled agriculturalists, were in some sense more developed culturally than the Athapaskans, who were certainly hunter-gatherers when they entered the Southwest although many of them adopted agriculture to varying degrees once they were there. The idea seems to be that more “primitive” hunter-gatherers would of course have borrowed lots of cultural practices from the more “advanced” farmers they encountered (and, indeed, they did), but that the Pueblos wouldn’t have borrowed much, if anything, from the barbaric newcomers to the area they had inhabited for millennia.
Nevertheless, there is in fact some evidence for cultural influence flowing from Athapaskans to Pueblos in addition to vice versa. Due to the abovementioned lack of research there aren’t very many specific instances of influence to point to, but I have found one clear-cut instance of linguistic influence in this direction. This is explained in a short but very interesting article by Paul Kroskrity of UCLA published in 1985. Kroskrity points out that Tewa, a Pueblo language spoken in northern New Mexico around Santa Fe as well as in one village in the Hopi area of Arizona (the latter resulting from a migration from the Galisteo Basin south of Santa Fe after the Spanish Reconquest of New Mexico in 1692), has a possessive construction very different from those found in the other languages of the Kiowa-Tanoan family to which it belongs. The usual way of expressing possession in these languages is with a periphrastic construction roughly equivalent to “the x y has” in English. Tewa, however, alone among Kiowa-Tanoan languages, has in addition to this construction another, simpler way to express possession with a single morpheme, a suffix -bí attached to the possessor. This is equivalent to saying “y’s x” in English. This suffix appears to be fixed in form, regardless of the number or gender of either the possessor or the possessed.
Since this suffix is found only in Tewa, and not in any other related languages, it is a good candidate for a borrowing from some other language. And, as it happens, the Athapaskan languages have a very similar morpheme used to express a third-person possessor, a prefix bi- appended to the possessed. Since both Tewa and Athapaskan have the usual word order “possessor-possessed” the fact that the morpheme is a prefix in Athapaskan but a suffix in Tewa is no problem; it seems Tewa just attached it to the previous word rather than the following one.
Linguistically the case is straightforward. Culturally and historically, the implications are more complicated. Generally linguistic borrowing goes from a language perceived to have more prestige to one perceived to have less, and while there are some exceptions this case can probably be best explained in that framework, which rather turns the idea of “advanced” Pueblos and “primitive” Apaches on its head. At the very least it implies that the relationship was a two-way street. This raises the interesting question of when and why Tewa-speakers would have perceived Athapaskans to have more status, to which I have no answer at this point. An alternative explanation would be that some Athapaskan language was used at some point as a lingua franca for communication among the various Pueblos (which speak several languages, not all of them related), with the adoption of useful grammatical devices from this intercultural contact language being adopted into Tewa as more useful than the native constructions used for the same purpose. This explanation however does not account for Tewa being the only one of the Kiowa-Tanoan languages to adopt this construction. More extensive data on possible Athapaskan loanwords into Tewa and other Pueblo languages would be helpful in clarifying this. Generally words are borrowed much more easily than grammatical structures like this, so any structural borrowing will usually only come after fairly extensive borrowing of words.
I think the most likely explanation for this borrowing is that there was some time in the past when Tewa-speakers were in close contact with speakers of one of the Apachean languages in a context where the Apachean-speakers had a relatively high level of perceived status. This must have been before the early eighteenth century, when the Arizona Tewas migrated to the Hopi country from the Galisteo Basin, since Kroskrity’s data makes it quite clear that this construction is shared by both Tewa groups (which have not been in close contact since the migration). The odd thing about this is that the Tewas are located near the center of the Rio Grande Pueblo culture area, which makes it look unlikely at first glance that they would have had more contact with outside groups than their linguistic relatives the Tiwa (to the north and south) and Towa (to the east and west). While the Northern Tiwa and Eastern Towa are known to have had quite close connections to some of the Apache groups of the southern Plains (Jicarilla and Lipan, respectively), the Tewa were not in the same situation.
The only Athapaskan group that seems like a plausible candidate for loaning this construction to the Tewa is the Navajos, who in early historic times were located northwest of Tewa territory, not particularly close but without much in between. Ethnographic and historic data tends to suggest that the Tewa and Navajos were generally adversaries in recent centuries, but this may not necessarily have always been the case. They were certainly familiar with each other; indeed, the name “Navajo” comes from the Tewa word navahu, meaning “plowed fields” and borrowed in to Spanish as a way of distinguishing the Navajos, with their greater emphasis on agriculture, from other Apaches who were still primarily hunter-gatherers. That very emphasis on agriculture, of course, may in and of itself indicate somewhat closer contact with the Pueblos.
This is a good example of the largely unrealized potential of linguistics to contribute data to the understanding of culture change and prehistory. Linguists and archaeologist don’t tend to use each other’s data much (and when they do they all too often seize on the most superficial and/or tendentious interpretations available rather than the most reasonable), but there is an enormous amount of information available to contribute to a fuller picture of the past if people are willing to figure out how to use it judiciously.
Kroskrity, P. (1985). Areal-Historical Influences on Tewa Possession International Journal of American Linguistics, 51 (4) DOI: 10.1086/465943