89.9 FM Live From The University Of New Mexico
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Our voice matters, representation matters' says lawmaker on the Native American Voting Rights Act

Rep. Derrick Lente talks with a visitor at the Roundhouse on Fri. 3, 2023. Lente is sponsoring a slate of bills intent to boost tribal education departments in New Mexico.
Sharon Chischilly
Source New Mexico
Rep. Derrick Lente talks with a visitor at the Roundhouse on Feb. 3, 2023. Lente is sponsoring a slate of bills intent to boost tribal education departments in New Mexico.

The New Mexico Voting Rights Act passed the House of Representatives late Tuesday night and includes a number of changes to increase voter participation. Within that bill, the Native American Voting Rights Act also addresses barriers in tribal communities by increasing access to early voting and providing options for people without traditional mailing addresses. Democratic Rep. Derrick Lente evoked the New Mexico man whose lawsuit secured the vote for all Native Americans, when he spoke about the importance of the legislation with KUNM.

DERRICK LENTE: And so when you look at the history, you know, since 1948, and the legacy of Miguel Trujillo and what he brought in terms of his fight, so that people like you, and I could have an access to cast a ballot, and where we're at today to ensure that not only can we cast a ballot, but that there will be provisions within, now, law, if it gets through the Senate side and signed by the Governor, that will protect that right to not only just have access, but also convenience so that we can vote within our own communities, that there are no provisions that may exclude us in our ability to cast a vote or or impede our ability to cast a vote. So that we don't have to travel miles. We want to make it as convenient as possible for our people to vote.

KUNM: What are some of the challenges Native Americans face when they try to to vote?

LENTE: If you live on the Navajo reservation, there's often times not any physical addresses associated to individuals. And so we have P.O boxes, those aren't always often recognized when you go and try to vote on voting day. And so being able to provide provisions where we can create and allow for tribal IDs to be utilized for voting day and different aspects of that, that are tailored to our ways of life, and how our people are tri-citizens of where we are, we're members of the United States, citizens in New Mexico, and citizens of our own respective tribe. And so when you can provide protections in that sense and allow for ID cards or ballot boxes and drop boxes within your communities that make it just more convenient for people to vote, that's a win that will encourage voting within our communities, because mind you, we've only been able to vote for 75 years. That's a very small portion of time, when you look at it in relative relation to the people that are around us that have been voting and its been their right, right? But for us we had to fight for that right.

KUNM: How important is it for Native Americans to be a part of the voting process and go out to vote?

LENTE: Our voice matters, representation matters. And so if we can continue to understand and develop and embrace the idea that our people have a right, have a voice. And that if we can help to create that larger framework of encouraging people to understand the political process, what that means for them, understanding the voting process, what that means for them, and understanding that if they can come together and elect someone, they can all stand behind how powerful that can be to create great change, positive change in systems, not only just maybe at the local levels, but at the state levels, for sure. And also the federal levels as well.

KUNM: How much Native American representation and movement have you seen in the legislature? 

LENTE: We have a lot of catch-up to do, which is evident in this building today and you see people here and not a lot of them are Native America New Mexicans, you know what I mean? And so we're a small population, a small coalition in this larger body, both on the House and the Senate. But it's a number that we are proud of. And it's a number that we anticipate will continue to grow, as our people continue to understand that their vote matters, that their vote counts, and that they can absolutely make a change in regards to who they would like to see represent them on their issues.

KUNM: And would you agree that times are changing?

Absolutely. While we're still a minority in this building, the power that each of our voices have had in influencing, whether it's the Voting Rights Act, or matters pertaining to water, or cultural site protection, or other things that are really important to Native America New Mexico, our voice carries, and we're here to educate. We're here to stand as a coalition. And we're here to support the initiatives and the history and the future of Native America New Mexico, because that's why we're sent here in these spaces.

I'm looking really much forward to the future. And to those future leaders that I know that are out there that will be here soon to take my place.

Support for this coverage comes from the Thornburg Foundation.

Jeanette DeDios is from the Jicarilla Apache and Diné Nations and grew up in Albuquerque, NM. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2022 where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Multimedia Journalism, English and Film. She’s a former Local News Fund Fellow. Jeanette can be contacted at jeanettededios@kunm.org or via Twitter @JeanetteDeDios.
Related Content