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August 21, 2015

Meet Native America: Georgene Louis, State Representative for House District 26, New Mexico State Legislature

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 

 

NM Rep Georgene LouisRep. Georgene Louis (Acoma), presiding over the New Mexico House of Representatives. She served as Speaker of the New Mexico House for a day as a freshman legislator. 2013, Santa Fe, New Mexico. 


Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Georgene LouisState Representative for House District 26. I am honored to be serving my second term in the New Mexico State Legislature.

What Native Nation are you affiliated with?

I’m a member of Acoma Pueblo

What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?

Acoma people, like many other Natives, have a calamitous story to tell. In the late 1500s, the Acoma rebelled against the Spanish when the Spanish forced the Acoma people into hard labor, demanded goods from them, and suppressed traditional religious activities. Although the Acoma people were later punished for the rebellion—many lost their lives, men over the age of 25 had one foot amputated, and others were enslaved—it was the beginning of Pueblo rebellions to protect the culture and religion that still exist today. 

How is your state government set up?

The state government is comprised of executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The state legislature includes 70 representatives and 42 senators.

How are leaders chosen?

Leaders in the state government are elected. Representatives are elected to two-year terms, and senators are elected to four-year terms. There are no term limits. 

Are Democrats or Republicans more dominant in your state? Do people vote along party lines?

Democrats are dominant in New Mexico. Voters don’t necessary vote a party line. 

Are there any other Natives who are elected leaders in your state?

I’m delighted to serve with other Natives in the legislature. Senator John Pinto (Navajo) has served since 1977. Representative Roger Madalena (Jemez) has served since 1985. Other Native legislators currently serving are Senator Benny Shendo (Jemez), and Representatives Doreen Wanda Johnson (Navajo), Sharron Clahchischilliage (Navajo), and Patricia Roybal Caballero (Piro-Manso-Tiwa of Guadalupe Pueblo).

Reps. Madalena and Louis after a runRep. Roger Madalena and Rep. Louis getting ready to go for a run. July 2015, Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico.


How many tribes are in your state? Who are they?

There are 23 federally recognized tribes in New Mexico. The tribes include the Pueblos of Acoma, Cochiti, Isleta, Jemez, Laguna, Nambe, Ohkay Owingeh, Picuris, Pojoaque, Sandia, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo, Taos, Tesuque, Zia, and Zuni; as well as the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, the Jicarilla Apache Nation, the Mescalero Apache Tribe, the Navajo Nation, and the Ute Mountain Tribe. 

Do you ever meet with the Native people of your state?

I have the pleasure of meeting with Native people in the state very often. Tribal governors, presidents, and chairs often testify at committee hearings and are very involved in state issues. I’d love to see more Native people participating in the process by testifying before committees, serving as legislators, working at the state capital, and voting. 

Mother Daugher Vote
Georgene Louis (right) and her daughter, Jonisha, voted early on the day Rep. Louis was elected to her first term as a state representative. November 2012, outside the Acoma Room on the campus of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. 

Do the Native people in New Mexico vote in state elections? 

Too few Native people vote in state elections. I believe it would be a game-changer if more Natives would vote in state and local elections. Our state and local leaders make decision that affect tribes and Native people all the time. Our voter turnout in tribal communities is very low. I hope that Natives will turn out more votes, not only in the 2016 elections, but in all elections—including elections to school boards, county commissions, and other state and local offices. 

How often does the state legislature meet? 

The state legislature conducts session once a year. The legislature meets for 60 days in odd-numbered years and 30 days in even-numbered years. 

What responsibilities do you have as a state representative? 

I am responsible for advocating for the needs of my community. During session, I attend committee meetings and floor sessions where I vote on legislation on behalf of my constituents. During the interim, I attend committee meetings to learn about issues that are important to all New Mexicans. I also attend meetings and events in my district and throughout the state to hear the concerns and ideas of the people of New Mexico.  

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your community? 

I grew up on the Acoma reservation, and I had my daughter when I was a sophomore in high school. My family, friends, teachers, and community leaders did everything they could to encourage me to finish school. I graduated from high school with my classmates, finished my undergraduate studies in four years, and then went to law school to become an attorney. 

My life experiences have prepared me to become a leader because I understand the challenges that face everyday people. I know that some people are afraid to speak up or uncertain of where to turn to for help. It’s my job as a leader to listen to people’s concerns and look for ways to help them. 

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? 

No. 

Who inspired you as a mentor?

I’ve been blessed to have so many mentors throughout my professional career, and I’m grateful for each and every one of them. My life mentors, however, are my parents. My mom taught me to be considerate and to have compassion for others, which is one of the reasons I sought public office. My dad taught me how to live a balanced life. I strive to be both productive and active. We share the love of running. It’s tough to fit in a run after a long day, but it’s a form a prayer that makes me feel so much better. 

Approximately how many constituents are in your district? Approximately how many are Native?

There are approximately 30,000 people in House District 26; the Native population is around four percent. 

How have you used your elected position to help Natives and other minorities? 

I use my position to educate and encourage others. There are many issues before the New Mexico Legislature that affect Native people. I often debate those issues in the House Chamber in attempts to educate my colleagues on such matters. Fortunately, our caucus leadership and other legislators trust me enough to look to how I vote on Native issues and vote the same way. I hope to use my position to encourage others to be voices of our people—not only Native people, but all people who are currently underrepresented. 

What message would you like to share with the youth of your Native community? 

Be a participant in life and pursue your passions. I find joy in doing what I love—I have the honor of being a voice of my community, and I dedicate a lot of my time to serve the public. I realize, however, the importance of taking a break from work to spend time with my family and friends and to travel the world. 

It’s not important that you win an election, or a footrace, or any other activity for that matter. But it’s imperative that you participate in something positive. 

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

There’s absolutely nothing special about me, except that I have people in my life who love and support me. I work hard every day to make them proud. Seek out those people who will cheer you on. Once you achieve your goals, don’t forget to pay it forward. 

Thank you. 

Dawee' —thank you, in the Keres language. 


All photos are courtesy of Rep. Louis and are used with permission.


To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. 
Meet-native-america
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. 

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