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Youth demand inclusion at the New Mexico State Capitol

Youth demand inclusion at the New Mexico State Capitol

By Chael Moore
Special to the Times


Hundreds of middle and high school students from across the state gathered at the Santa Fe Farmers Market before they marched to the state Capitol to raise awareness for social change last Tuesday morning.

Organized by the Semilla Project, Dreams in Action NM, and the NM Dream Team, students rallied to bring attention to state officials that they need to listen to younger voices when debating bills and issues regarding the future of New Mexico.

Some schools in attendance were Santa Fe Indian School, McKinley Middle School, South Valley Academy, Native American Community Academy (NACA), Amy Biehl High School, and the Dzi? Dit?’ooí School of Empowerment, Action, and Perseverance, among others.

‘We’re the future’

Students and community organizers gathered at the Santa Fe Farmers Market in the early morning. They were welcomed with the smell of coffee, donuts, and breakfast before marching to the Capitol. Speeches from youth advocates followed the morning to raise spirits and motivate students before they headed to the roundhouse.

The Semilla Project focuses on leadership development and molding BIPOC/BIWOC youth’s identity through their culture, wellness, and land-based learning. It believes that developing leadership in youth, and centering and uplifting BIWOC voices, are vital to share perspectives and solutions to dismantle systemic oppression that impacts climate, water, land, and food in communities.

Dream in Action NM’s mission is to educate, increase access, and use their political power for change by participating in elections. It looks to uplift BIPOC, immigrants, LGBTQ+, and youth and women to achieve equity and justice and provide opportunities.

NM Dream Team is one of the largest immigrant youth-led networks in New Mexico and looks to create power and achieve liberation for multigenerational, undocumented, and mixed-status families. It does this through leadership, civic engagement, policy research, and grassroots organizing.

Diné students in attendance shared which social issues they were concerned about and why they wanted to advocate for them. Many stated they were also moved and intrigued by the speeches, mission, and presentations from the event committees.

Scout Callan, a senior from NACA, shared that she is passionate about issues surrounding the land and college tuition. Callan hopes that more funding is secured for outdoor recreation resources and opportunities and to continue free college in New Mexico. Callan says, “Everyone needs education and deserves an equal opportunity.”

In her free time, Callan enjoys hunting, fishing, and camping outdoors and shared that others should have the same opportunity and resources to engage with the outdoors, especially in Albuquerque. Callan said if she had the chance to speak directly with an elected official about the issues she is passionate about, she’d like the chance to remind them that she is one of the people they’re supposed to represent and also to share her personal story about her passion for the environment.

She hopes state officials will keep the younger generation in mind when passing and debating bills.

“We’re the future. All of these things happening now are also going to affect us years later, and we’re going to be the ones who have to take care of it. So, make it easy for us. We’re here working together, and in order to make a brighter future, we have to stick together,” Callan said.

Moving forward

William Bahe, another senior who attends NACA, grew up on the reservation before moving to Albuquerque. Bahe is passionate about bills and issues surrounding housing security, especially on Native lands.

Growing up with his grandmothers and grandfathers, Bahe shared that his living conditions were not the best.

“I grew up in not the best house, but if we had more funding or engaged with the housing conversation, I could have grown up in a better home, and multiple children across the Navajo Nation could have grown up in better homes too,” Bahe said.

Raising awareness about housing conditions across the reservation and securing additional funding could give more quality homes to many. For Bahe, speaking with the governor or an elected official who works with tribal communities would be his first step if given a chance. Moving forward, Bahe hopes that the state of New Mexico will consider more of the tribal communities in their conversations and represent them better.

The event aimed to give youth a platform to speak to their representatives, senators, and governors about their concerns regarding education, healthcare, climate change, and social justice issues. Banners and signs were held mixed with encouraging chants as students, parents, and community supporters walked to the Capitol.

Upon arrival, students were guided to the House gallery, where the House speaker, Javier Martinez, acknowledged their attendance. Throughout the afternoon, students visited offices to speak with their representatives, voice their concerns, and demand action.

NACA principal, Shannon Douma from Pueblo of Laguna and Hopi Tewa, brought a group of juniors and seniors to the event in Santa Fe.

At NACA, Douma strives to prepare her students to advocate for their communities, be leaders, be confident about who they are and their identity, and, most importantly, be fearless. Because identity is rooted in the language and culture of her Native students, Douma believes it’s essential to prepare them to advocate and defend those parts of themselves.

“Being part of NACA is a unique experience because we want to ensure that Indigenous education is at the forefront,” Douma said. “Our students definitely represent their families, and so we try to emphasize our core values and ensure that our students know and understand who they are, where they come from and are confident to share that with the world, and I think that’s what we are preparing for.”

According to Douma, the event was also a perfect opportunity to prepare her students to travel to New Zealand on a cultural exchange trip with the Maori communities this summer. This program has been going on for 10 years.

It was also crucial for her to introduce her students to those elected to office, especially those who are Native. Douma hopes her students can take what they learn about voicing their concerns around issues impacting their identity, families, and communities and practice it in their own lives.


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