Meet Native America: Frank Kengie Paiz, Governor, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo
In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, the responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh, NMAI
Please introduce yourself with your name and title.
Frank Kengie Paiz, governor for the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo.
Can you give us your Native name?
I can give you my official title on the Tribal Council:Ta-budeh means governor in our native language, Tiwa.
Where is your community located?
The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo is located within El Paso County in far West Texas and is comprised of a reservation having a checker-boarded, noncontiguous geography. Its primary land base, housing the tribal government headquarters and residential districts, is surrounded by the cities of El Paso and Socorro. The tribe owns more than 74,000 acres of land with approximately 3,000 acres held in trust by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The tribe has also invested in the acquisition of property for tribal businesses and future development. The tribe owns the Chilicote Ranch, totaling more than 70,000 acres of grasslands, hills, canyons, and highlands located in Presidio and Jeff Davis counties. In addition to the diverse wildlife and plant life, the Chilicote houses the tribe’s cattle ranching operations.
Where was your tribe originally from?
After leaving the homelands of Quarai Pueblo due to drought, the Tigua sought refuge at Isleta Pueblo, located in what is now Albuquerque, New Mexico. The people were later captured by the Spanish during the 1680 Pueblo Revolt and forced to walk south for more than 400 miles. The Tigua settled and built the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo in El Paso, Texas, and soon after built the acequia (canal) system that sustained a thriving agricultural-based community. The tribe's early economic and farming efforts helped pave the way for the development of the region. The tribe maintains its traditional political system and ceremonial practices and continues to flourish as a Pueblo community.
What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?
The governor/administrator is the chief administrative executive for the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, performing executive management and administrative duties in planning, organizing, and directing the administrative systems and direct service programs of the tribal government. The governor/ administrator provides visionary, innovative leadership, supervision, and general direction for the Pueblo management team to coordinate their efforts as they work to achieve departmental objectives. The governor/administrator is the chief liaison between the government administration and Tribal Council.
How did your life experience prepare you to lead your Native community?
Born and raised on the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo reservation, I experienced many obstacles and challenges that helped shape the tough exterior and sympathetic heart needed to serve as a tribal leader of a small, tight-knit pueblo. Rooted in deep tradition, my family line prepared me for the leadership role I believe I was born to assume, and I vowed to restore a traditional grounding to the Tribal Council.
I can relate to many of our community members and the socioeconomic challenges that oftentimes plague our children and families. Conditions of poverty, unemployment, and discrimination sometimes coincide to paralyze progress. The promise of our children, however, and the assets we possess as a collective pueblo always resonated in my will to institute change. I labor daily to make decisions and chart courses that will lift the pueblo in success and sustainability. As I enter my ninth year in office, I often reflect on the experiences of the past to keep me grounded, humble, and accountable.
Who inspired you as a mentor?
The legacy of tribal leaders in my family line has always been the driving force behind my inspiration to serve in tribal leadership and to promote the Tigua customs and traditions. I remember looking in awe at my relatives during tribal feast days as they stood proud to be Tigua. I am a child of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and was raised and mentored not only by my immediate family, but also by extended family members, neighbors, and elders alike who now serve as my inspiration for creating and administering responsible government.
Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?
Yes, the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo has a Traditional Council consisting of a cacique (chief), capitan de guerra (war captain), aguacil (tribal sheriff), tribal governors, and four capitanes (captains). The cacique and war captain provide spiritual and traditional guidance. The cacique and war captain are appointed to life-long terms. Members of the traditional council are elected annually on New Year’s Eve and are responsible for maintaining all aspects of Tigua culture, including traditional ceremonies, feast days, marital and death rites, and other related functions.
Members of the Ysleta del Sur Tribal Council for 2014. Seated at center: Francisco Holguin, cacique . Standing from left to right: Carlos Hisa, lieutenant governor; Roberto Pedraza III, councilman; Frank Gomez, councilman; Frank Paiz, governor; Bernardo Gonzales, aguacil; Rafael Gomez, Jr., councilman; David Gomez, councilman; Javier Loera, war captain.
What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?
The All Pueblo Indian Celebration Day at Ysleta del Sur Pueblo (YDSP) on November 17, 2009, signified a momentous spiritual and historical event for YDSP and all Rio Grande Pueblos: We came together for the first time in more than 400 years to pledge to work in harmony and strengthen cultural preservation, sovereignty, and self-determination. In observance of the YDSP’s inauguration into the All Indian Pueblo Council (AIPC), YDSP hosted the celebration, which was part of a three-day visit of all pueblos convening to hold their quarterly meetings. Together with YDSP, the pueblos gathered to discuss restoring, reconnecting, and strengthening interpueblo relations.
AIPC advocates for cultural preservation, traditions, and modern day political, economic, education, health, and governance needs. Although the pueblos have worked collaboratively throughout history to address the needs of Pueblo people, the AIPC formally adopted a constitution and bylaws in 1965.
I requested AIPC membership in January 2009, appealing for equal consideration and representation. On August 21, 2009, AIPC voted to instate YDSP. With YDSP’s membership, AIPC is now comprised of the twenty Pueblos of New Mexico and Texas, including Acoma, Cochiti, Isleta, Jemez, Laguna, Nambe, Ohkay Owingeh, Picuris, Pojoaque, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, Sandia, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo, Taos, Tesuque, Ysleta del Sur, Zia, and Zuni. Combined we are the collective voice of all Pueblos.
Approximately how many members are in your tribe?
As of the first quarter in 2014, the enrolled population is 1,731 with a population make-up of:
- 54 percent female to 46 percent male
- 19 percent minors (17 years and under)
- 72 percent adults (18 through 64 years)
- 9 percent elders (65 years and over)
Our tribal-descendant population is 1,723 with a population make up of:
- 48 percent female to 52 percent male
- 61 percent minors
- 39 percent adults
- 0 percent elders
The Pueblo is currently engaged in a citizenship reform effort known as Project Tiwahu to self-determine YDSP membership requirements. Project Tiwahu began when the federal government changed the tribe’s Texas Restoration Act in 2012. The act federally recognized the tribe in 1987. However, restrictive language in the original act only recognized individuals with one-eighth degree or more of Ysleta del Sur Indian blood as enrolled members. The new legislation (Public Law 112-157) empowers the Pueblo and aligns it with other federally recognized tribes whose enrollment membership is not regulated by a federal statute.
All photos courtesy of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. Used with permission.
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From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All images used with permission.