Saturday, July 20, 2024

Michelle Paulene Abeyta wins primary election for NM House District 69

Michelle Paulene Abeyta wins primary election for NM House District 69

TÓ HAJIILEEHÉ – Her late grandmother taught her to be the backbone of her community and family. With her recent win of over 1,300 votes for New Mexico House District 69, Michelle Paulene Abeyta couldn’t be prouder.

“I give my grandmother the most recognition,” she said. Her late grandmother, Ruth Secatero, from Tó Hajiileehé, raised her and would tell her always to help her people.

Now, as a new representation by an educated Diné asdzą́ą́ who believes he has the ability and intuition to converse and advocate for the district, Abeyta is excited to get to work.

Hearing stories of residents’ needs needing to be met by the current representative fueled her fire.

“Word quickly got out that a Navajo woman was going to be running in this race,” Abeyta said. Her interest spiked after receiving phone calls from chapter presidents and community members asking how they could help assist.

“We started a grassroots effort to get organized and started talking to people,” she said.

What initially started as a preschool project led to advocating for an entire district.

She said that after visiting communities, she found a long list of needs, especially road improvements in rural areas, where roads are not in great condition.

One of her opponents, Harry Garcia, hoped Abeyta would reconsider when she told him she would run against him.

“I did not reconsider,” said Abeyta, who’s the wife of Chad Abeyta, former President Jonathan Nez’s running mate, who’s also running for Arizona’s Congressional District 2.

“We were ignored, our needs were not taken seriously,” said Paulene Abeyta, who believes the district’s needs are not being met, so she decided to run.

Shortly after pursuing the race, Abeyta contacted the Navajo chapters and the Pueblos in the district and knocked on doors in Grants, New Mexico.

“Every one of them felt ignored, felt like they didn’t have a voice,” Abeyta said when she spoke with the community members.

‘I should be the one’

Michelle Paulene Abeyta sought a third term on the Tó Hajiileehé Community School Board of Education when her intuition began to run for office.

“The structure is unsafe,” Abeyta said of the 1935 school building run by the Bureau of Indian Education as a boarding school for kindergarteners to third graders until 1975. “It’s a very old school.”

Tó Hajiileehé Chapter now administrates the school functions and budget with collaboration between the federal government and the Navajo Nation Tribal Education Department, according to Abeyta.

It was a call to action for the school board to advocate for a new school, which was a success when they received $90.4 million to build a new community school away from the floodplain.

However, Abeyta said the funding covers only the state-funded preschool program, the base program, and the K-12.

“Right now, our state-funded preschool is sitting in a portable building,” Abeyta said.

With the shifting foundation, a refocus was drafted to gain supporters for the preschool program. However, Abeyta felt that one of her opponents, Harry Garcia, needed to fulfill the district’s needs more.

“We got no funding for this project,” Abeyta said of the preschool project, which then caused the school board to redirect its focus to fundraising.

Because the funding does not cover the preschool project, which the school board wanted to grasp enough at least to begin and run parallel to the federally funded project, it did not happen.

“He dropped the ball and gave us nothing,” she said about Garcia. “I gave him a call and asked what happened?”

Garcia told her that the preschool program project could not be included and that more funding was needed. She told her, “Maybe next year,” which disappointed Abeyta and told him, “Well, I’m going to run against you.”

“He was shocked,” Abeyta said. Garcia hoped she would reconsider and told her it’s a tough job and that she must travel 200-plus miles to talk to people.

“That’s exactly why I should be doing this,” Abeyta told Garcia. “That’s the life we live. We have to commute long distances for groceries, laundry, work, for basic necessities, for childcare, for clean drinking water, that’s who we are, that’s what we do every day.”

What started as a preschool project exploded into a long list of basic needs that were going unheard.

Read the full story in the June 20, edition of the Navajo Times.

About The Author

Boderra Joe

Boderra Joe is a reporter and photographer at Navajo Times. She has written for Gallup Sun and Rio Grande Sun and has covered various beats. She received second place for Sports Writing for the 2018 New Mexico Better Newspaper Awards. She is from Baahazhł’ah, New Mexico.


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