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Institute Aims to Empower New Mexico Native Americans

New Mexico has 23 federally recognized tribes who speak 25 dialects of eight indigenous languages. (
New Mexico has 23 federally recognized tribes who speak 25 dialects of eight indigenous languages. (
March 5, 2018

SANTA ANA PUEBLO, N.M. - A new institute in New Mexico aims to be a national example in forging what it calls a "collaborative pathway to racial equity."

The Native American Budget and Policy Institute was launched last week to improve public-policy decisions at all levels of government with Native Americans in mind. Cheryl Fairbanks, the Institute's interim director, said research and policy analysis and social-justice advocacy will be emphasized, and that Native American communities deserve to be healthy, educated and empowered.

"Rather than lining up at the welfare line," she said, "we're really empowering our people through education and constructive policies that lead to a healthier community, and really strengthens our tribal sovereignty."

The group just held its first series of meetings to determine how Native American culture, tradition and healing can be incorporated into judicial systems. New Mexico has 23 federally recognized tribes, and there are 25 dialects of eight indigenous languages spoken across the state.

Despite one in 10 residents of the state identifying as Native American, Fairbanks said indigenous peoples have suffered from systemic, oppressive policies over the years that sought to terminate Indian languages and culture. She said the new institute will encourage including a tribal perspective for laws and policies to effect change for future generations.

"So, we're really focusing on that we're not the 'Indian problem,' but we really are the Indian solution - and our institute is really solution-oriented."

The institute is a joint project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy of the University of New Mexico, and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM