Calls continue for top aide to step down
By Colleen Keane
Special to the Times
On July 30, the All Pueblo Council of Governors hosted the “protecting the sacred trust” press conference, repeating the call for Rachel Gudgel to step down and for the Legislature to embrace a tribally-developed education plan, the Tribal Remedy Framework.
Gudgel is the legislative aide who admittedly expressed derogatory comments about Native American cultural practices during a visit to a tribal charter school.
Her remarks about Native culture, along with other staff complaints, surfaced in June in an investigative report by the Santa Fe New Mexican.
The Tribal Remedy Framework was created in response to Judge Sarah Singleton’s ruling in the Yazzie/Martinez v. the state of New Mexico lawsuit.
Hosted by Wilfred Herrera Jr., Laguna Pueblo, chairman of the Council, speakers included Jicarilla and Mescalero Apache leadership, Diné Wilhelmina Yazzie, Pueblo of Acoma Gov. Brian Vallo, Rep. Derrick Lente, Sandia Pueblo, spokespeople for New Mexico Voices for Children, the National Education Association, the Hispano Round Table of New Mexico and the NAACP of Albuquerque.
Herrera dedicated the press conference to tribal children.
“This is not about politics,” he said, “this is a deeper spiritual act of doing what is required of us.
“We were given the sacred trust to be the guardian and protectors of all the gifts of our creator, the most precious of those are our children and our elders,” he said.
Reporters and legislators gathered at the All Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and others watched on live-stream.
Standing in alliance with tribal leaders were the NAVA Education Project, the Indigenous Montessori Institute and several social, educational and justice organizations.
During the gathering, attorneys Melissa Candelaria and Preston Sanchez, Diné, of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (Sanchez now works for the ACLU of New Mexico) were recognized for their successful representation in the groundbreaking Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit.
Judge Singleton found that the state’s Public Education Department fails to provide Native American, Hispanic and other students from diverse populations a sufficient education due in part to a lack of culturally and linguistically relevant curriculum, like the traditional art of moccasin making, which Gudgel reportedly mocked during her on-site visit.
Less likely to succeed
“When children of color do not see themselves reflected in a positive light in school curriculum, they are less likely to be engaged and less likely believe they can succeed,” said James Jimenez, New Mexico Voices for Children executive director.
“We need leaders in those jobs to recognize the strengths our children bring and not ridicule them,” he said.
The court’s ruling made it clear that Native children have a constitutional right to a culturally responsive education,” stated Sanchez.
“Our children are starved for equal opportunity in education, most of all culturally relevant education,” said Wilhelmina Yazzie, the lead New Mexico plaintiff in the lawsuit.
The call for Gudgel to step down from the directorship of the Legislative Education Study Committee resounded over and over during the morning gathering.
Earlier that week, Gudgel sent an apology letter to tribal leaders for saying “isolated, insensitive statements.”
“I am deeply sorry and sincerely regret these statements,” she wrote. “I humbly ask for your forgiveness.”
After hearing about her apology, NAVA Education Project Executive Director Ahtza Chavez, Diné born for Kewa Pueblo, stated, “A public apology is not sufficient enough to move on when the very people she’s asking forgiveness from continue to ask her to step down.
“She needs to take action by resigning,” he said, “and allowing another to take the helm on behalf of all our culturally diverse children.”
An online petition by the All Pueblo Council of Governors’ Youth Committee, at change.org, also calls for Gudgel to step down.
Following the press conference, more organizations continued the call for Gudgel to step down and to fully fund the Tribal Remedy Framework.
The long list of organizations signing off on a Aug. 5 letter to legislative leadership include: NAVA Education Project, Native American Democratic Caucus NM, OLÉ New Mexico, Equality New Mexico, Center for Civic Policy, New Mexico Asian Family Center, La Semilla Food Center, Be Brotherly, Progress Now, New Mexico Working Families Party, New Mexico Voices for Children, Tewa Women United, and Pueblo Action Alliance.
The letter states, “At the heart of this issue is the love we have for the children of New Mexico.”
Five days later, the Indigenous Montessori Institute joined the call for Gudgel to step down.
“… we must express our solidarity with and support of all of our tribal leaders and echo their request for your resignation,” wrote Director Tracey Cordero in a reply to Gudgel, who approached Cordero with a request for training.
Gudgel’s comments are especially brutal as tribal leaders, families and communities wait for state legislators to fully support the tribal solution presented to them on behalf of their children and grandchildren.
Referring to the Tribal Remedy Framework, Herrera said, “It was an unprecedented effort of 23 nations,” referring to 20 Pueblos, two Apache tribes and the Navajo Nation.
“It contains best practices and recommendations,” he said, “to create new systems and structures as the court articulated in its decision to shift the paradigm.”
It’s been three years since Singleton’s ruling and only a fraction of the costs have been approved by the state, according to Sanchez.
“Not much at all has changed, very little progress,” said Sanchez in a phone call with the Times.
Yet to be funded
Components of the reform package yet to be funded – Native teacher recruitment, professional development, scholarships, culturally and linguistically relevant curriculum development, summer bridge, college pipeline and readiness programs and much more.
Lente was recognized during the press conference for being a champion of the Tribal Remedy Framework legislation, which he’s sponsored year after year.
According to a June 2021 Tribal Education Alliance status report, funds were approved for development, collaboration, social services, tribal libraries, along with after-school, summer and Native language programs, to name some.
Advocates agree it’s only the beginning.
“In order to meaningfully address and eliminate the systemic racism that is present within New Mexico’s educational system, it is imperative that the state take greater action in fulfilling its obligations as outlined by the landmark Yazzie-Martinez v. State of New Mexico case,” stated Chavez of the NAVA Education Project.
“We ask the state to embrace what we know has worked for us,” said Herrera.
Vallo said, “We have an incredible opportunity to right some wrongs; take a bold step toward system transformation. We have a chance to create meaningful change when it comes to the education of our children.”
As of deadline, Gudgel had not stepped down.
The New Mexico PED spokesperson did not respond prior to deadline.
Information: navaeducationproject.org, apcg.org, nmlegis.gov, aclu-nm.org nmvoices.org, nmpovertylaw.org, naacpnm.org, change.org