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Kalle Benallie

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico Gov. Lujan Grisham, state leaders and tribal leaders met for two days beginning June 1 for the 2022 State-Tribal Leaders Summit in New Mexico’s largest city.

It’s the first year the summit was held in-person since the previous two years have been held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Every year, the State-Tribal summit provides a necessary space for discussion and collaboration with New Mexico’s tribal leadership on policies and strategies to uplift Indigenous communities,” Lujan Grisham said. “This year, we kept up that momentum, meaningfully addressing issues ranging from Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives to water issues to cultural education. This gathering laid the groundwork for continued progress on our shared goals.”

This year one of the main issues was the upcoming summer outlook for water, drought and wildfires.

New Mexico is experiencing one of its worst wildfire seasons. Hundreds of thousands of acres have burned. Calf Canyon and Hermits Peak Fire is the worst with about 316,000 acres burned since early to mid April.

(Related: Wildfires rage across Arizona, New Mexico and Nebraska)

Previous summits from 2019 to 2021 discussed economies, education, infrastructure, health, public safety, water and cultural sites protection.

Sidelio Tenorio, governor of the Pueblo of Santo Domingo, said that the issues he’s committed to are education and infrastructure such as broadband water waste treatment and remodeling homes.

He said Grisham, a Democrat, is doing a “darn good job” at facilitating these state-tribal meetings.

And he is happy the summit is not virtual.

“When it’s in person like this, you get to see people speaking and when they pause that’s the time you get in there and say ‘I’m sorry I got to say this’ or ‘pardon me,’” Tenorio said.

Pueblo of Santo Domingo Governor Sidelio Tenorio (Photo by Kalle Benallie, ICT)
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New Mexico has 23 federally recognized tribes in the state. The summit, hosted by the Indian Affairs Department, was established in 2009 under the State Tribal Collaboration Act to strengthen government-to-government relationships.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez recognized how infrastructure development is the main focus in tribal communities.

He mentioned how the state is receiving federal funds from the infrastructure bill based on the population of the state, which includes Indigenous populations. New Mexico is receiving $3.7 billion from the bill.

“I understand and recognize that tribes got their share of dollars, but if we’re being used to quantify an allocation to states so of course you would think that that money would be used in tribal communities,” he said.

He said a common concern among the tribal communities is the drought. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a majority of New Mexico is in extreme to exceptional drought.

And the tribes are still committed to remind the state about recognizing water rights settlements and the consultation with tribes about releasing water reservoirs.

On May 27 federal officials and leaders from the Navajo Nation signed the Utah Navajo Water Rights Settlement. The federal government will pay the Navajo Nation $210 million for drinking water infrastructure in San Juan County — which lies in Utah —and Utah will pay $8 million.

Navajo Nation leaders finalize the Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement Act with the United States and Utah. (Photo courtesy of Navajo Nation Office of President and Vice President Communications)

“I think the state has an enormous say in how these waters get designated throughout the state of New Mexico and that’s just not for New Mexico, but for Navajo, that’s Arizona and Utah as well,” Nez said.

Nez said it’s going to take some getting used to being back in person because the virtual summit allowed flexibility in dialogues and the ability for leaders to stay in their areas. Although, he recognized the Navajo Nation has an open door with Lujan Grisham while that’s not the case for other tribes so many were eager to go to the event.

“It takes away a lot to be sitting in a two-day summit, but of course there’s a lot of information that is being shared that is very important,” he said. 

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