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, their 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
Please introduce yourself with your name and title.
What is your Native community?
I'm from Jemez Pueblo. It's tribal name is Walatowa, which means Place of Peace.
Where is your community located?
In central New Mexico, 50 miles northwest of Albuquerque.
Where was your community originally from?
We were from northwest New Mexico, in the Mesa Verde Area and Chaco Canyon Area.
What is a significant point in history from your people that you would like to share?
It's the loss of our aboriginal acreage. Under both the Spanish and American governments, our lands of more than 200,000 acres of mountains, meadows, streams were reduced to a mere 98,000 acres of dry, rolling hills of sand, sagebrush, and cedar.
How is your Native community government set up? Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?
We have two branches: One is the Secular Branch, where the governor, lieutenant governor(s), tribal sheriff, and their five aides deal with day-to-day outside issues. We also have the Traditional Branch, where our war captain, lieutenant war captain, and their five aides deal with traditional activities and functions. Our fiscale, lieutenant fiscale, and their five aides deal with Christian church issues, deaths and burials, and some other traditional issues.
How are leaders chosen?
We are a non-constitutional tribe—our leaders are appointed annually by our highest traditional leaders. All the positions mentioned above are appointed.
How often does your Tribal Council meet?
Our Tribal Council meets at least once a month; our Traditional Branch Council meets once a year at year-end to make appointments for leadership.
What responsibilities do you have as a state representative?
I represent the interest of seven pueblos in Sandoval County; two Navajo Nation chapters in Sandoval County as well; the Jicarilla Nation in Rio Arriba County; and two Navajo chapters in San Juan County. Sixty-eight to 70 percent of my constituents are Native; the remaining 30 percent are a mixture of Anglo, Hispanic, and other.
How did your life experience prepare you to lead your community?
Having good, responsible parents is first. I had a personal interest in education and opted out of trade school to get a college degree in sociology and political Science.
Who inspired you as a mentor?
My only mentors were my grandpa Joe Madalena and my dad, Frank Madalena. The rest of my motivation was my interest in the fields of politics and sociology.
Are you a descendant of a historical leader?
No, I am not.
Approximately how many members are in the Pueblo of Jemez?
Enrolled membership is over 3,000 people. Half of those citizens reside within the pueblo; the other half are scattered.
What are the criteria to become a member of your Native community?
A person must have one-quarter Towa Indian blood.
Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?
I'm proud to say that the Towa language is strong, and our youth are being taught the language at an early age within their homes as well as in Head Start.
What economic enterprises does your Native community own?
What annual events does your Native community sponsor?
During warm months, the pueblo will sponsor the Jemez Red Rocks Arts and Crafts Fair; and there is a Veterans Social on Veterans Day.
What attractions are available for visitors on your land?
New Mexico State Road 4, which passes through the pueblo, is a recognized National Scenic Byway heading north to our traditional mountains where there is fishing, camping, hiking, hunting, and picnicking in campgrounds. Our most traditional site is Redondo Peak and the Valles Caldera, and visitors can enjoy seeing hundreds and thousands of elk and deer as they come down from higher elevations to feed by the stream in the evenings.
How does your Native community deal with the U.S. as a sovereign nation?
Jemez Pueblo has a government-to-government relationship contracting most programs under PL 93-638. The Pueblo knows its needs better than someone up the bureaucratic level.
What message would you like to share with the youth of your Native community?
As Natives, partake of community dances and ceremonials. Practice and strengthen your minds and bodies from your surroundings.
As Native youth, you also need to involve yourselves in civic and political functions. Once you are in the process, study and learn your colleagues' behaviors on issues, how people react and how they handle themselves through trial and stress. Learn how people handle themselves in forums, gatherings, and formal settings. Learn from them by being calm and collected and patient. Such is growth and success in the long run.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Just a few words of thanks and appreciation for an opportunity convey my 40 years in the field of politics. New Mexico is one of only two or three states governed by a citizens’ legislature. We are not salaried, and my whole life has been dedicated to public service. Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I am proud to have been of service to the most neglected and needy—our Native American population—and to have done so without being an insurgent and or radical.
To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below.
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 photos used with permission.