Tribe Over Troubled Water

As mentioned previously, I had come from an enlightening road trip from New Mexico in October that took me as far north as Taos. This trip was my first real exposure to different Natives and how they are living currently. While visiting the famous Taos Pueblo, considered to be the oldest pueblo in the world, I chatted with a local woman who shared some startling revelations about tribal government and their communities. Not surprising, some tribal government are just as corrupt as any.

I suppose I hold Native Americans to a higher moral and ethic standard, considering the traumatizing effects that Anglo culture has had on their communities. But perhaps it’s simply this forced hybridization of Anglo with Native culture that has caused the corruption. While this woman said not all tribal governments are corrupt; unfortunately, hers is and there is little room for recourse for her with high stakes of retaliation as a repercussion for loose lips.

Taos Pueblo Church
Taos Pueblo Church

As mentioned in a previous post, New Mexico is an impoverished state with many families struggling to get by. While tribal governments can apply for grants and loans from the U.S. government, the problem is, the tribal officials will pocket this money and not evenly distribute funds to benefit the community. The Taos woman told me, “When the town came, so did this end our culture.” In other words, building the town of Taos made Natives more used to Anglo/U.S. amenities, needs, and wants and drove them further away from the principles of community and more towards greed. For example, a Native family may rely on the generosity of their community or their neighbor to share some of their food stores for the winter. But the building of the town and the adoption of Anglo ideals has made families less open, less likely to share resources with one another, and permeated a scarcity mentality since the government is not evenly distributing wealth and resources.

View of Taos Pueblo
View of Taos Pueblo

I asked this woman what can she do about the corrupt government? Can she take these members to tribal court? Can new officials be elected? Apparently not…she explained that officials will just re-elect themselves and they can have indefinite terms. They often will nominate and vote in other like-minded, corrupt individuals that are usually just family members so this cycle continues.  A small group of tribal families therefore control this specific tribe and try to silence anyone that tries to speak against them. While tribal members are free to leave the reservation at any time (and some do), this could potentially result in a lost of inherited land. In other words, if a family chooses to move out of the pueblo, another family can take their property by illegal means with the support of the government. If you choose to go against the government, they can also seek out to “destroy you,” as this woman explained. While she was extremely vocal with me and my traveling companion about the “real story” of life on a Rez, she seemed to be very unhappy. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. While she only spoke to tourists about this, as rumors are rampant in this small community, she hoped that one day she would tell the right person who could help her make changes. In some small way I hope by putting her story out there on this blog, the universe can return the favor and help her and her family.

Afternoon sun behind a pueblo
Afternoon sun behind a pueblo

While her story is the story of David versus Goliath, she explained that there are indeed tribes in New Mexico who run their government right and help their people. She gave one example of the Pueblo of Sandia tribe who operates a casino and uses those funds to put their children through college for free and keep them off drugs and alcohol. While no government is perfect, as least this government has a clear example of benefiting it’s members and future generation.

Hoping to send positivity and change to this woman in Taos.