The Pueblo of Isleta in central New Mexico decided in a bitterly contested vote to lower its blood quantum, allowing quarter-bloods to become tribal members.
But numerous challenges to the still-unofficial April vote – and a drawn-out new plan to enroll new members – make the issue far from settled.
Tribal members in favor of lowering the blood quantum petitioned the BIA to administer a secretarial election to decide the issue, after the tribal council declined to put the issue to a vote last summer. The BIA conducted the vote on April 6, and it drew a robust turnout: Out of 1,500 Isleta people registered to vote, 1,329 people cast ballots. The measure passed, with 775 people voting to lower the quantum, and 554 voting against. That’s a dramatic shift from the last time the issue was put before the people: in 2010, it failed by 10 votes.
Before the vote, the Isleta Constitution required a person to have at least one-half Isleta blood to be a member of the Pueblo, although the Isleta Tribal Council could adopt a person with at least one-half Indian blood from any tribe. Based on the election results, the constitution must now be amended to reflect a 25 percent Isleta blood requirement. There are about 3,500 people on the Pueblo’s rolls, and that number stands to increase by about 1,400 people when the vote is certified. Barring any successful challenges, the BIA must certify the results within 45 days of the election, or May 21.
Phillip Jojola was one of the people who pushed to lower the quantum.
“I have three children who are adults, and the only member was myself,” he said, “and I wanted them to be recognized as Native American. It’s not just my own children, it’s for a lot of other children too. Our concern was to recognize our quarter-bloods, our children, our grandchildren.”
Jojola said the current blood quantum leads to a painful separation between generations.
“When I sit across the table, and I see my quarter-bloods, and I see the others who are half or full, how do I treat them? Do I give them less than the others deserve? That hurts,” he said. Jojola is not persuaded by widespread arguments that allowing quarter-bloods to join the Pueblo will dilute the Pueblo’s religious and cultural integrity. He thinks politics and religion should be kept separate – and anyway, he believes money is the truer motive.
“When I was growing up, we never looked at something like this,” he said. “Our God now is the almighty dollar.”
But opponents say they fear that the Pueblo can’t withstand the dramatic growth ahead.
“I feel like our tribe doesn’t have enough resources to pick up additional members,” said Reyes Jiron, who voted against the measure. “We have our own health care, our own education, social services, services for the elderly. By picking up more of the quarters, they’re also going to bring in their families. It’s not just 1,400 individuals. We’re picking up 1,400 families.”
Jiron says she also fears the dilution of the Isleta religious and ceremonial tradition.
“We are losing our language,” she said. “We need to re-teach ourselves and our community members. We need to catch up first, before we try to start teaching others.”
The Isleta Pueblo is among the more traditional of New Mexico’s 19 pueblos, as evidenced by a 1996 case in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Albuquerque v. Browner. In that case, the Pueblo successfully forced Albuquerque, an upstream water user on the Rio Grande, to treat its sewage effluent to higher than the national standards so the water would be suitable for Isleta ceremonial use.
Jiron and others have submitted challenges to the April 6 election, alleging procedural irregularities, misleading claims by advocates, and other complaints. The law provides that if the objections are found to be valid, the BIA could conduct a recount or even a new election, rather than certifying the results within the allotted 45 days.
“Many tribal members felt threatened and were given false information,” Jiron explained. “The elderly were threatened with consequences. The petitioning group actually had a pamphlet they would hand out, and some of that information they were passing out was wrong.”
Ruben Lucero, who also voted against the measure, regrets that the issue has incited so much hostility between members of the Pueblo.
“This is causing separation within the community, within families,” he said. “Some families don’t even talk because of this. It’s a really sensitive issue.”
People who voted to lower the blood quantum were disappointed last week, when the tribal census department announced a seven-and-a-half year plan to add the new members in stages, starting with people already living in the Pueblo and ending, at the latest, with people living out of state.
“The Tribal Enrollment Committee and the Census and Enrollment Office are in no hurry to process the quarter bloods for membership,” wrote Chris Abeita, in his popular blog Isleta Pueblo Politics. “Instead, they are creating complications to stall and hinder the process of enrolling the quarter bloods.”
The Isleta Tribal Council has scheduled a four-hour community meeting to discuss the issue at 9 a.m. (MST) on Saturday, May 14 at the Isleta Resort and Casino.
People on both sides of the vote say such a meeting is long overdue.