Native American groups criticize governor over agency appointment

Photo of author

By admin

SANTA FE, New Mexico — A coalition of advocates dedicated to stemming the wave of violence and missing persons cases on Indian land is demanding more transparency from New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, saying there should be more accountability in the system to investigate government-appointed positions. the state that serve indigenous communities. .

About 30 protesters gathered in the rotunda of the state Capitol on Friday to express concern about the disputed choice of the Democratic governor to head the state Department of Indian Affairs. They want the governor to withdraw her appointment from James Mountain, citing charges she once faced.

They were joined by lawmakers, including Democratic Sen. Shannon Pinto of the Navajo community of Tohatchi. The president of the Navajo Nation has also said that he cannot support the appointment.

“For so many survivors, when we see James Mountain, we see our abusers,” said Angel Charley, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Indigenous Women.

She said Mountain’s appointment has overshadowed a stalled proposal in the Legislature to make crime victim reparation funds available to families of missing and murdered Native Americans.

“He knows how much division there is because of his nomination,” she said. “Resignation”.

The appointment of Lujan Grisham has shocked tribal communities. While the governor has thus far continued to defend Mountain, she has yet to present her nomination to the Senate for her confirmation even though the legislative session ended at noon Saturday.

“I appreciate the passion. But I think some of the efforts here are a little unfair and very wrong,” Lujan Grisham said at a news conference on Friday.

Many in the Democratic-led Legislature have remained silent on the governor’s choice not to push for a hearing, which would provide a public forum for Mountain to be vetted.

Mountain, a former governor of San Ildefonso Pueblo, was once indicted on charges including criminal sexual penetration, kidnapping and aggravated assault of a family member. The charges were dropped in 2010 and prosecutors said they did not have enough evidence to go to trial.

The governor has said that those who disagree should respect that the charges against Mountain were dismissed.

“I think some of that passion for a zero-tolerance standard is quite interesting in this regard: case dismissed, old man,” said Lujan Grisham. “He is defending himself effectively. I feel terrible for his whole family.”

The coalition has said that New Mexico continues to have the highest rate of missing and murdered Native American family members and that “we are at a critical inflection point as an indigenous people.”

“The pervasive culture of violence has normalized behaviors that were once unthinkable in our communities,” the coalition said in a statement. “We are reduced to speaking in whispers about the violence that we have not only experienced personally, but experience daily in our homes and communities.”

“When we do have the courage to speak up, we are often blamed and stigmatized, as if we caused these problems ourselves,” the statement continued.

In addition to recalling Mountain’s appointment, the coalition is calling for a rigorous vetting process for all state-appointed positions serving indigenous communities and that any candidate with a criminal record or accusation related to rape or domestic violence be disqualified.

They are also seeking the creation of a community advisory committee to help investigate state-appointed tribal leadership.

“We cannot solely rely on the All Pueblo Council of Governors, Navajo Nation leaders, Apache leaders, and/or male Indian state leaders for candidate screening, as we have learned over the years that tribal leaders actively participate in the patriarchal culture. to protect the perpetrators,” the coalition said.

The groups also want a formal apology from Lujan Grisham “for this outrageous nomination” and demanded that an Indian woman be appointed as head of the New Mexico Department of Indian Affairs.

Mountain has not directly addressed concerns about his nomination. In a letter to state legislators, his daughter, Leah Mountain, described him as a devoted father who instilled in her a cultural identity, confidence and aspiration after his mother left her. She said that the accusations against her are false.

Mountain can still serve as head of Indian Affairs without confirmation, and the next likely opportunity for the full Senate to vote to confirm him won’t come until January 2024.


Montoya Bryan reported from Albuquerque.

Leave a Comment