Contact: Teran Villa at [email protected]

Albuquerque, NM –Today, like so many, New Mexico’s Pueblo leaders mourn the loss of former Governor Bill Richardson, an incredible leader who championed Native American rights, Self-Determination, and Tribal Sovereignty during his time in Congress and as Governor of the State of New Mexico. The Pueblo Governors remembers him as someone who truly understood the unique status of tribal governments, respected the distinct cultural differences and diverse languages of New Mexico’s Pueblos, and supported the inherent right of tribes to govern and manage their own affairs. The late Governor was not only a strong voice for all New Mexicans but was also a strong advocate for tribes across the state and around the country.

“Losing a great leader like Governor Richardson makes the loss unbearably difficult to overcome. Pueblo leaders remember him as a true friend, a great advocate and maybe even a visionary, putting novel ideas into action. He recognized and respected Native leaders and appointed many throughout his Administration. But most importantly, he gave voice to the tribal concerns and issues that have impacted our communities for decades. He responded in very positive ways, making a difference with programs, policy, and funding,” said Mark Mitchell, former Governor of Tesuque Pueblo, and Chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors.

As Governor, Richardson worked with the All Indian Pueblo Council (AIPC) which is now known as the All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG). During his Administration, he signed into law over 70 bills or memorials benefitting Native Americans. Among these, the Indian Education Act of 2003, was signed by Governor Richardson during the early months of his first term. The act laid the foundation for Indian education to ensure that Native American students receive adequate education with their school systems and advocate for the improvements of teacher training, language preservation, culturally relevant curriculum, tribal input in accountability and parent involvement. The act is now utilized as a framework for the Yazzie/ Martinez v. the State of New Mexico lawsuit.

Representative Derrick Lente spoke on Governor Richarson’s effort for education and his legacy, “Governor Richardson was an inspiration to so many of us to pursue public service. His vision for our people to sustain their vibrant communities and the respect he accorded Tribal Leaders set the highest standard to build the foundation and framework of Government-to-Government relations became the envy across Indian Country. My commitment to improving education for our children follows his vision of the Indian Education Act. We will continue our work to fulfill that vision articulated by Governor Richardson and Tribal Leaders. That will be one of his lasting legacies among so many that make him one of New Mexico’s most outstanding visionaries.”

Another historical moment includes the 2009 State-Tribal Collaboration Act which supports strong government-to-government relationships with tribal nations. The landmark legislation calls for collaboration, consultation and coordination between the State and New Mexico’s Tribes, Pueblos, and Nations.  The policy continues today as a cornerstone at all levels of state government and is referenced often in state – tribal summits held annually and during collaborative efforts with state agencies.

Governor Richardson always remembered the pivotal role the Native Vote played in his election to Congress.  After being elected governor, he immediately set about making good on commitments he made to New Mexico tribal leaders during the campaign. In 2003, he recognized and respected Native leaders and appointed many to serve his Administration with that in mind he signed an Executive Order and later legislation that elevated the Office of Indian Affairs to a cabinet-level Department. In 2004, Benny Shendo Jr. of Jemez Pueblo, now a state Senator, became the Department’s first cabinet Secretary of the newly created Indian Affairs Department. He was followed in 2008 with the appointment of Alvin Warren of Santa Clara Pueblo.

“Governor Richardson dedicated himself to fostering an environment of tribal inclusivity, ushering in unprecedented collaboration and respect between New Mexico’s government and our tribes. His initiatives, such as elevating the Office of Indian Affairs, have left a lasting impact. As we mourn his passing, we will remember a leader who not only respected our heritage but actively worked to uplift our people. He will be greatly missed,” said Governor Randall Vicente from the Pueblo of Acoma.

“Governor Richardson encouraged members of his Administration to be bold and courageous,” said former Cabinet Secretary of Indian Affairs Alvin Warren. “This created an opportunity for us to partner with Tribal leaders to accomplish unprecedented changes in policy and to transform state-tribal relations. While he will be greatly missed, I sincerely hope that his legacy continues to be an inspiration to all public officials.

The late Governor understood the concerns of Pueblos and tribes to safeguard important cultural resources, he signed an Executive Order extending greater protections for the sacred Zuni Salt Lake, a unique and irreplaceable cultural resource and sacred site for many Pueblos and tribes. He also pushed for the passage of legislation that created permanent funding for the Tribal Infrastructure Act, state funds that would be used to finance major capital projects on tribal lands. At an annual convention of the National Congress of American Indians, New Mexico was not only acknowledged as a leader in state-tribal relations, but Governor Richardson was honored with a Champion for Indian Country award – the first for a state Governor. The award recognized the Governor’s commitment to ensuring that the needs and concerns of New Mexico’s tribal leaders and citizens were not only heard, but also captured in state policy, resource allocations and legislation.

“We lost a great leader, but his legacy will live on through those that he worked with, including the ones he inspired. Being in leadership is never easy, but we are taught as Pueblo leaders that our people always come first. It seemed to many of us as Pueblo Governors that Governor Richardson also held a similar belief. That was evident through his work and his actions. He showed us in many different ways what a great leader is,” Jerome Lucero, Former Zia Pueblo Governor, and Vice Chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors.

Tribal leaders acknowledge that true leadership is about service and sacrifice and that a window of opportunity often appears at the right time for the right person to do as much as possible for so many. Governor Richardson will always hold a special place in the hearts and minds of tribal leaders across the state who came to respect his leadership, his decision-making, and his vision for tribal communities. The Pueblo Governors pay homage to a man who did so much for the state, the country, and the world while he walked among us.  

©2024 APCG All Pueblo Council of Governors

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