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Law of Indigenous Peoples Paper Topic: Jessica Martinez

An Unrecognized People: The Story of the Chihene Nde Nation of New Mexico and their Struggle to Seek Federal Re-Recognition

“Bik’egu indán naił hedansį. Nzhugoo na idaada idén í, naiłgunłí nazai shi nahi até ibił, hinłiłgu, naha anzí. ihexé” 
English Translation: “Creator of life we are honored by you, look over us. Firmly help us maintain our language and our ways. Thank you.”

The Chihene Nde Nation of New Mexico is a tribal organization that is seeking federal acknowledgment (re-recognition) as a distinct Indian Tribe under the requirements of 25 C.F.R. §83.8. The ChiNdé (Red Paint People) are descendants of Nde (Apache) people throughout Southern and Central New Mexico. The Chihene Nde Nation of New Mexico can demonstrate that they are a distinct Apache tribe once acknowledged by the government. The proof is based on a signed peace treaty between their ancestors and the United States government on June 9th, 1855, at Fort Thorne. This treaty is significant because it will give weight to their petition and could lessen the standard of proof under the requites of the statute. However, even though the tribe may be reviewed under a less stringent standard, the process will be costly and very difficult for them to prove. 

My paper offers a critique of the federal recognition process from the perspective of a tribe preparing their petition for re-acknowledgement. The Federal Acknowledgment process requires them to build a case to prove their identity and authenticity as indigenous. The tribe’s sacred traditions, oral and written historical documentation, and the beliefs will be scrutinized under subjective and restrictive standards that are rooting in colonialism. The paper explores the requisites of the administrative policies for non-recognized indigenous people to gain recognition and explains how they can be confined and invasive. The process in some instances may result in reopening wounds of traumatic pain that an indigenous group may have faced from government action. 

My paper is also a personal reflection, as I am a member of the Chihene Nde Nation of New Mexico. I have the unique opportunity to use this platform to present research on my tribe’s struggle to gain Federal Recognition. My research examined a series of documents obtained by our Tribal Chairman, Manny Sanchez, related to our tribe’s oral history, customs, traditions, and historical records that will be used in our petition. I reviewed various files compiled by our tribal leaders and historians that will be used in our petition. I also present the complexity of indigenous identity, expanding on research presented by tribal member, Judy Marquez, who shared her thesis on Indigenous identity and the ethnogenesis of Southwestern New Mexico. Identity is personal. Identity is also central to a tribe’s ability to self-determine and be considered legitimate under the U.S. government. Self-determination would give our tribe the ability to preserve our ways of life. 

By acknowledging the sovereignty of a tribe, the federal government also acknowledges “its own fiduciary responsibility to assure that native tribes have the necessary resources to provide for and protect their distinct cultural heritage.”[1] “The term ‘federally recognized tribe’ has become synonymous with ‘true’ Indian heritage.”[2] Non-recognized tribes face genetic trauma of government goals of taking their homeland for personal gain, while being victims of displacement, assimilation, and understanding that their ancestors were imprisoned and killed. In addition to this, being unrecognized means that they also are faced with the “stigma of [being considered a] second class Indian.”[3] For an unrecognized tribe a lot is at stake. Included in this quest, is their ability to authentically claim their rights to their identity as a people. For the unrecognized or forgotten people, “[a]cknowledgement is an affirmation of [their] heritage and official recognition of their tribal ancestry: an expression of their Indian pride.”[4] The risk of a rejected petition would further perpetuate trauma and stigmas to an entire people and the generations to come. 

In order for the Chihene Nde Nation to move forward with their goals to obtain federal recognition, they will be subjected to financial burden and the emotional cultural cost. Despite these negative ramifications, the Chihene Nde Nation must seek the path of federal acknowledgement because without it, they will be treated as second class Indians; without access to resources, legal protections, and without their right to self-determine as a sovereign and autonomous nation.  

Brief Biography of blog contributor Jessica I. 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. 


[1] Alva C. Mather, Old Promises: The Judiciary and the Future of Native American Federal Acknowledgment Litigation, 151 U. PA. L. Rev.1827,184 (2003).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id. at 1837. 

By Tribal Law Journal Blog

The Tribal Law Journal was established in fall 1998 for the purpose of promoting indigenous self-determination by facilitating discussion of the internal law of the world’s indigenous nations. The internal law of indigenous nations encompasses traditional law, western law adopted by indigenous nations, and a blend of western and indigenous law. Underscoring this purpose is the recognition that traditional law is a source of law.

2 replies on “Law of Indigenous Peoples Paper Topic: Jessica Martinez”

The federal system in th U.S. for the recognition of indigenous peoples of its forty-eight contiguos states is both archaic and rooted on a system of eradicating its native peoples to the extent of a sociocultural genocide. Perhaps at this hour the system as it presents itself is not intentional in its procedures nevertheless, as it’s beginnings are of a time of colonialization and the intent it brought in its policies of duress and subjugation, the outcomes are no less the same today as then. Dr Joel Orona, band of Chiricahua Apaches of NM

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