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American Indian Day at the New Mexico State Legislature

“Honoring and Protecting Mother Earth for Future Generations”

March 3, 2020-Albuquerque, New Mexico

Honoring the past and learning how to improve the future is central to indigenous philosophy. New Mexico State Representative Derrick Lente discussed the importance of oral history and honoring stories from time immemorial. Lente shared his own story. He reminisced about his childhood and how his grandparents’ instilled values that he maintains in his daily life. His grandparents taught him to respect his ancestors, respect his elders, and to understand the importance of living in harmony with the land. Lente attributed his unique experience to finding his voice. He realized that he wanted to work to represent his community’s values and philosophy and that is what led him to run for office. He closed his remarks by reminding the audience to think about what will be left to the next generations and how it is our responsibility to work to protect them. 

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham speaking at the round house when she declared American Indian Day.

The celebration at the roundhouse brought students from across the state to learn about the importance of civic engagement. State senators and representatives emphasized the importance of recognizing young leaders and included them at the center of the discussion. Legislators introduced youth leaders on the house and senate floors while sharing brief biographies that included their meaningful contributions toward their respective communities. Students actively listened to all the presenters and remained engaged as they observed traditional dancers and prayers. Witnessing youth from all walks of life was a highlight of the celebration because they are a symbol of hope. As echoed by the various speakers, in order to create a better future for our youth, we must collaborate with them because they will be our future leaders.

Dancers.

American Indian Day is particularly significant to the Tribal Law Journal because it aligns with the journal’s philosophy and values. The Tribal Law Journal was founded in 1998 for the purpose of promoting indigenous self-determination and with the goal of creating a platform to discuss internal law of indigenous nations. Many students that serve on the Tribal Law Journal editorial board and staff are members of indigenous tribes. One of those students is Ahtza Chavez. Ahtza is a member of the Diné Nation and Kewa Pueblo (formally Santo Domingo Pueblo). Ahtza graciously invited us to join her in attending the Legislative Community Luncheon, which was hosted by the Santa Fe Indian School and the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department. The luncheon was held in the Everett F. Chavez Pueblo Pavilion located at the Santa Fe Indian School Campus. The late Everett F. Chavez was a three-time Governor of the Kewa Pueblo and was a former superintendent of the Santa Fe Indian School. Governor Chavez is also Ahtza’s father. 

Everette Chavez Pueblo Pavillon at the Santa Fe Indian School.

Ahtza entered the pavilion named after her father beaming with pride. From the moment she walked in, she was greeted by leaders of her tribe and members of the legislature. She then directed us to meet community members who would be serving the meal. They all welcomed us and served us delicious mounds of food that reminded me of home. The food at the luncheon consisted of traditional staples like posole, red chile and pork, potato salad, and beans. Ahtza quickly explained that the best way to eat the red chile and pork was to put potato salad in it. We joked and laughed about our own unique spin on these staples as we savored our first bites. The program consisted of inspirational speeches that highlighted the Santo Domingo Early Childhood Learning Center. The program also honored the late senators John Pinto and Carlos Cisneros for all their contributions to the state. As we honored the senators in the pavilion dedicated to the late Governor Chavez, I reflected on how the theme was woven into each part of our day. A wise man once told me that in order to achieve success, one must strive to positively impact seven generations. The legacy each of these leaders is destined to meet this definition of success because their work continues to inspire future generations. As we left the pavilion, I felted inspired to witness my friend Ahtza transition as a leader of her people. 

American Indian Day at the state legislature honors the many contributions of Native American leaders across the state. It honors the rich history, culture and philosophy of living in harmony with the environment. The day was a reminder that we are all connected and how we are stronger if we work in unison toward the success of our community. Success means protecting our land, oral history, languages, and providing opportunities for generations to come. The legacy of our ancestors, leaders, and community is a gift of knowledge to carry on in our daily lives. 

Brief Biography of blog contributor Jessica Martinez Jessica is a second-year law student at UNM School of Law. She is a member of the Chihene Nde Nation of New Mexico. The Chi’Nde are descendants of Apache people throughout Southern and Central New Mexico. The tribe is not federally recognized but is dedicated to the preservation of their language, culture, traditions, including protecting historic and sacred sites. 

   

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