Isleta Pueblo Politics

By Christopher L. Abeita

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Enrollment of Quarter-Bloods

On May 31, 2016, the Isleta Tribal Council discussed revising the four (4) phase plan that they previously approved on May 2nd. The Council’s plan gave priority to enroll quarter-bloods who lived on the reservation. This meant that the quarters who lived off the rez would need to wait up to 7 1/2 years to be enrolled as members.

In response, on May 20th, JoAnne Rael,Terry Lente and Attorney Helen Padilla submitted suggestions on how the Council could enroll quarters promptly. They also raised concerns that the Council’s plan violated the equal protection clause contained in the Isleta Constitution and in the Indian Civil Rights Act.

Approximately 20 tribal members sat in the audience.Vice-President Betty Lente began the meeting at 1:00 p.m.

President Verna Teller and Council Member Barbara Sanchez were absent. Governor Eddie Paul Torres and Lt. Governor Isidor Abeita were also absent. (Teller arrived at 1:35 p.m.)

Tribal Attorney Kaydee Culbertson presented a “draft flow chart” that might possibly speed up the process of enrolling the quarters-bloods. Culbertson emphasized that her chart was only a draft. She also explained that the revised chart was no longer based on residency.

Culbertson explained that the constitutional amendment only made quarter-bloods “eligible” for enrollment. According to the Constitution, a person with one-quarter Isleta Indian blood cannot be a member of Isleta, IF that person is already enrolled with some other tribe.

According to the Tribal Enrollment Ordinance, a “descendant” is a person who has at least 1/4 Isleta Indian blood AND is not enrolled with any other tribe. See, Section 7(F), Amended and Restated Tribal Enrollment Ordinance of the Isleta Pueblo, Enacted by Resolution No. 2011-053. The Isleta Census and Enrollment Office already classified approximately 1400 persons as “descendants” based on the Council’s definition.

Michelle Lujan, Coordinator of the Enrollment Office, explained that from the 1400 “descendants,” approximately 900 DO NOT have Indian blood from some other tribe. In other words, 900 “descendants” have 1/4 Isleta Indian blood with the remainder of their blood from non-Indians. This means that the remaining 500 “descendants” have 1/4 Isleta blood AND blood from some other tribe.

This is important because the Constitution prohibits a person from being enrolled with Isleta, IF that person is already enrolled with another tribe. So, according to Lujan, it is possible for a quarter-blood to be enrolled with another tribe, IF that person has Indian blood from some other tribe.

Helen Padilla pointed out that according to the Tribe’s Ordinance, the Enrollment Office cannot classify someone as a “descendant,” unless it already verified a person as NOT being enrolled with some other tribe.

Lujan responded that it was possible — because a “descendant” could have enrolled with another tribe AFTER the Isleta Enrollment Office classified a person as a “descendant.” This made it necessary to verify that quarter-bloods are not dual enrolled.

[The Council’s definition of a “descendant” as contained in the Enrollment Ordinance is flawed. But, that’s a story for a later day.]

Dual Enrollments

To prevent dual enrollments, the Isleta Enrollment Office must obtain verification that descendants are not enrolled with some other tribe BEFORE enrolling them as members of Isleta Pueblo.

To get “verification,” the Enrollment Office must:

  1. Find out whether a “descendant” has Indian blood from some other tribe.
  2. If a “descendant” has blood from some other tribe, the Enrollment Office must contact the other tribe to find out whether the “descendant” is enrolled with the other tribe.
  3. If the other tribe verifies that a “descendant” IS NOT enrolled with their tribe, the “descendant” may then be enrolled as a member of Isleta Pueblo.

For example, if a “descendant” has 1/4 Navajo blood and 1/2 Laguna blood, then the Enrollment Office needs to obtain documentation from the Navajo Tribe and the Pueblo of Laguna that verifies that the “descendant” is not enrolled with those tribes.

According to Michelle Lujan, the process of getting verification can take up to six (6) months depending on the other tribe. This is part of her explanation for why it will take so long to enroll quarter-bloods.

To speed up the process, Lujan said that the Enrollment Office might allow quarter-bloods to get the verification themselves. The quarter-bloods may then provide it to the Isleta Enrollment Office.

[So, it would be wise for quarter-bloods who have blood from other tribes to obtain proof that they are not enrolled with those tribes. This MIGHT quicken the enrollment process with Isleta.]

Prior Directive from the Council

Previously, the Tribal Enrollment Committee (TEC) and Michelle Lujan informed the Council that the process to enroll quarters may take years. So, Council Member Fernando Abeita wanted the Council to prioritize the quarters who lived on the rez. The Council agreed and directed the TEC and Lujan to develop a plan that would give priority to the quarters who lived on the rez. This is why the Council approved the four (4) phase plan on May 2nd.

Michelle Lujan stated that the four (4) phase plan was based on the directive from the Council.

Attorney Helen Padilla voiced concern that the Council’s plan violated the rights of quarter-bloods who did not reside on the reservation. The Isleta Constitution states:

“The Pueblo of Isleta, in exercising its power of self-government, shall not: [d]eny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of its laws . . . .” See, Article III, Section 1(h).

The Indian Civil Rights Act, a federal law, also contains the same language.

So, Padilla explained that the equal protection clause requires the Council to treat all persons equally regardless of their residency.

Council Member Fernando Abeita stated that he did not understand why they (Padilla, Rael and Lente) were “so demanding.” He said, the amendment already passed and they needed to be patient. Abeita, once again, stated that the Council should prioritize the quarters who lived on the reservation before enrolling the quarters who lived in “New York” or somewhere else.

Padilla explained that the constitutional amendment entitles quarters to be recognized as tribal members. So, it was unfair to force quarters to wait years to be enrolled based on residency. She said quarters are entitled to all the rights and privileges as any other tribal member regardless of where they lived.

She explained that many of those rights and privileges are based on the federal government’s obligation to fulfill its promises to Native Americans for education and health care. So, Padilla said it was extremely important for the Council to promptly recognize the quarters as members without discriminating against quarters who did not live on the reservation.

Control of Meeting

Council President Verna Teller allowed tribal members in the audience to have the floor. One tribal member stood-up and questioned the fairness of the election process. She questioned whether it was proper for the election to occur by mail-in ballots only. She also asked whether her vote was actually received and counted.

Teller responded that it was a federal election and there was nothing that the Council could do. She said everyone, 18 years and older, had a chance to vote and that we all have only one vote. She said that if anyone wanted, they could file a federal lawsuit. She said, it happened “back in the 90’s,” persons challenged an election in federal court and they lost. Teller stated that we all just needed to accept the outcome.

President Teller said that she was not going to allow the Council to get side-tracked with discussion about the election. Teller then threatened to clear the room.

A tribal elder spoke up, speaking in our language, she questioned whether the Council fully informed the people about the election on the constitutional amendment. She felt that people were not fully informed most especially our elders.

Vice-President Betty Lente responded that it was the responsibility of the Governors to keep the people informed. Someone in the audience yelled, now we’re going to play the blame game.

Several audience members began speaking out of turn. President Verna Teller was losing control of the meeting. Teller stated that she was ending further discussion and she again threatened to have the room cleared. This caused several tribal members to become angry and disgusted. Most of them walked out of the meeting.

After they left, Josephine Padilla, a former Council Member, spoke forcefully and told President Teller that she did not speak for all Council Members. She also stated that the people had every right to raise questions and express their concerns. Teller did not respond.

Padilla then told the Council that she did not believe that they were even understanding the discussion. Padilla said in our language, “don’t just sit there, ask questions, don’t be embarrassed!”

A few more questions and comments were raised by the remaining audience members. But, the discussion soon fizzled. The Council was too tired and they did not want to discuss anything further. The Council decided to reschedule the issue of enrolling the quarters for the following day at 9:00 a.m. The Council then ended the meeting.

The Next Day

On June 1st at 9:00 a.m., the Isleta Tribal Council started their meeting. Council Member Barbara Sanchez was absent.

President Verna Teller announced that the Council was not able to get anything done at yesterday’s meeting because of the tribal members in the audience. So, she said that the Council would be meeting in its back room. She also said that the Council might need to use their chalk board to “draw diagrams.”

The Council also made sure that a police officer was present.

Only four (4) tribal members were in the audience (JoAnne Rael, Terry Lente, Diane Peigler and me (Chris Abeita)).

President Teller asked the Council to follow her into the back room. Teller stated that the meeting was not an executive session. So, I also went into the Council’s back room. Rael, Lente and Peigler also went in.

Ordinarily, the Council only uses their back room for secret meetings known as “executive sessions.”

President Teller told us that we better not ask any questions or make any comments because the Council had very important business to conduct. She said that it was okay for us to be present as long as we remained quite.

The Council also brought in another lawyer to help in-house Attorney Kaydee Culbertson. They brought in Gary Brownell. He is a lawyer with the law firm of Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Endreson, & Perry, LLP. The Sonosky firm has a contract with the the Pueblo of Isleta to provide legal advice as requested by tribal officials.

Culbertson handed out another “draft flow chart” on the process of enrolling quarters. She made additional changes from the previous day. She then tried to explain her changes. The Council, however, was soon lost because they could not find documents that they received from the previous day.

Staff members had to make copies for all of our tribal officials once again. This wasted more time. The Council did not accomplish anything. After one (1) hour, they ended their discussion to move onto their next agenda item.

Culbertson suggested that the Sonosky Firm help develop policies and procedures to enroll quarter-bloods. The Council could then review the policies and procedures at a future meeting.


According to the Enrollment Office, 900 “descendants” do not have Indian blood from some other Tribe. In other words, 900 people have 1/4 Isleta Indian blood with the remainder of their blood from non-Indians. This means that it IS NOT possible for these persons to be enrolled with some other tribe. Therefore, these quarter-bloods could or should be enrolled immediately because they are entitled to membership based on the constitutional amendment.

However, according to Michelle Lujan, the Enrollment Office needs to “update” their files before enrolling them. This makes no sense.

The files of the 900 descendants should already be complete. This is the only way that the Enrollment Office could identify these persons as having 1/4 Isleta Indian-blood WITHOUT any blood from some other tribe. This means that these persons cannot be enrolled somewhere else. Therefore, it is not necessary to check with other tribes for “dual enrollments.”

So, what other documents are necessary to “update” their files? And, how many years will it take the Enrollment Office to “update” the files? Did the Enrollment Office lose documents? Are documents safe with the Enrollment Office?

According to the constitutional amendment, a persons with 1/4 Isleta Indian blood is ENTITLED to membership as long as the person is not enrolled with some other Indian tribe.

The Isleta Constitution, under Article II states:

The following persons SHALL be members of the Pueblo of Isleta, provided such persons shall not have renounced, or do not hereafter renounce their membership by joining another tribe or pueblo. . .

Section 1. Persons of one-quarter (1/4) or more degree of Isleta Indian blood and Isleta parentage SHALL be members of the Pueblo of Isleta, provided they have not renounced their right to membership.

Section 2. All persons of one-quarter (1/4) or more degree of Isleta Indian blood whose names appear on the official census roll maintained by Southern Pueblos Agency, as of January 1, 1970.

So —– the Council itself CANNOT deprive a person from membership as long as the person satisfies two (2) constitutional requirements.

1 — A person must have at least 1/4 Isleta Indian blood; AND
2 — Not be enrolled with some other tribe.

As long as the constitutional requirements are satisfied, a person is ENTITLED to membership with Isleta.

Instead of complying with the Constitution to enroll quarter-bloods, the Council is trying to comply with the Tribal Enrollment Ordinance. Why is this a problem? Because the Enrollment Ordinance is NOT consistent with the Constitution, which is the highest law for Isleta. The Enrollment Ordinance also contains numerous flaws.



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