ALBUQUERQUE, NM — Leaders representing Native American communities in New Mexico greeted a number of political candidates on Friday, overwhelming them with questions about how they would ensure voting access for tribal members, respect sovereignty and protect indigenous peoples. water rights as the West grapples with historic drought.
The Albuquerque forum follows last year’s efforts by tribes to hold their ground in the fight for legislative redistricting. The aim has been to prevent the dilution of the indigenous vote and to shed more light on the problems that many tribal communities have faced for decades – from the lack of adequate health care and educational opportunities to the jurisdictional challenges that have hampered law enforcement efforts.
Mark Mitchell, chairman of the Board of Governors of All Pueblo and former governor of Tesuque Pueblo, told the crowd that the forum was essential given the disproportionate effect the coronavirus pandemic has had on tribes, census data from 2020 and the state policy reshuffle. borders.
“We are on the cusp of how our advocacy will shape the governance of our state,” he said, urging Native Americans to exercise their right to vote as early voting begins across New Mexico.
Native American political clout has been building, especially in the past year as New Mexico’s political borders have been redrawn. Native Americans make up more than 12% of New Mexico’s population, as the state is home to nearly two dozen pueblos and other tribal nations.
Some tribal leaders said Friday there is still a long way to go when it comes to Native Americans who make up a larger percentage of top state officials. Raising that number would help shift policymakers’ priorities, they said.
The questions posed to the candidates ranged from how they would address the ongoing crisis of missing and killed Native Americans to the systemic education shortcomings that are at the heart of a legal battle that state education officials are facing. have not yet remedied.
Congressional incumbents and nearly all of their challengers were in attendance, while Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti made an appearance outside the forum. Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham was invited, but she was traveling in southern New Mexico on Friday.
Democrats have touted recent approval of billions of dollars in federal spending for broadband, water and infrastructure projects, some of which will benefit tribes. Republicans spoke of rising prices for food and other basics and the link to spending at tribal-run casinos and hospitality venues, saying inflation must be tackled.
Joseph Ray, a disability advocate from Laguna Pueblo, hoped the forum would help spark interest in the upcoming general election among Native Americans. His priorities include funding health care, noting that over the years Congress has included language aimed at providing services to people like him, but those actions have resulted in unfunded mandates and the status quo.
Ray said it was possible some voters would cross the aisle during the midterm elections.
“Tribal communities have been promised by candidates for so long,” he said.
Casey Duma, a former member of the All Pueblo Council of Governors, said not long ago the voices of Indigenous peoples were ignored and policies were created in the name of Native Americans, but without their input.
Relations with other governments have changed as tribal communities organize and voting rights are exercised, he said.