Events History Informational News Student Reflections

The Impact of Covid-19 on Native American Students’ Access to Technology

By William Dunn

Native American communities across the country have experienced numerous hardships over the course of the pandemic, ranging from limited access to medical care and other basic needs to extreme isolation for the most vulnerable members. The impact on student education will be felt for years in the future no matter where students sheltered in place, and it will be especially recognizable in rural areas where geographic and social isolation have always created barriers for students. Lack of access to technology limits one’s ability to complete assignments and limits access to other resources such as classroom instruction and tutoring services. Amid the shelter-in-place orders, students have faced many barriers like this that are crucially tied to academic performance. Recognizing the historical and social factors that have exacerbated the impact that Covid-19 has had on Native American students is essential to understanding why there have been such disproportionate effects compared to the rest of the country.

            With New Mexico already facing some of the lowest rates of broadband access in the country, Native American families encountered particular struggles to adapt to stay-at-home guidelines. Lack of access to broadband and Wi-Fi services was a primary concern. In 2018, the

Federal Communications Commission estimated that roughly 35% of individuals living on tribal lands in the United States lacked access to broadband services compared to only 8% of Americans in the rest of the country.[1]  Reasons for this may include costs of Wi-Fi services, limitations on digging within historical areas on reservations, and the physical structure of adobe homes in rural communities.[2] According to the New Mexico Public Education Department, “as of April 10, 2020, approximately 23,398 Native American students were in need of broadband capabilities and devices.”[3] Many students thus had to find other ways of submitting assignments and attending classes.

            To stay on top of assignments, students have reported writing and submitting papers on their cellphones or doing assignments by hand and submitting photos.[4] There are also reports of parents driving their children to libraries, restaurants, and other, sometimes very remote, locations to have access to high-speed Internet.[5] Most students were initially able to engage in distanced learning through cell phone video services, however, limited data and call minutes removed that as a permanent solution.[6] Some students are reported to have taught themselves lesson material where they had no other resources to learn.[7] The severity of the situation is elevated by the limitations on access to basic needs such as clean water, food, and adequate medical attention.[8] Native communities were impacted at much higher rates than other demographics in the country and it is important to understand some of the systemic factors that caused the pandemic to exacerbate problems in Indian Country to such a great extent.

            The disproportionate impact that Covid-19 had on Native communities, compared to that of other demographics, laid bare the “historically embedded structural vulnerabilities” that have impacted student access to technology in Indian Country. Tribal land status and infrastructure limitations are two major factors that lie at the heart of the issue. According to a 2020 study by the University of British Columbia, “[t]ribal land status is also related to the lack of Internet access as Tribes have unique geopolitical and geophysical terrain influenced by colonization, cultural practices, sovereignty and Tribal governance.”[9] Access to Internet services is highly dependent on Tribal sovereignty and is limited by “external obstacles such as federal policies, statutory and regulatory requirements, and historically overlooked and underfunded Internet infrastructure.”[10] The study explored five “historically-identified vulnerability” variables, which have contributed to the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 among Native Americans. The five variables include “percent of housing units without telephone, percent of housing units without Internet, percent of housing units without complete plumbing, Tribal land status, and presence of abandoned uranium mines.”[11] The barriers to student education throughout the pandemic must be understood by recognizing the impact of historical racism that has created the structural vulnerabilities that Native American students have had to contend with in socially distanced learning.

             Native American students living in rural parts of the country have had to endure some of the greatest challenges to receive an education compared to students in the rest of the country. Broadband access and infrastructure continue to create barriers to student access to technology and education as well as other vital health services in tribal land. As a result, students have been forced to adapt in all sorts of ways to stay on top of schoolwork and attend remote classes. If there is any hope of creating the systemic change necessary to make educational resources more available for Native American students, it is essential to understand the factors that have created these barriers to access including the destructive impacts of federal policy and Western cultural practices.

[1] Gabriel R. Sanchez et al., Internet Access and the Impact on Tribal Communities in New Mexico, UNM Nᴀᴛɪᴠᴇ Aᴍ. Bᴜᴅɢᴇᴛ & Pᴏʟ’ʏ Iɴsᴛ. 3 (last visited April 13, 2022).

[2] Id. at 4.

[3] N.M. Pᴜʙʟɪᴄ Eᴅᴜᴄ. Dᴇᴘᴛ., Iɴᴛᴇʀɴᴇᴛ Cᴏɴɴᴇᴄᴛɪᴠɪᴛʏ Cᴏɴᴄᴇʀɴs ᴏɴ Tʀɪʙᴀʟ Lᴀɴᴅs: Gᴜɪᴅᴀɴᴄᴇ Dᴏᴄᴜᴍᴇɴᴛ (2020).

[4] Anja Rudiger, Pathways to Education Sovereignty: Taking a Stand for Native Children, Tʀɪʙᴀʟ Eᴅᴜᴄ. Aʟʟ. 27 (Dec. 2020),

[5] Sanchez, supra note 1, at 4.

[6] Candi Running Bear et al., Challenges for Rural Native American Students With Disabilities During COVID-19, 40 Rᴜʀᴀʟ Sᴘᴇᴄɪᴀʟ Eᴅᴜᴄ. Q. 60, 64 (2021).

[7] Rudiger, supra note 4.

[8] Running Bear, supra note 6, at 61.

[9] Aggie J. Yellow Horse et al., COVID-19 in New Mexico Tribal Lands: Understanding the Role of Social Vulnerabilities and Historical Racisms, Fʀᴏɴᴛɪᴇʀs ɪɴ Sᴏᴄɪᴏʟᴏɢʏ 3 (2020).

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at 5.

Poetry Uncategorized

The Four Directions

By Erin Fitz-Gerald

The nudge of the dog’s nose

lifts my eyes from the page.

It is time for the journey home.

West to the river

the whispered lapping loosens the mind’s hold.

A soft whiff draws me further within.

Along the north path

crow, duck, gull and crane serve as nobles

in the bald eagle’s court.

We join others and are still.

With a slight bow we move on.

To the east mountains blush.

Sky softens in tenderness… or is it encouragement?

 Maybe, it’s both/and.

To the south dust nestles my step

as I enter the congregation of embracing cottonwoods

backlit in gold.

I settle in for the night

having made my way home.

Opinion Student Reflections

Reflection: Juvenile (in)Justice for Indigenous Youth

By: Brittany Dutton-Leyda

I spent last summer interning at the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico. I have always had an interest in criminal law, specifically defense, but I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to experience complex criminal law in a federal setting. I figured it would give me an opportunity to make sure prosecution wasn’t for me. Although the experience didn’t turn me into a future prosecutor, it did give me a deep respect for the noble work the Assistant U.S. Attorneys do every day. I was impressed and thankful to see good, ethical prosecutors working diligently to help victims of horrible crimes. However, I was extremely disheartened to learn of how damaging federal laws can be when applied to Indigenous people, especially juveniles.

The Major Crimes Act provides the federal government jurisdiction over major felony crimes committed on tribal lands and along with the Juvenile Delinquency Act,[1] works to prevent tribes from adjudicating certain juvenile felony cases through tribal court. Accordingly, because of federal jurisdiction and these laws, a disproportionate number of Indigenous youth end up in the federal system and prisons. Even though the Indigenous population in the United States is only 1.5% of the total population, the disproportionate number of federally imprisoned Native American youth is staggering.[2] “Approximately 61% of youthful offenders incarcerated in the Federal Prisons are Native Americans . . .The high percentage is due to sentencing under the FJDA, Major Crimes Act, and General Crimes Act. These Acts subject youthful offenders to federal prosecution and federal criminal sentencing guidelines instead of tribal sentencing.”[3]

I witnessed this disparity firsthand when interning at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. I was assigned to Indian Country and was allowed to sit in on an armed robbery trial of a teenage Native American who was a first time offender and facing several years in federal prison.[4] I was shocked to hear that someone so young that hadn’t committed any other crimes was facing such a long sentence. When I asked why that was, I was informed that it was due to federal jurisdiction and federal laws that administer these harsh sentences disproportionately to Indigenous people. It made me sad and angry to hear that simply because of this young man’s status as a federally recognized tribal member, he was facing a sentence that was essentially three times longer than he would have received through state or tribal court.

Even in cases that potentially could or are adjudicated through tribal courts, federal jurisdiction, federal laws, and federal courts often take over and replace tribal court rulings, severely undermining tribal sovereignty. This is often motivated by political factors that federal actors argue is in support of tribal sovereignty but is actually rooted in racism, the patriarchy, power, and control. An example of this is in United States v. Male Juvenile, in which a fourteen-year-old Indigenous boy was sentenced in Fort Peck tribal youth court to 180 days for theft and burglary, but was then retried in federal court and sentenced instead to twenty four months in federal prison.[5] The court reasoned that because “the [Federal Juvenile Delinquency] Act limits the maximum term of official detention to the lesser of the period until the juvenile becomes 21 or the maximum term of imprisonment that would be authorized if the juvenile had been tried and convicted as an adult,” and considering the maximum sentence for burglary in Montana is twenty years, the sentence of two years was appropriate in this case.[6]

The fundamental problem with this type of reasoning, along with the fact that it extremely disadvantages Native American youth, is that it completely lacks any consideration for cultural methods of restorative justice which many tribes are rooted in. “American Indians draw strength from their traditions, cultures, kinship, other relationships, and ceremonies. . .Some tribes have focused their efforts to develop culturally appropriate healing methods for their youth. Since tribal youth offenders in the juvenile justice system have demonstrated better outcomes when they receive targeted, culturally-and community-based services.”[7]

Even the judiciary in New Mexico have expressed concerns about the problems with federal laws, federal jurisdiction, and how they negatively impact Native American youth. In United States v. Jerry Paul C., an Indigenous juvenile

…was convicted and sentenced as an adult on two counts of armed robbery with a firearm enhancement; conspiracy to commit armed robbery; and false imprisonment. He was sentenced to a prison term of ten years (one hundred twenty months). Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, he would have been subject to a sentence of approximately eighty-seven to one hundred and eight months, plus sixty consecutive months for use of a firearm during a crime of violence.[8]

The court recognized that Native American juveniles tried as adults in federal court were unable to earn “good time” at the same rate as juveniles in state court, causing them to “serve a substantially larger percentage of their originally longer sentences than non-Indian youths tried as adults in the State courts.”[9] Furthermore, the court acknowledged that this disparity is “because transfer to adult status in the federal system exposes them to far graver consequences than their non-Indian counterparts in the state system. This is especially ironic as one of the goals of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines was to address minority defendants receiv[ing] longer sentences than their White counterparts.”[10]

Unfortunately in the case of Jerry Paul C., and as in most of these federal juvenile cases, the court’s hands were tied due to these federal laws. Although the court was willing to acknowledge the severe consequences of this disparity, the court ultimately concluded that “the possibility of a disproportionately long, federal prison sentence is largely the unfortunate product of Jerry Paul C.’s jurisdictional status as a Native American.”[11]

Although the case I witnessed that sparked this outrage in me was not technically a juvenile case, it was the case of a young man who was facing the same issue due to federal jurisdiction, federal laws, and federal sentencing because of his status as a Native American. Thankfully in his case, he was acquitted of the charges and now has the opportunity at a second chance in life outside of the confinement of the walls of federal prison.

Who, if anyone, deserves a second chance at rehabilitation more than youth? Why should youth that don’t live on tribal lands be afforded a greater opportunity for rehabilitation than Indigenous juveniles? I certainly don’t know what the answer to this problem is, but I do know that a call to Congress in addressing and reforming federal laws and sentencing that severely disadvantage Native American youth could be a start in rectifying this gross injustice for Indigenous juveniles.

[1] 18 U.S.C. § 1153; 18 U.S.C. § 5031.

[2] LaTanya Gabaldon-Cochran, Federal and Tribal Court Jurisdiction Over Youthful Offenders in Indian Country, Tribal Judicial Institute,

[3] Id.

[4] United States v. Thompson, No. CR 19-1610-MV-4, 2021 WL 2530993, at *3 (D.N.M. June 22, 2021), as amended (June 22, 2021).

[5] Id. at 1021.

[6] Id. at 1021.

[7] National Congress of American Indians, Tribal Juvenile Justice,, (last visited Nov. 17, 2021).

[8] United States v. Jerry Paul C., 929 F. Supp. 1406, 1408 (D.N.M. 1996).

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at 1411.

Commentary Student Reflections

Reflection: The 2020 Election Once Again Illuminated the Power of Native American Voters, But There’s Still Work to be Done

By: Taylor Bingham

If you were like me this election cycle, your eyes were glued to social media. The 2020 election season seemed never-ending, and it was as if each day brought with it a new constitutional crisis. However, one aspect of this election cycle that brought with it hope for the future of our communities was the extensive efforts being taken on the ground to increase the turnout of Native American voters and expand representation at all levels of government.

This effort resulted in a new President and Vice President, the retention of a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, and, upon the conclusion of the Georgia runoff election, a 50-50 split in the Senate. It may also lead to the first Native American Cabinet Secretary, with Representative Deb Haaland nominated to serve as Secretary of the Interior. Finally, a record six Native Americans were elected to serve in Congress, and the rise of local Native American candidates who brought crucial issues to the forefront illustrates the potential for the future.

As the nation reflects on the numerous ways in which this election was historic, it is imperative we recognize the importance of Native American voters and Native American candidates. However, we must also acknowledge that in order to bring about fundamental change in our country, progress remains to be made in ensuring that voter disenfranchisement, particularly of Native American communities, is eradicated. As we await the Supreme Court’s decision in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, No. 19-1257 (U.S. Apr. 27, 2020), a case in which voting access is being challenged, it is clear that there is still work to be done.

Native American Voters and the 2020 Election

Though Native American voters represent a smaller portion of the United States population, “they are often concentrated in communities that make them a political force.”[1] Native American voters have often been the decisive difference in elections in Alaska, the Dakotas, and the Southwest, and 2020 was no different.[2] The results of this election have been widely attributed to the impact of Native American voters in key states. In Arizona, maps of tribal lands in the state overlap almost exactly with those showing counties that voted for President Biden. As a result, this election was only the second time in 70 years that Arizona has elected a Democratic presidential candidate.[3] Despite the disparate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Native American communities and the refusal on the part of the State of Arizona to modify ballot receipt dates, Apache County “saw 116% voter turnout compared to the 2016 election.”[4] In Wisconsin, Native American voters in areas like Menominee County helped create a slim majority for Biden.[5] The Lumbee tribe, who have been pursuing federal recognition for decades and were promised such recognition after a rally held by former President Trump, are being credited with his win in North Carolina, as well as the success of Republican Senator Thom Tillis there.[6]

In South Dakota and Montana, though each state’s electoral votes ultimately went to Trump, counties that overlapped with tribal nations largely showed higher proportions of Democratic voters. Though this did not change the outcome of the Presidential race in those states, the impact on down-ballot races has been demonstrated in the past. The narrow success in 2018 of Montana Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat and staunch advocate for Native American issues, is one  example.[7]

With the increase in partisanship stalling legislation and deepening political divides, elections “are increasingly decided by razor-thin margins” while “Native people are almost always overlooked or forgotten.”[8] However, Jordan James Harvill (Cherokee), who worked with Navajo Nation as chief of staff for VoteAmerica, described this election as one that illuminated for the rest of the country just how important Native American voters are, stating “[w]hen we’re looking on to the next several years, we’re going to see that Native American voters become one of the defining members of the electorate.”[9] It would be a mistake to overgeneralize the Native American electorate as one that votes identically and supports only certain issues. However, it is important to note that issues like tribal sovereignty, energy, climate, water, education, and child welfare have been key to motivating Native American voters to take part in elections.[10] These issues have also demonstrated the ability of legislators to work in a bipartisan manner to advance legislation and promote tribal sovereignty.[11] By presenting comprehensive policies to voters in regard to these issues, the success of candidates in close races will be tied to the power of Native American voters, and the nation as a whole will stand to benefit from the progressive policies that many Native American voters support.

The Success (and Future) of Native American Political Candidates

According to data from the 2010 US Census, if Native American representation in Congress was in proportion to the United States population, there would be two Native American Senators and eight House Representatives.[12] Due to increases in population over the last ten years, it is likely that this number is now higher. In 2020, Representative Deb Haaland (Laguna and Jemez Pueblo) and Representative Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk) were both reelected, continuing their historic legacies as the first Native American women elected to Congress.[13] They were joined by Yvette Herrell (Cherokee), a Republican from New Mexico and Kaiali’i Kahele, a Democrat and only the second Native Hawaiian ever elected to Congress.[14] Representatives Tom Cole (Chickasaw) and Markwayne Mullin (Cherokee) were also reelected.[15] Though this year did not see Congress painting an accurate portrait of the demographic makeup of the United States, the six Native American candidates elected once again make this House one that is making history.

Though the increase in elected representation is crucial, it is also important to note the increase in Native American candidates overall, and the excitement their candidacy garnered among their constituents. Mark Charles (Navajo), a speaker, activist, and author who was raised in Gallup, NM, was on the ballot in Colorado as a candidate for President.[16] Paulette Jordan (Coeur d’Alene), a Democrat state legislator from Idaho, ran for Senate in a race that was closely followed.[17] There were a total of thirteen Native American candidates for the House of Representatives. One candidate, Lynnette Grey Bull (Northern Arapaho and Hunkpapa Lakota), a Democrat from Wyoming, made history as she is believed to be the first Native American to run for federal office from the state.[18] Her challenge to Republican Representative Liz Cheney was marked by debates in which treaty rights and the impact of COVID-19 were discussed, a rare occurrence in Wyoming’s political discourse.[19]

It remains to be seen how this increase in candidacy played out collectively in state and other down-ballot races, but the successful campaign of Christine Haswood (Diné) of Kansas is one example of the ways in which young Native American politicians have increased representation throughout the country.[20]

Voter Disenfranchisement and Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee

The 2020 election has not demonstrated anything new. The impact of Native American voters on key races and in pushing legislative policy is clear to those who pay attention. However, others’ newfound awareness of the importance of Native American voters and their impact during the 2020 election contrasts with the consistent attacks by various governmental entities on the ability of Native Americans to exercise their right to vote. 

In 2020, the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) issued an extensive report entitled Obstacles at Every Turn: Barriers to Political Participation Faced by Native American Voters. This report used historical data and data compiled from a series of field hearings conducted across seven states to identify the various barriers to voting access faced by Native American voters.[21] In all, the report describes eleven factors that discourage political participation, ten barriers to voting registration, nine barriers to casting a ballot, and four barriers to having ballots fairly and accurately counted.[22] Each of these factors was then compounded by the failure of many jurisdictions to implement required language assistance provisions mandated by the Voting Rights Act (VRA).[23] As the authors of the report state, it may be that the potential of Native American voters to decide competitive elections has “made them the target of voter suppression tactics in communities that are not used to Native Americans flexing their political power.”[24]

One such example of voter suppression is Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, a pending Supreme Court Case that is set for oral argument in March 2021. This case presents two questions: 1) Whether Arizona’s out-of-precinct policy violates Section 2 of the VRA, and 2) whether Arizona’s ballot-collection law, passed in 2016, violates Section 2 of the VRA or the Fifteenth Amendment.[25]

In Arizona, each county determines whether they will use a vote center system or a precinct based system for voters who cast their ballots in person.[26] Arizona’s out-of-precinct policy states that voters must vote at their assigned polling place within their precinct, but may cast provisional ballots if they arrive at a polling place where their name is not listed on the precinct register.[27] If that voter is later found to not live at an address within the precinct in which they voted, the provisional ballot is discarded entirely.[28] The second law being challenged is H.B. 2023, which was passed in 2016 and made it a crime to collect or deliver another person’s ballot unless that person was an election official, mail carrier, family or household member, or a caregiver.[29] The Democratic National Committee (DNC) challenged these laws, in part stating that they violate Section 2 of the VRA “by adversely and disparately impacting the electoral opportunities of Hispanic, African American and Native American Arizonans.”[30]

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) prepared an amicus brief in     support of the respondents in which they used the voting report to demonstrate the ways in which these two Arizona laws disenfranchise Native American voters in the state. The NCAI brief points to factors such as geographic isolation, lack of residential mail delivery, and lack of reliable roads and broadband access that prevent voters from accessing polling places in precinct or from handling their own ballots.[31] It also described the historical impacts of voter disenfranchisement on Native American communities, and provided numerous examples of ways in which systemic racism has played a significant role in the creation of new voting laws, even since the passage of the VRA.[32] These factors have only been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has further limited voting access.

It remains to be seen whether the Court will uphold the previous courts reversal that struck down these two Arizona provisions. Regardless of what the Court decides, as voters and advocates, it is crucial that we hold legislators accountable and demand that they address voting barriers such as those described in the NARF report. As community members, volunteering to support voter outreach or donating to voter outreach organizations like Four Directions, the Native American Rights Fund, and the National Congress of American Indians can also be beneficial. However, if the Court chooses to change course and allow the state of Arizona (and others like it) to circumvent voter protections, we can expect to see a continued push by grassroots vote organizers to push forward for the benefit of Native American communities.

[1] Dr. James Thomas Tucker, Jacqueline De León, & Dr. Daniel McCool, Obstacles at Every Turn: Barriers to Political Participation Faced by Native American Voters 1, Native American Rights Fund (2020),

[2] Id.

[3] Anna V. Smith, How Indigenous Voters Swung the 2020 Election, High Country News (Nov. 6, 2020),

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Julian Brave NoiseCat, In Trump v. Biden, Native American Voters Played a Crucial Role. It’s Time to Recognize That, NBC News Think (Nov. 27, 2020, 2:32 AM),

[7] See Smith, supra note 3; National Congress of American Indians, Fast Facts, Every Native Vote Counts (2020),

[8] NoiseCat, supra note 6.

[9] Smith, supra note 3.

[10] National Congress of American Indians, supra note 7.

[11] Interview by Savannah Maher with Aliyah Chavez, Reporter/Producer, Indian Country Today (Nov. 4, 2020),

[12] National Congress of American Indians, supra note 7.

[13] Dalton Walker, US House Candidates Make History, Indian Country Today (Nov. 4, 2020),

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.; Dalton Walker, Is Mark Charles on the Ballot?, Indian Country Today (Aug. 21, 2020),

[17] Walker, supra note 13.

[18] Maher, supra note 11.

[19] Id.

[20] Maher, supra note 11.

[21] Tucker et al., supra note 1, at 4.

[22] Id. at 2.

[23] See id. The details of this extensive report are beyond the scope of this reflection piece but are considered by the author to be required further reading for advocates.

[24] Id. at 1.

[25] Petition for Writ of Certiorari at -, Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, No. 19-1257 (U.S. Apr. 27, 2020).

[26] Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, Oyez, (last visited Jan 24, 2021).

[27]  Petition for Writ of Certiorari, supra note 25, at 6.

[28] Id.

[29] Id. at 7.

[30] Id. at 5.

[31] See Brief of National Congress of American Indians Amicus Curiae in Support of Respondents at 14-26, Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, No. 19-1257 (U.S. Jan. 20, 2021).

[32] Id. at 26-34.

Student Reflections

Reflection: Research of the Tarahumara Tribe of Northern Mexico

By: Anna Trillo

In our Law of Indigenous People course in the fall of 2020 students had two options for the final deliverable; a tribal profile and research paper or an extended tribal profile. I chose the extended tribal profile, on a tribe from Northern Mexico, the Rarámuri, or more commonly known as, Tarahumara. I am a first generation American, daughter of immigrants from Mexico. I wanted to contribute information on a tribe from outside of the United States as most of our scholarship is focused on tribes from the United States. I was excited to conduct my research and learn more about the people from where my family comes from.  I quickly learned that my research was going to be much more difficult than I anticipated.  First, there is not an extensive scholarship on indigenous people from Mexico.  While there is more research on tribes from southern Mexico, there is less scholarship available on the indigenous rights of tribes located in northern Mexico.  Second, we are also in the middle of a pandemic, some of the usual avenues for research was limited. Finally, being that indigenous people of the Americas are in areas where different languages are spoken, we don’t have more translated, multilingual information available. 

First, the scholarship on indigenous people of Northern Mexico. Southern Mexican indigenous tribes are much more concentrated in the area and are much more accessible than northern tribes. I also think that because the southern tribes are much closer to some of their original communities and structures, such as the pyramids, there is more interest in the southern tribes.  The Rarámuri people live in the state of Chihuahua, in the high sierras and canyons, more specifically near Copper Canyon.  Chihuahua is mostly desert, mountains and rough terrain, just as we experience in southern New Mexico. The Rarámuri have lived, adapted and survived not only to the extreme terrain but also to the invasion of the “blancos” (the whites) which in the case of Chihuahua are not only the Spanish but later were also the large Mennonite community that immigrated to the area in the 1920’s. This caused the Rarámuri to retreat further into the high sierras and canyons making them less accessible to scholars and general interaction with people.  

Second, access to research on the Rarámuri is limited, while I was able to find many online articles and information that is on online databases, a lot of information comes from books.  The majority of the research comes from the 1990s and earlier.  While I was able to find useful sources, access to books would have been more ideal.  With the pandemic, interlibrary loans have been stopped and/or been slowed down, which is completely understandable with the major closures we have experienced. Another possible barrier would have been that many websites and sources I have found have been in Spanish, fortunately I am fluent in Spanish and was able to utilize some of the sources. 

Finally, one of the main reflections I have had while conducting this research is the lack of sources. When writing and researching indigenous people of the Americas it is important that there is scholarship in both English and Spanish, or even French for our Canadian tribes or Portuguese for our Brazilian tribes.  The Americas encompass many languages, mostly English and Spanish and the lack of translated resources was very disappointing.  Scholars in indigenous studies need to consider how we need to provide our research in different languages as the tribes we are researching have had many interactions amongst each other and we may miss information if we wait and rely on information only in our language of choice.  Indigenous studies scholars should collaborate more and consider setting up organizations/associations to provide their scholarship in multiple languages if it applies to the areas of the people being researched.  In order to better educate people and to provide more advocacy for the indigenous people we need to be able to provide this information in languages more accessible to a larger population of people. 

When more scholarship on the indigenous people of the Americas is provided and is accessible in multiple languages, I think it may lead to more advocacy of the rights of indigenous people. Better scholarship and knowledge about the Rarámuri will lead to better advocacy of the people of the Sierra Madre.

Events Student Reflections

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.


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. 


Student Reflections

Reflections: The Native American Community Academy (NACA) Feast Day and the Importance of Indigenous Education

On Friday October 18, 2019, I woke up early to get my daughter ready for school. For other children who do not attend the same school as her it was just another Friday, but for my daughter it was Feast Day at the Native American Community Academy (NACA). She was so excited she got to wear her traditional Lakota dress with two braids in her hair and her beaded earrings. It was the day she had been waiting for all week. When I arrived, I saw the entire NACA community at work. As a community they worked to prepare food, set up chairs and booths.  When feast day began, I watched as every class walked out with pride to be dressed in their traditional wear. Kara Bobroff, the founder of NACA, stated that NACA was founded to provide Native students with an indigenous education where Native students can keep their traditions, learn their language, and preserve their culture. At one point she asked us something along the lines of “how do we remember our ancestors?” She stated that the NACA core values are a reflection of the answer. There are six core values that are taught at NACA:

  1. Respect
  2. Responsibility
  3. Community/service
  4. Culture
  5. Perseverance
  6. Reflection

I was reminded that day how important indigenous education is and how much of an opportunity my daughter has to attend a school that is taught through a Native American perspective. My daughter’s father expressed that he was happy that his daughter is able to learn Lakota and engage in indigenous traditions because he was not given that opportunity. He was adopted outside of his tribe in violation of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and did not come to know his family until he was about 23 years old. His family are members of the Cheyenne River Sioux in South Dakota. In relation to NACA, I thought about the Tribal Law Journal and its core values which are:

  1. Flux/Change
  2. Organization
  3. Relationships
  4. Respect
  5. Responsibility

The core values are practically the same. This is why Tribal Law Journal and classes like

The Law of Indigenous Peoples is so important. It is imperative for Native students to learn and preserve their culture, language, and traditions, and having Indigenous education available is something that should be implemented in every educational space.

Vanessa Hidalgo is a second-year law student at the University of New Mexico. She hopes to incorporate Critical Race Theory in her career after law school.

Student Reflections

Reflections: 2nd Annual Native Women’s Business Summit

On Friday, April 5th and Saturday, April 6th I attended the 2nd annual Native Women’s Business Summit organized by Native Women Lead. It was a well-attended event hosted at Isleta Resort and Casino, with panels and activities ranging from how to elevate your business through social media to “smashing the patriarchy,” a panel on how women find success in male-dominated industries. 

This one-of-a-kind summit began with a keynote speech by Kim Smith (Diné), Co-Founder and Editor of Indigenous Goddess Gang. Her speech, “What does a ‘Matrilineal Economy’ look like?” emphasized decolonization, reclaiming Indigenous knowledge, and reconnecting to both tradition and family. Aligning with the summit’s mission,[1] Kim Smith spoke at length about her own journey reclaiming her culture and familial ties, beginning with her educational journey starting at a missionary school and then transitioning to Northern Arizona University (NAU). While at NAU she began to learn the true history of the Diné, revealing that her desire to pursue a career in corporate America directly conflicted with the traditional upbringing. Ultimately, that upbringing encouraged her to come back home, motivating her to understand her own matrilineal economy by “looking for her grandmother,” or reclaiming the knowledge waiting for her back home. Kim Smith completed her speech discussing the current work she does – advocating for Mother Earth and against harmful resource extraction, concluding that “How we treat the land is how we treat ourselves. How we treat the land is how we treat our women.” 

“How we treat the land is how we treat ourselves. How we treat the land is how we treat our women.”

The summit continued through the rest of Friday and concluded on Saturday afternoon. There was a diverse range of panelists and speakers, geared toward women who have either thought of beginning a business, were in the beginning stages of a new business, have had a business for years, and everything else in between. The summit was one-of-a-kind because of the immense care and detail put into planning – in between breakout sessions there were massage therapists waiting in the lobby, “movement breaks” through short yoga sessions, and a designated space called the “Healing Room” for all attendees to enjoy. The many women co-founders behind this event clearly took the time to consider all aspects for a memorable and enjoyable event. Since 2019 is the year following “The Year of the Native Woman,”[2]it was a powerful feeling to have attended such an event and to be in the presence of so many resilient women. I look forward to attending again next year.  

Jordan Oglesby, Diné, is from Shiprock, New Mexico and a 2L at UNM School of Law. She currently serves as Tribal Law Journal Online Content Co-Editor and is the incoming Co-Editor-in-Chief for 2019-2020.  

[1]About Us – Native Women Lead, visited Apr. 6, 2019). 

[2]Ruth H. Hopkins, 2018 Is The Year of the Native Woman, But We’ve Always Been Leaders, Huffington Post (Nov. 6, 2018),

Photo credit

Student Reflections

Reflections: Voice Within Two Systems

The last Friday of March 2019, the Tribal Law Journal hosted a symposium for its 20thAnniversary. At the event, a documentary, “Tribal Justice” was screened. “Tribal Justice” follows the narratives of two female tribal judges working toward asserting a different voice and solutions to problems affecting their respective tribes.

The film’s narrative centers on two tribal judges, Justice White and Justice Abinanti. Each Judge must navigate between two systems of justice and jurisdiction in order to help distinct members of their respective tribes. Justice White finds herself fighting to gain guardianship over her nephew, who is facing felony charges from the state. The narrative shows how love, familial bonds, and traditional practices begin to place in the life of her nephew. Unexpectedly, the narrative ended with the nephew’s arrest.

Judge Abinanti’s narrative follows a young member of her tribe who faces many challenges with the criminal justice system because of his addiction issues. This story also speaks of tribal participation, and the Judge’s hands-on involvement in this young man’s recovery in both social and medical terms. 

The stories juxtaposed against one another is a reminder that outcomes are never determinative even in the best of situations, but it is especially fraught with pitfalls when the situation requires navigation between different systems of justice and corrections. 

The documentary prompted keen audience participation in the Q&A portion of the event. Immediately following the film, many in the audience wanted to know what the plight of the young people depicted in the film. Many others wanted to know if there have been any increased efforts by the states to encourage intervention programs illustrated in the film. States by nature are slow to change but the Judges see their roles as educators and hope that their efforts will bring meaningful impact that is life altering. Being a voice of change, and a platform for that voice, can be challenging. The Tribal Law Journal strives to continue to be a resource for both. 

Kaythee Hlaing, Multimedia Editor

Photo courtesy of @IndigeLens

Student Reflections

Reflections: The Value of Women in Leadership

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “there will be enough women on the Supreme Court when there are nine.” Women are always needed in leadership roles, especially in the political and legal realm. I want to share an old Chamorro legend that tells a story of the importance of women and the value of their leadership. 

One day, a palaksi (giant parrot fish) was eating the reef and part of the island of Guam, the most southern island in the Mariana chain. The maga’haga (female leader) warned the people that the spirits were angry because of their selfishness and lack of respect for the land and waters. The maga’lahi (male leader) did not want the women to help because they insisted that it the warriors’ role to capture the fish. The women of the island gathered together in secret under the maga’haga, chopped off their hair, and wove a giant magical net. The next day, the men tried to capture the palaksi but failed miserably. The women found their way to the palaksi. With their indestructible net, they captured the monster fish. This is how the women of Guam saved their island.

Carmen Borja is a 2L from the island of Saipan.

Inserted Picture: Connie J. Adams, Pacific Island Legends (1999).