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Tribes ask lawmakers to OK collaboration bill

SANTA FE, N.M. – Indian leaders urged New Mexico lawmakers Feb. 6 to approve a measure mandating closer cooperation between state agencies and tribes.

“We need to sit down and talk,” said Navajo Nation Vice President Ben Shelly. “It’s a must that we pass this collaboration policy.”

Leaders from the state’s 22 tribes were at the Capitol for an annual event marked by speeches to a joint session of the House and Senate.

The collaboration bill sponsored by Sen. John Pinto, D-Tohatchi, requires cabinet-level state agencies to designate tribal liaisons who would report directly to the agency heads.

It also orders state agencies to develop policies promoting communication and culturally appropriate delivery of services.

And it requires an annual state-tribal summit between the governor and Indian leaders.

Walter Dasheno, governor of Santa Clara Pueblo and vice chairman of the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council, urged lawmakers to pass the bill but also warned against “continual dialogue.”

Tribes want action and results on issues such as water rights adjudication, Dasheno said, which are mired in “seemingly endless discussion.”

Dasheno also asked legislators to pass a bill giving tribes notice and a chance for input when counties are making decisions on subdivisions.

Tribal leaders asked state legislators to be careful of the effect on Indian communities when making the budget-cutting decisions necessitated by the state’s economic woes.

Laguna Pueblo Gov. John Antonio Sr. said revenue for badly needed capital improvement projects in Indian country should be shored up.

He suggested taking half of the revenue that tribes with casinos pay the state and diverting it to a fund for infrastructure projects for all tribes, not just those with gaming operations.

Joe Garcia, chairman of the All Indian Pueblo Council and president of the National Congress of American Indians, said the only solutions to the current economic challenges would be found in working together.

“The big things that ail us didn’t happen by chance. They happened because things were not taken care of,” Garcia told state lawmakers and fellow tribal leaders. “Governments exist. ... to protect the well-being of its people. That’s our role.”

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