Indian Country Today
“And Indians not taxed.”
That was the conclusion of the sentence of the New Mexico state constitution in 1948, making it clear who was prohibited from voting.
Despite being granted citizenship in 1924, many Natives were disenfranchised for decades. A World War II Marine veteran and Isleta Pueblo man by the name of Miguel Trujillo challenged that notion and filed a lawsuit against the county registrar.
On Aug. 3, 1948, three Santa Fe judges ruled in favor of Trujillo and he was then allowed to vote, becoming the first Native to do so in the state.
The date of his triumphant win continues to be celebrated in his honor as Miguel Trujillo Day.
While he died in 1989 and may not be well-known nationally, his victory still resonates 72 years later in the state.
In the current climate of the country regarding statues and monuments, Regis Pecos, Cochiti Pueblo and former executive director of the New Mexico Indian Affairs Office, says Trujillo is someone who should be considered to be honored.
Pecos compared Trujillo to the late Congressman John Lewis.
“If there's someone that is deserving, you know, that President Obama alluded to in his eulogy of the late Congressman John Lewis, the men and women who stand up to fight for the fundamental right of justice and equality in this country, that is what makes for the contribution of a continued movement towards the highest ideals in the entire world,” Pecos said. “Here's a very humble Pueblo man who did something very extraordinary and that is to sue and stand up against the United States and win the right to vote and suffrage for our people. That's what President Obama and his eulogy called, that these are the John Lewis' of the world or of this country who create for a movement, a continuum movement.”
What started with Trujillo has now become a major voting bloc in the state, enough to swing elections and also led to a number of Native state legislators and holding office in other places that have political power.
Perhaps the biggest example of an individual who picked up the proverbial torch from Trujillo is Democratic Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico, Isleta and Jemez Pueblo.
Haaland told Indian Country Today in a statement that Trujillo’s actions to obtain his right to vote are as important today as it was in 1948.
It was one of the reasons Haaland got into politics. She wanted to honor his legacy and praised her state for the efforts it puts forward to allow minority communities to vote.
“I entered politics to carry on his legacy; to increase voter turnout in Indian Country,” Haaland said in an email. “We are fortunate here in New Mexico that ours is one of the few that has earned national praise for fair elections. Our Secretary of State, Maggie Toulouse Oliver, continues to steer our elections to be inclusive of all communities.”
New Mexico is a majority-minority state with 11 percent of the population being Native American, Haaland said. “I believe we set best practice standards that other states can emulate to ensure their minority communities are given every opportunity to exercise their right to vote.”
Echoing the sentiments of Haaland, Representative Ben Ray Luján, Democrat of New Mexico, said Trujillo is among the original Native activists who fought for the right to vote.
“Voting is a fundamental right — & thanks to advocates like Miguel Trujillo, we've moved closer to making that right a reality for all,” Lujan said in a tweet.
In March of 2019, the New Mexico congressional delegation introduced the Native American Voting Rights Act to both the House and Senate.
Among the provisions if passed include the creation of Native American Voting Rights Task Force, equal access to polling sites and equitable treatment of tribal IDs. The respective House and Senate bills have been referred to committees and subcommittees.
To celebrate Miguel Trujillo day, the Native American Democratic Caucus of New Mexico is holding a Facebook live event at 7 p.m. Mountain Time. The event will feature a number of speakers, including Isleta Governor Max Zuni and New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Ultimately, the best way to honor Trujillo, Pecos says, is to get out and vote in the upcoming election.
“That gift of the vote that Miguel Trujillo gifted to us should be treated as a very sacred covenant and the way that you fulfill that gift is to use it,” Pecos said.
Kolby KickingWoman, Blackfeet/A'aniih is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is from the great state of Montana and currently reports for the Washington Bureau. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
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