Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Rivalry Over Tribal Status Continues

 Ed Roybal, Cacique, Piro Manso Tiwa Tribe (PMT)

 On Monday the Las Cruces City Council tabled a motion whereby "full support is established for the petition of the (PMT) to achieve their long-sought federal recognition..."  On Tuesday the Dona Ana County Commission voted to "support the petition" of the PMT to become recognized as a tribe.  But it took some heated debate in the audience on Tuesday before the motion was approved by a vote of 3-2.  The first resolution is deliciously ambiguous:  is the support for the sending of the petition to the federal government, or for the federal government to grant the petition?  The second motion seems more clearly in favor of the granting of the petition.  Language makes a difference.

Commissioner Garrett began discussion of this item assuring the audience the motion was not intended to take sides in the substance of rival claims, but merely to acknowledge the right of groups to petition the federal government for recognition as a tribe. He made this point twice. As pointed out by Commissioner Rawson, however, the wording of the resolution was to "support the petition" to the federal government for recognition.  So by a slight slippage of language, but by a huge conceptual leap between the more modest verbal language of Commissioner Garrett and the actual wording of the commissioner's motion, it appeared the commission voted to support the claim to recognition sought by the PMT.

Arianna Fierro, representing the Corporation, (see yesterday's blog) certainly saw it that way and complained that the resolution, to the extent it made a difference in the outcome of the petition, could jeopardize the interests of the Corporation, since the petition contains a claim to property now legally under the control of the Corporation.  If recognition were granted, according to her argument, this might strengthen the case for seizure of property by the PMT.  In reply, representatives of the PMT argued the case for recognition had nothing to do with assets, but rather with legitimizing a longstanding claim for the PMT's identity, amply documented, as members of a tribe.  Complicating matters even more, there is another, and possibly a fourth, group claim to membership in the thus-far unrecognized tribe.

I asked Cacique Ed Roybal after the vote about his interpretation of the motion.  He believed the motion limited itself to support RMT's moving forward with the petition itself, not to express approval of recognition, the language of the resolution to the contrary.  I took this as a hint he might be willing to take a step toward reconciliation.  I thought I detected a similar hint the day before from Arianna.  Leadership is about creating effective collaboration for the good of the whole.

Full disclosure:  my wife's (Olivia Nevarez) uncle, Charlie Madrid, played a significant role in articulating the first case for the PMT back in the 1970s.  An excellent history from the PMT's point of view is found in http://www.bia.gov/WhoWeAre/AS-IA/OFA/PetitionsInProcess/Petition5/index.htm.  At the same time the mother of Olivia's brother-in-law lived most of her life in Tortugas.  The late Ruben Flores, and Felipe Chavez, on opposite ends of this dispute, were valued friends and allies of mine and both have been  highly influential and respected in the larger community.  Frida Flores was a student of mine.  Many of us in Las Cruces are friends with people on both sides.

I have reservations about the wisdom of public bodies expressing opinions about controversial issues that will be resolved a higher levels of decision making.  My attendance at the county commission meeting on Tuesday reinforced this reservation.  But should these resolutions result in greater awareness of the issues and stakes of the Tortugas people, it may be healthy for the body politic.  Hopefully the factions will take this opportunity to explore for themselves the possibilities of eventual spiritual and political unity.

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