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James Roger Madalena: NMAI’s Meet Native America Series

The National Museum of the American Indian interview series Meet Native America continues today with New Mexico Rep. James Roger Madalena.

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 peoples today.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

James Roger Madalena, State Representative, New Mexico Legislature.

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? 

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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.

To read the full interview, visit the NMAI series here.