The State must invest to help protect precious languages and traditions.
As former governor of Tesuque Pueblo and current chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG), I am forever grateful to the late Judge Sarah Singleton for ruling in Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico that Native American students have a constitutional right to a culturally and linguistically relevant education.
APCG’s tribal leaders, who collectively serve as a diplomatic arm and a shield to protect against threats to traditional Pueblo ways of life, have voiced their support for the court’s decision in Yazzie-Martinez, and have developed and endorsed the Tribal Remedy Framework, which offers a comprehensive plan for meeting the needs of Native students.
Now the APCG offers a tribal response to the court ruling that is aligned with the Tribal Remedy Framework: we call for the establishment of a Tribal Education Trust Fund.
The APCG has worked diligently to develop and adopt Resolution No. 2022-18, which supports the Establishment of a Tribal Education Trust Fund for the maintenance and preservation of our precious languages and traditions. It calls upon the state Legislature and executive to establish such a permanent fund with a major investment of state funds.
In 1993, as a newly appointed Tesuque tribal councilman and later a delegate to the APCG as governor, I have been aware of a deeply felt generational frustration among Pueblo leaders about younger tribal members who were being educated in a westernized public school system — one that ignored and threatened Pueblo traditions, cultures and languages.
Pueblo people have always maintained a dual obligation within our communities to be educated and civic ready in both our tribal way of life and in the world at large.
As COVID-19 swept across the country, health orders halted public gatherings. The Pueblos paused their traditional, cultural practices to protect our knowledge-holders, culture-bearers, and our people.
This affected our usual transfer-of-knowledge systems, often done verbally between older and younger generations. Additionally, poor technology infrastructure on tribal lands impeded the education of our children. Despite this, we found creative ways to protect our traditional ways of life and continue educating our young.
Throughout history, Pueblo people have faced similar threats to our existence and lifeways. Yet our marvelous cultural knowledge systems have continued unabated and the transfer from one generation to the next is ongoing.
But the protection of Pueblo traditions, languages and cultures is also a state obligation. Our children spend countless hours in public school classrooms.We need complementary student programs and services to support our children after school, in our communities.
A Tribal Education Trust Fund would secure much-needed resources to build capacity within Tribal Education Departments to better serve our students.
This would not only help us prepare tribal students for pursuing college and career opportunities, but also motivate our students to speak our languages and engage in tribal culture and traditions.
New Mexico has received a windfall of revenue, especially from energy production on state lands. We should all be mindful that these lands are ancestral tribal lands that once belonged to the Indigenous People of this state.
Mark Mitchell is the chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors, the group that represents the governors of 20 Pueblo Nations. He is also the former governor of Tesuque Pueblo.
*This op-ed originally appeared in the Source NM, January 13, 2023