Sunday, March 20, 2016

Tortugas:  Internal Rivalry Over Tribal Recognition

Arianna Fierro, President of the Tortugas Corporation and Patrick Narvaez, Acting Cacique

There is a lot on Arianna Fierro's plate as the newly selected President of the Tortugas Pueblo Corporation.  It might be helpful to pause here for a little background.

During the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 groups of Piro and Tiwa natives relocated to the vicinity of El Paso from their traditional settlements near Socorro and further North along the Rio Grande.  They were accommodated by the Manso natives who lived in the El Paso region, and the three groups maintained strong relationships and inter-married thereafter.  In the late 1800s some Piro, Manso, and Tiwa natives relocated to Las Cruces, creating a single unified tribal unit.  They have lived in Tortugas, now a suburb of Las Cruces, ever since. 

There are two distinct, rival, villages within the Tortugas community.  The Eastern part of Tortugas, known as San Juan, is home to the PMT, the Piro Manso Tribe.  The Western part is home of the Guadalupe, or Tortugas Pueblo.  Both share the same heritage.  The split became serious in the 1940s when Miguel Fierro, from the Guadalupe side, split from the San Juan side over money issues, becoming the sole custodian of the Corporation, formed in 1914 to protect the tribe's heritage and property.  Arianna is Miguel Fierro's great granddaughter.

In 1971 the PMT sought tribal status from the federal government.  It was denied, but the effort continues in various venues.  On Monday March 21 the Las Cruces City Council will be asked to support the PMT's new efforts to seek federal recognition.  The Guadalupe, or Corporation, side is opposed to granting the PMT tribal status, fearing the PMT may use this enhanced status to claim the assets of the Corporation, which funds much of the spiritual side of the community.  All of this has opened up debate on the Guadalupe side about whether it, too, should seek tribal recognition; whether efforts should be made to reconcile differences with the PMT, and what the overall political goals of the Corporation should be.  Fierro has her hands full.  Standing by her side is Acting Cacique Patrick Narvaez, spiritual leader of Guadalupe.
Senator Papen and Jose Luis Nevarez talking Local Politics in Tortugas

I caught onto all of this on Sunday, March 20, when I overheard Senator Mary Kay Papen discuss some of these issues with Jose Luis ("Lio") Nevarez, at lunch in one of the fund raising events hosted by the Corporation.  This led to my interview with President Fierro and the Acting Cacique.

Senator Papen, currently President of the New Mexico Senate, has a long history of involvement with the Tortugas community, walking the "A" mountain trek most every December, finding capital outlay funds for various projects in Tortugas, and in general befriending many citizens there, such as her long friendship with the late Maria Baldon who, although not part of the Corporation, was an active participant in the community.  Sen. Papen also knows many members of the PMT, including a former student of mine, Frieda Flores, whose father, Ruben Flores, was well known as a Democratic Party stalwart (I knew him years ago when he was a precinct chair) and who survived the Bataan Death March.  Tortugas has produced many exceptional civic leaders, among them my friend Felipe Chavez, a union leader influential in the Democratic Party, and past President of the Corporation..

Leadership is important, and from the looks of things, the Corporation is in excellent hands with Narvaez and Fierro.  Narvaez, as Acting Cacique, is the custodian of the Tombé, the drum, which signifies the cultural and spiritual heritage of the tribe, expressed in various rituals and dance ceremonies, some of which are closed to outsiders.  Fierro has a full time job as a paralegal, and is a graduate of NMSU.  Suerte, Arianna; the political destiny of your community has been entrusted to you.

1 comment:

Amber Alvillar said...

Ari's also beautiful and a full-time mom!