Candidates talk sovereignty, tribal education and courts at All Pueblo Council forum

After little attention to Indigenous issues this campaign cycle, a look at who showed up and what they said

By: - October 17, 2022 5:05 am

Pueblo of Acoma 1st Lt. Gov. Lloyd F. Felipe Sr. (left), Pueblo of Isleta Gov. Vernon B. Abeita and Pueblo of Jemez Gov. Raymond Loretto (right) listen to candidates during the forum. (Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)

Candidates for Congress and state offices shared their intentions and actions in working with tribal nations during a forum hosted by the All Pueblo Council of Governors.

Friday’s meeting was the first time the tribal entity, made up of leadership from all 19 Pueblos in New Mexico and the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo in Texas, brought together so many elected officials and those seeking office to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque.

“This is a historic meeting, and now we must share what we learned today with our communities so we can make informed decisions when we vote,” APCG Chairman Mark Mitchell (Tesuque) said.

In total the tribal leadership in attendance and watching on a webcast heard from 16 candidates or delegates on their behalf seeking eight different roles: New Mexico’s three congressional seats and five state offices — governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and land commissioner. The candidates pitched their ideas and answered questions on topics such as education, water rights, violence against Indigenous women, voting access and tribal sovereignty.

Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (left) and Rep. Yvette Herrell speak (right) speak during the candidate forum. (Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)

It might be the only time that many 2022 candidates for office were together in one room during this campaign cycle.

It’s easier to say who wasn’t around. 

Democrat Gabe Vasquez was the only congressional candidate who did not personally attend. He had a field organizer from his campaign read a letter on his behalf.

Mark Ronchetti, the Republican challenger in the governor’s race, showed up before the forum to shake hands during the informal meet and greet. But he took off when the event started and did not speak at the forum or have a delegate talk in his place.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was notably absent from the event. She sent Lt. Gov. Howie Morales to speak to the group of tribal representatives. With neither of the gubernatorial candidates there, Morales was left to answer questions on how New Mexico’s Governor’s Office can support the priorities of the Pueblo governors, namely education reform.

Getting schooled

Morales was asked if the Governor’s Office would encourage the Legislature to implement the Tribal Remedy Framework to rise to the demands of the Yazzie-Martinez case about educational equity in the state.

That framework has been championed by tribal education advocates as the solution for the state to meet its constitutional duty to Native American students. Parts of the framework — such as funding for tribal libraries and traditional language instructors — have been signed into law. But proponents don’t want the effort to be piecemeal. They want it all, and they want it now.

Lt. Gov. Howie Morales speaks about what the Michelle Lujan Grisham administration has accomplished in the past four years. (Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)

Morales said he supports part of the tribal remedy framework but did not commit to lobbying for full implementation. To adhere to the Yazzie-Martinez ruling, he cited recent investments into early childhood education, free college in New Mexico through the Opportunity Scholarship, and trying to hire teachers who reflect the demographics of the communities where they teach. 

He indicated some support for a Tribal Education Trust Fund — a proposal to use state revenue to fund tribal education departments and overall public school education reform. Early estimates say at least $200 million would be needed to jumpstart the investment fund.

“This is one area that I think that truly would have an impact,” Morales said. “And what we’ve seen during the pandemic are those that have been impacted the hardest — and oftentimes, unfortunately, that were overlooked — none of the resources were there. This is a great way to start the discussion to move forward.”

While the Governor’s Office hasn’t yet come out in direct support for the proposal, other candidates did, saying the fund is necessary.

State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard, a Democrat, was blunt in her support, saying a trust for tribal education is “really the only way to move forward.”

Public Lands Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard is the Democratic incumbent and spoke about her track record of working with Pueblos on land deals. (Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)

“It is the role of the Land Office to pay for education,” she said. “The Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit wouldn’t have been necessary had we had dedicated funds for Native education. We have criminally underfunded education for our Hispanic and Native students in this state.”

Her opponent, Republican challenger Jeff Byrd, also said he supports the education fund and wants to see school districts meet the unique needs of their communities. “Schools in Dora are not going to have the same makeup as schools in northern New Mexico or in southern New Mexico,” he said. “And every school district needs to have its own way of making sure their kids are getting the funding and education they need.”

Republican candidate for public lands commissioner Jeff Byrd told the council his family hailed from Carlsbad, and he has lived on and tended to the land for generations, which gives him a strong connection to New Mexico. (Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)

Republican candidate for state treasurer Harry Montoya also came out in support of the tribal education trust fund but stands in opposition to Constitutional Amendment 1, a proposal on the ballot that moves more revenue from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund into education budgets. He was the only candidate to take that stance at the forum.

His opponent, Democratic candidate Laura Montoya, used her time to be familial with the Pueblo governors, bringing up the government-to-government relationships she’s formed as the Sandoval County Treasurer, where 11 Pueblos and three Navajo Nation Chapter Houses work with the county government.

She cited her support for a law strengthening the Pueblo Lands Act, which gives priority to tribal nations on local delinquent land purchases if the land was at one point controlled by a tribal entity.

Laura Montoya, Democratic candidate for rreasurer, called on her past experience as Sandoval County Treasurer and her working relationships Pueblos. (Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)

192 people missing

Montoya also reminded the governors that she lobbied in support of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Unit for the Attorney General’s Office, created by a measure that was signed into law this year.

Shortly before Montoya spoke on Friday, the FBI updated its list of missing Indigenous people in New Mexico. As of Oct. 11, the list now has 192 people reported missing, up from 177 when it was first released in July.

While the list didn’t get a mention during the forum, the issues of criminal prosecution and the jurisdictional problems that arise in policing set the tone for questions to candidates for Congress and the New Mexico attorney general.

Republican candidate for Congressional District 1 Michelle Garcia Holmes told the council her background in law enforcement will help tackle the crime wave New Mexico is facing. (Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)

Incumbent Republican Rep. Yvette Herrell — who represents southern New Mexico up through the South Valley near Albuquerque — said the federal government needs more investments in tribal communities. “I’d rather spend money in our state, and in our Pueblos and tribal nations,” said Herrell (Cherokee Nation). “Instead we send money overseas to protect Ukraine’s borders.”

Democratic Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez — who represents northern New Mexico — highlighted her work in reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and strengthening tribal courts’ ability to prosecute domestic violence crimes committed by non-Native Americans.

Rep. Melanie Stansbury, the Democratic incumbent for Congressional District 1, said she has much more she wants to accomplish should she be re-elected to serve a second term, including continuing to work on Pueblo water security. (Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)

The first draft of VAWA, she said, didn’t include Native American women.

“And we worked to make sure that it would include Native American women in the Violence Against Women Act,” she said. “I’m proud that we passed it with strong provisions to increase tribal protections and jurisdiction over those who are harming Native American women.”

Democratic Rep. Melanie Stansbury — who represents central New Mexico, including Albuquerque — said in her role on congressional committees trying to address MMIWR issues, she’s observed a lack of funding for tribal court systems to effectively prosecute these crimes, and the recent Supreme Court ruling on Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta could further weaken those courts.

Republicans Alexis Martinez Johnson, running against Leger Fernandez, and Michelle Garcia Holmes, running against Stansbury, each said they want to expand resources to tribal courts and law enforcement.

Crime prevention was the key element presented by the candidates for New Mexico attorney general.

Jeremy Micheal Gay is a former Marine and the Republican candidate for attorney general. (Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)

Republican Jeremy Gay said drug distribution is the root cause of all of these crimes and that he supports extending jurisdiction for tribal officers investigating cases that go between tribal and non-tribal lands.

Democrat Raúl Torrez came out with an action plan that starts with convening tribal court leaders and identifying issues he could help with if elected AG, then taking tribal consultation into a summit with federal and statewide law enforcement parties. He highlighted his work creating an MMIWR office in the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office. In regards to Castro-Huerta, he said he disagreed with the court’s decision and affirmed further support for tribal nations.

Pueblo of Jemez 2nd Lt. Gov. Vincent Toya listens to Raúl Torrez, the Democratic candidate for attorney general. (Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)

“I think the most important thing you need to hear from the person who intends to be the next attorney general of this state is that tribal sovereignty non-negotiable,” he said. “The reason it is so important for someone in this position to state is because of the absolutely catastrophic decision issued by the conservative Supreme Court in Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta.

Republican Harry Montoya is running for the office of Treasurer. (Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.