Vincent Schilling
Indian Country Today

New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall delivered his farewell speech Tuesday on the Senate floor after serving the state and its 23 federally recognized tribes for nearly 30 years.

“As I talk about my love of the land, I cannot neglect to acknowledge how much I have learned from the original stewards of this land – Native Americans. I got my start in politics working with my father, fighting alongside the Navajo uranium miners who had been hurt by this nation’s nuclear weapons program,” he said in his address. “My work as vice chair of the Indian Affairs Committee has been the honor of a lifetime.”

Sen. Udall with Native youth. (Courtesy image Sen. Udall's office)

Udall said they achieved bipartisan progress in holding the federal government accountable.

“The federal government’s obligation to uphold its trust and treaty obligations is sacred. Some of my proudest achievements have been the result of working with tribal leaders to advance Indian Country’s priorities and to support New Mexico’s 23 tribes,” he said. “Recently, a bipartisan coalition passed legislation to strengthen the principle of tribal self-governance, provide Native entrepreneurs critical resources, and secure investments in Native-language revitalization. The achievements I remember most fondly are ones like these.”

In 2019, Udall announced he would not be seeking a third term. On his Facebook page announcing his farewell speech, Udall said, “Serving the people of New Mexico in the United States Senate has been the highest honor of my life.”

Even though it’s his final year in the Senate, Udall said, “I’m certainly not retiring.”

Sen. Udall’s service to the state of New Mexico in the political landscape began following his service as New Mexico’s Attorney General. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998. He served five terms before getting elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008.

Throughout his years of service in federal politics, Udall’s efforts have focused largely on the environment and climate reforms and fulfilling promises to Indian Country as well as supported legislation and fostered efforts in Indian Country to include his support in addressing missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Sen. Udall showing support for MMIW. (Courtesy image Sen. Udall's office)

Some of his policies and efforts included securing $8 billion from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for tribal governments, authoring the Indian Programs Advance Appropriations Act and the Indian Health Service Advance Appropriations Act to provide federal funds for essential tribal programs and services, supporting the 2013 Violence Against Women Act reauthorization and support for the Savanna's Act and the Not Invisible Act to address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

For a list of all legislative efforts and support from Senator Udall visit his website.

New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna and Jemez Pueblo, enjoyed serving alongside Udall.

“Serving with my dear friend Senator Tom Udall during my first term in Congress has been an honor of a lifetime. We’ve known each other for a very long time — he is a friend, colleague, and mentor. Senator Udall has served New Mexico with integrity and passion. He has laid the groundwork to get money out of politics so the voices of the people can be heard, not just deep-pocketed corporations that want to pillage our public lands and pollute our air and water. He has been an ally to Native Americans, and his absence will be felt in the New Mexico congressional delegation,” Haaland said.

Congresswoman Deb Haaland

Congressman Tom Cole sent an email which stated, “It has been a tremendous pleasure working with Senator Tom Udall over the past several years. When he was a member of the House and I first came to Congress, we served together on the Natural Resources Committee and often worked across the aisle on tribal issues. In the Senate, he has continued to be a great champion for Native Americans. I am grateful that we had the privilege to work across both chambers to deliver for Indian Country. He will surely be missed.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole - H. Res. 430

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet tweeted, “Out West, the Udall name is synonymous with principled leadership, character, & integrity. For good reason. @SenatorTomUdall, I can't imagine the past 11 years without the benefit of your friendship and leadership along the way. It has been such a privilege to work with you.”

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez also tweeted his thanks and support for Sen. Udall.

“@SenatorTomUdall has always been an advocate and champion for the Navajo people. Today, we honor and thank him for his service and vision for our country. I cannot thank him enough. I wish him and his family the very best as they move forward. Ahe’hee’”

Sen. Udall serves as the vice-chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. He is also the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment. Other committees he serves on include Appropriations, Foreign Relations, Commerce, Science and Transportation, and Rules and Administration.

On Dec. 4, Sen. Udall posted his weekly democratic address with a specific message directed to Indian Country.

“On the Indian affairs committee, I have the privilege of working with tribes and Native communities from across the country on their very important priorities. They are on the front lines battling this pandemic,” he said. “It has been worsened by historic underfunding from the federal government, which has led to devastating health disparities. Tribes and Native communities have weathered this crisis with strength and resilience, but the federal government must redouble its efforts to meet our trust and treaty obligations.”

Senator Udall’s farewell address “Friendships are what get you over the finish line”

Sen. Udall, who was wearing his mask on the Senate floor, took the time to thank his colleagues, staff and family.

He called himself “a troubled optimist.”

“Our planet is in crisis – facing mass extinction and climate change. Our people are in crisis – ravaged by a pandemic that has laid bare the inequities of our society. And our democracy is in crisis – as the people’s faith in their government is shaken. We cannot solve one of these crises without solving the others. That’s why I’m troubled,” he said.

As for his comment on optimism, he said that the determination of young people gave him hope.

“But all I have to do to be optimistic is to look around me. I look at the young people across this country – who are calling for change. For climate action, for voting rights and immigrant rights, for economic and environmental and racial justice. They’ve held sit-ins in my office. Probably in yours too,” he said. “They are demanding that we do better. And their determination gives me hope.”

Former Senator of North Dakota Byron Dorgan told Indian Country Today that he was impressed by Sen. Udall’s work on Native issues over the years.

“Tom was really very active on Native American issues. A fair number of people like to talk about the issues, and [he was] determined to try to make a difference to that. I thought he really was an outstanding Senator, paying a lot of attention to issues that affected Native Americans. When he first joined the Senate, I was on the Indian Affairs Committee and he joined the committee and he was one of the most active members of the committee. Even as a new member, you can always tell who has a real interest and a real passion for these things. And Tom really did.”

Sen. Dorgan also said he will miss his tennis skills.

“He is sincere and thoughtful and a very good tennis player, by the way. He's very bright and very thoughtful. The other thing is that he hired terrific staff and that always makes a significant difference as well.”

Michelle Lujan Grisham, the 32nd governor of New Mexico wrote in a tweet, “For decades,

@SenatorTomUdall has been a tireless champion of New Mexico values, reliably putting New Mexicans first. He has fought for our water, for our lands, for our people, and his voice has been a consistent beacon of leadership and moral clarity in turbulent times.”

Sen. Udall spoke of the late Sen. John McCain in his speech and suggested the Senate and the U.S. government needed to do better.

“In my life, I’ve had the privilege of learning from many dedicated public servants. One of them was Senator John McCain. John often said to me: ‘We disagree in politics – but not in life.’ Let’s remember that: ‘We disagree in politics – but not in life.’”

“I’m not the first to say this in a farewell address, and I won’t be the last, but the Senate is broken. It’s not working for the American people … Our peacemaking skills are atrophying … But unfortunately, the structures we have built reward us for hurting one another. We need to reform those structures, or we’ll never make the progress we need to make. I’ve proposed rules changes in both the minority and the majority. To make sure this institution does not remain a graveyard for progress.”

Sen. Udall concluded his speech stating, “We have the power to solve these crises. The power, and the obligation. All it takes are clear eyes – and political will. And remembering that we may disagree in politics – but not in the future that we want for our children. … I am optimistic that we will get there. Like we always have before.”

Farewell address 

Angel Charley, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, also expressed her appreciation.

“We want to thank our own New Mexico Senator, Tom Udall for his years of public service and advocacy to ensure Native women, families and tribal communities were heard and supported during his time in office.

“It is with deep gratitude that we wish Senator Udall farewell and are holding awareness for his enormous support of Indian Country through legislation that protects NM [ancestral] homelands, his tenure as Chair of Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and his unwavering support of MMIW policy,” wrote Charley. “He will be missed.”

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Vincent Schilling, Akwesasne Mohawk, is associate editor at Indian Country Today. He enjoys creating media, technology, computers, comics, and movies. He is a film critic and writes the #NativeNerd column. Twitter @VinceSchilling. TikTok @VinceSchilling. Email: vschilling@indiancountrytoday.com.


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