Tribal leaders demand action against inequity in public education in New Mexico | Education
ALBUQUERQUE – Wilhelmina Yazzie’s eldest son Xavier Nez was in fourth grade when she became a plaintiff in a landmark lawsuit that found the state’s public education system had failed to deliver to multiple groups of at-risk students adequate education.
Nez graduated from high school at Gallup this year. But her mother on Friday called for faster action on the lawsuit that bears her name in the courtyard of India’s Pueblo Cultural Center, where dozens of tribal leaders, educators and lawmakers have gathered to pressure the state. to do more.
At a press conference on Friday, several speakers, including Yazzie, also targeted the swirling controversy over the status of the director of the Legislative Education Review Committee, Rachel Gudgel, who made racist remarks about Native Americans. during his work. A panel of state lawmakers found themselves in a 5-5 deadlock last week over whether to fire Gudgel, which allows him to retain his influential position.
When Yazzie brought up the controversy, she fought back tears as her voice cracked.
“It’s very heartbreaking, especially for someone of high power to really reflect on my kids in that way to make fun of my kids, our kids,” she said. “It’s very heartbreaking.”
Although several Pueblo, Navajo and Apache leaders have joined with Yazzie in demanding more culturally appropriate education for their students and correcting a public education system that they say is riddled with inequities, they again demanded that Gudgel be removed from his post two days after issuing a public apology.
Zia Pueblo Governor Jerome Lucero called for Gudgel’s immediate impeachment in a moving speech in which he referred to the Zia symbol, which adorns the state flag.
“The state has disrespected this symbol, dishonored this symbol and has no love for this symbol,” he said. “This is how I feel right now.
“It pains me to see this sun symbol flying so high, and yet people can sit there and say racial comments to us Native Americans,” he added.
In an emailed statement, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham made her sharpest remarks on the controversy.
“I have refrained from commenting directly during this saga because I think it is not necessarily appropriate for the executive branch to dictate personnel matters to the legislature – in the same way I think it would be. inappropriate if the tables were reversed., “she said. “At some point, however, the circumstances warrant something more.”
Lujan Grisham added that if Gudgel were her employee, she would now be fired and the results of the investigation would be made public.
“To Indigenous families and communities, parents and injured students: As governor of this state, I am sorry that it happened, and I am sorry that it happened in this way – with secrecy and a lack. clarity on the facts. … This individual, if the facts supported the allegations, should not be in a position of public trust, end of story, ”she said.
Senator Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, who heads the Legislative Education Review Committee, did not respond to an email request for comment and could not be reached by phone.
Speakers at the press conference also complained that the state is dragging its feet in its response to Judge Sarah Singleton’s 2018 ruling in the Yazzie / Martinez case, and some advocates say they have even provided ideas and plans to the state on how it can help Indigenous children. – Among groups of students, according to the lawsuit, were receiving inadequate education in New Mexico.
The Tribal Remedy Framework, released in 2019 in response to the lawsuit and based on recommendations from several groups, calls for educational funds to be allocated directly to tribes to support community programs and tribal libraries, as well as initiatives to stimulate the native teacher. Workforce.
In the last legislative session, only $ 15.7 million out of a $ 140 million request from several bills surrounding the plan was approved for such items. Regis Pecos, who resigned his post as political adviser to the Legislative Assembly in response to the vote that kept Gudgel as director of LESC, spoke out on funding at a recent committee session. legislative education.
But a spokesperson for the Department of Public Education noted that much was accomplished for indigenous students during the session.
“Although we did not receive the full amount, we have achieved historic victories in Indian education this year,” department spokeswoman Carolyn Graham wrote on Friday.
Some at the press conference highlighted the hardships faced by indigenous children and the state policies that they believe perpetuate these problems.
“We refuse to recognize that indigenous peoples actually know best how to educate their children. It’s systemic racism, ”said James Jimenez, director of New Mexico Voices for Children.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the amount of funds allocated to the Tribal Remedy Framework during the last legislative session. It was $ 15.7 million.