Carlos Hisa and Esequiel (Zeke) Garcia: Ysleta del Sur Pueblo: Redefining Citizenship

Native Nations Institute

Carlos Hisa and Esequiel (Zeke) Garcia from Ysleta del Sur Pueblo (YDSP) provide an overview of the approach that YDSP is following as it works to redefine its criteria for citizenship through community-based decision-making. They also share the negative impacts that adherence to blood quantum as the main criterion for citizenship has had on the Tigua community.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Garcia, Esequiel. "Ysleta del Sur Pueblo: Redefining Citizenship." Tribal Constitutions Seminar, Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 2, 2014. Presentation.

Hisa, Carlos. "Ysleta del Sur Pueblo: Redefining Citizenship." Tribal Constitutions Seminar, Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 2, 2014. Presentation.

Carlos Hisa:

"[Pueblo language]. Good morning, everyone. Like they said, my name is Carlos Hisa. I'm the Lieutenant Governor for Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. I've been sitting in this role for 14 years, started when I was 12. But our issue didn't really start off as a citizenship issue. It started off more as an enrollment and blood quantum issue. I guess I can start by giving you a little bit of a history of where we come from and who we are as a people. Back in...we're Pueblo people. We're originally from the Albuquerque area. We're one of the furthest of the Pueblos [from] Albuquerque and New Mexico.

Back in 1680 there was a huge revolt. It's called Ysleta...Pueblo Revolt, where the Pueblos united and fought against the Spaniards. During that battle we were relocated to what is known as El Paso, Texas right now. It wasn't by choice, but we were captured and we were relocated down there so our Pueblo has been there since the 1680s. Throughout that time, a lot of different things have happened. I'm not going to go into a huge history, every tribe has their history. I'm just going to touch on the points on why we are where we're at today. The State of Texas became a Confederate state, so during that time the feds were not allowed to come and check on us and see how we were doing so they wrote us off as being extinct, that we weren't in existence anymore. But our people thrived. We were still in the location; we were still being a community, being a tribe, and living our way of life. Because we were identified as extinct, we had to fight for our tribe to get recognized again. In 1968, we were federally recognized, but the trust responsibility was given to the State of Texas. The State of Texas was struggling financially. So in 1987, they went ahead and passed us back to the federal government. The responsibility was shifted from the state back to the federal government. But throughout that time, the State of Texas learned a thing or two about working with tribes and in our case dealing with us.

In order for us to get recognized -- and this is something I believe through the stories that I've been told through my family and other past leaders -- is that the state forced us to get recognized, but with certain limitations and requirements, two big ones. Gaming, we cannot engage in gaming was put in our restoration act. So when we were recognized as a tribe in [1987], we were forced to agree not to have gaming in our lands. Second one was a blood quantum requirement of one-eighth. Our leadership at that time accepted that and we went ahead and operated under that criteria for many years, but soon after this was forced upon us, our leaders realized that the blood quantum was just a way of sort of pushing us out of existence. It wasn't going to work for us so they started many efforts throughout the years to try to change this law by lowering...

The solution back then was lowering the blood quantum one-eighth to one-sixteenth. When I came into office the struggles were...and I was familiar with the struggles because I was involved. I've had different roles in the community. I've always been there so I knew what the issues were. When I came in these efforts were continued and became a priority to the tribal council that I was working with back then. So we pushed the same language that was created back there to lower the blood quantum from one-eighth to one-sixteenth. You've got to remember, El Paso grew around us and so we were...our blood quantum was fading away pretty fast. So when these efforts were being pushed we weren't successful, but one day for some reason me and a tribal attorney got together and said, ‘Why are we asking for one-sixteenth? Why don't we push it to the limit? And we need to be a sovereign nation, we need to practice our rights as a government and let us determine who should be a Tigua. What is going to be that criteria?'

So the language changed from...changing it from one-eighth to one-sixteenth to letting the Pueblo determine who is going to be Tigua and what we're going to set in place to determine who's going to be Tigua. In 2012, President [Barack] Obama...well, we managed to pass it and in 2012, Obama signed the bill where it allowed us to go ahead and determine who our citizens are going to be. We were getting calls from everywhere. The pressure was mounting on council because people thought that as soon as that bill passed that they could come in and be part of the community and be recognized as Tigua. But we sat down as a council and said, ‘We've got to do this the right way.' We have a history of enrollment issues, even from enrolling individuals that weren't tribal. We had to come back and disenroll them and those individuals became part of the family already so we didn't want to go through those struggles anymore. So council said, ‘Let's do this the right way. We want community involvement. We want this to...we want to hear from them to see how far they want to lower the blood quantum, what are going to be the responsibilities of being Tigua, what are responsibilities of the community to the people?' So it became a whole project of identifying citizenship now and determine that criteria. So that's where we're at right now.

When we look at the blood quantum and in my generation and what was going on, we created different classes, a division amongst ourselves, and it was terrible. I'm just going to give an example. I've got three daughters. I started when I was 12 as well. I have a 20-year-old right now, a 16- and a nine-year-old. All three of my daughters have always been involved. They are proud to be Tigua. They're there with me. I think they've done a lot more for the community at their young age than some of the elders that have more of a blood quantum recognized by the federal government, but yet my daughters refuse to take part in the summer programs that we have available to the community, after-school programs, Easter giveaways and stuff like that because the individuals in their age bracket would always tell them that they weren't Tigua because they didn't have the blood quantum, they didn't meet the blood quantum requirements. So that forced my children to stay away. And that wasn't just with my children, that was something that was going on within the community. So it's something we needed to address and end and stop because that's not who we are. As a people, as a community, we need to embrace everybody and provide for everybody and not have that separation. So that motivated us more to try to get this bill passed and it became more of a priority and then to have this change implemented.

So as a council, we got together and we decided to go ahead and have the community involved in this. We also wanted to make this a community decision. We didn't want it to be a tribal council decision, because we hear the stories about individuals being disenrolled from their tribes because of political reasons, per capita reasons, that type of stuff and it's scary and it's out there and exists. So as a council, we decided to make this a community decision. We're going to have a vote. We need to hear what they want, how they want it done and we need to let the community vote because we believe that the council shouldn't have this power to go in there and determine and make changes on the rolls overnight. It needs to be brought back to the community and we need to make changes. So that's what our goal is and that's what we're trying to do.

This is where Zeke [Esequiel Garcia] was tasked with the responsibility of this project that he named Project Tiwahu, and he'll show a slide of where he goes and everything else. And we asked him to go out there and get feedback from the community to see where the tribal council needs to go out and make the changes so we can start enrolling our tribal members. And when this project was assigned to Zeke, he came back to me and said, ‘One of the things we need to identify is what is going to be...who's going to be a citizen. What are the roles of a Tigua?' So it changed more from enrollment criteria, from a blood quantum thing, to more of a citizenship. Where are we going to go from this? What does the community want? And he has started the process. We're moving along. [I'm pretty sure...did I move too fast? How much time do I have? Five minutes. Okay, well I'll donate them to Zeke.] So this is where I'm going to introduce Zeke and let him take over so he can show you what we've been working on, how we're doing it to get the input from the community so we can move forward on there. But, Zeke, the floor is yours. Thank you very much."

Esequiel (Zeke) Garcia:

"Good morning. Our efforts down at the Pueblo, as the Lieutenant Governor was saying, in 1984 we did...we're not a constitutional tribe, we're oral tradition, but in 1984 when they restored our federal recognition we did inherit some very restrictive language that was within that restoration act and it had to do with enrollment. Soon after...for many years we had been submitting bills. In 2011, when we submitted HR 1560, which is the bill that was enacted in August of 2012, the council called me into their office and they said, ‘We need a plan of action. We need to have a way of how we're going to proceed from here forward.' So we put a plan of action, it's not my plan. It's a plan that's inclusive of our council. The first order of business that we ended up doing was -- and it's in your packet -- we passed a tribal council resolution. And in that resolution we set objectives, specifically what Project Tiwahu -- even being sensitive to our culture termed it with a cultural name -- and we set those objectives, what we were setting out to do.

One of the objectives was to establish a board. It wasn't an appointed board, although there were some appointed members, but we did go to the community. We sent out a letter to community members living on res as well as out of the state, and we got a good response and some of those community members were selected.

The second objective was to, of course, knowing that the enactment of HR 1560 and doing away with the blood quantum, we knew we had to do revision to our enrollment policy so that was another objective that we put in our resolution. Most importantly -- as the lieutenant governor was saying right now -- was to garner community input. This wasn't going to be my decision -- although the responsibility fell on the enrollment office or tribal records office, it didn't fall under the tribal council office as well -- but it needed to be a community decision and that was one of the biggest things that we set out to do.

Not because the lieutenant governor is sitting next to me do I want to score brownie points, but one of the things that I really admire about our current council, as well as previous councils, is that in no way did they relinquish power, authority by handing this over to the community and making a decision. If anything, they incorporated a team effort or inclusive in reaching out to the community. So that's one of the things that I really admire about our leadership.

The other thing was...the other objective that we set out was to assess our tribal programs. As he was mentioning earlier, we receive federal monies and those federal monies are there to serve an enrolled population and we have a descendant population of course, those that were less than the one-eighth. For many years we have...our office has been tracking that information. Our Pueblo has this practice on an annual basis for our enrolled members to come and update. When they do their update, we give them a questionnaire and we get information: education, financial, household compositions -- we just get a lot of information from them and what we lacked was the descendants. So in 2010, even before our bill was passed, it blew me away, our leadership sent out an executive memorandum to my office and said, ‘You need to start issuing out descendant ID cards to our descendant members.' And with that, that was our way to capture the information on our descendant members.

So in assessing our tribal programs, we need to determine what needs were out there, what services we were providing to our descendants, what services we weren't able to provide because of restrictions within those federal monies to an enrolled population. And we...actually not we, I wasn't even...well, my office indirectly was a big part of it in providing the information that I was collecting, but Linda Austin and her efforts and the council put together a budget impact and that budget impact is also on your packets there. And what we were able to determine there is if we were to project the numbers that we had on our descendants and we were to enroll them and begin providing services, what impact would be on our budget, our current monies for each of our programs. So that was very instrumental, that budget impact. It really opened up our eyes; it opened gave us a better understanding of our descendant population. For instance, we were able to determine that we had a younger population within the descendants as opposed to enrolled members, which were much older.

The other objective that we resolved on the resolution was a citizenship campaign, and because we were dealing with descendants -- that as the lieutenant governor mentioned that had distanced themselves, even those living within the res, those that were living out of state were much more disconnected because of course maybe annual visits, they would come to the reservation during our feast days. We had to do a...our board and the facilitators that were helping me out, we understood that we had to have some kind of citizenship campaign, an awareness, an educational component to it to where we would give them information.

One of the results from that was this informational guide. I believe this informational guide is in your packet. And through this guide we were able to educate both our enrolled members as well as our descendant members, what this whole citizenship...the process that we were going to take. We were able to give them historical information regarding the tribe, how we came to be if you will, and also a portion of the budget impact was also given out. We wanted to give them the statistics on our blood quantum, how many numbers, how we were being reduced, and all that good information.

Within that citizenship campaign, we also conducted internal research -- the facilitators, myself, Linda and another intern that we have within the tribe. We were able to conduct interviews to have a better understanding of what had transpired in our enrollment office, what resolutions had been passed since the restoration act, what issues our enrollment was faced with and that was a very eye opening experience for us. As we conducted interviews with key individuals that were involved with the federal recognition or restoration, we would hear the same things from each one in a different perspective and it really opened up our eyes to better understand again, we're looking at making a decision for our future, we need to understand what we did in the past and that was a great thing that...that was very important and instrumental and now that as we go forward and we're looking at making these decisions, it gives us a better understanding on how to proceed.

The other thing that came with those interviews was an internal report. It's not in your packet. Like Ian [Record] was saying, it's kind of lengthy, but that internal report was...Linda and myself were able to work on that and that was more of a the lieutenant governor was giving you the story, we also felt we needed to put it on paper and more or less educate our membership as to our history, how we came to be since the early years of 1682 that we got established there in Ysleta, Texas.

These are some of the steps. Where are we at right now? This past December, we issued out a Pueblo-wide questionnaire, a survey, and this is where we're getting the input from the community. Right now currently, we're in the process of analyzing those results, but that survey, of course it's not in your packet because it's a lengthy survey, but it's a very...these are basic questions. We have four parts to it. The first one was identity. How do our tribal members identify themselves as Tigua? Is it the services that we rendered or is it something...your culture, your practices, if that's what it makes them.

So we asked those questions. We asked questions about enrollment, whether we wanted to keep a blood quantum, whether we wanted to get rid of a blood quantum, whether we wanted to reduce a blood quantum. In 1984, a very important issue, when the base roll was created, there were some people that were left out and now this day and age how do we want to deal with that issue? Do we want to extend enrollment to them? And this is what we need to...the kind of feedback that we need from our tribal community. That survey is very instrumental. It also...because of if we do extend enrollment to descendants that means that our population would double. Right now our enrolled population at Ysleta del Sur is 1,732 and our descendant population is just right there. There's just an eight different...and they're out there. I know they're out there because for whatever reason they haven't made their way into our office. So I can more or less estimate about another 200 individuals that are out there.

So our descendant population has already surpassed our enrolled population. And how are we going to proceed? If we do enroll these people, if we do enroll our descendants that would mean that we have more people. According to the bill that was signed, we were in agreement that we're not going to receive any extra funding from the federal government to provide services, so how do we manage that? And this is what the community needs to know as well. We that work within the tribal government, we have a good grasp of what it entails, but our average tribal member out there, they may have an idea, a slight idea, or they may not have it. We want to make sure that we convey that information to them because ultimately it does impact us that are enrolled and it impacts those that would be enrolled as well.

Those are our efforts that we're doing right now at Ysleta del Sur. I'm very pumped with this whole issue. I have seen nothing but support both from our council and from our community members. You have to keep in mind that this topic has been a big issue since our restoration back in 1984 and people, our tribal members, are willing to talk about it. When we have our quarterly Pueblo juntas that we come together as...a town hall meeting, if you will, and we come together as a community, we've talked about those issues and now that this bill was filed and now that we have this Project Tiwahu underway, tribal members see them more giving their input and wanting to share and it's a hot topic right now within our tribe and we just look forward to coming to some resolution by this year. If not, we're in no rush. That's one other thing is that the bill was enacted in 2012; we're in 2014. The whole thing here is that we're going back to the community, we're informing them, we're letting them know what's going on and whenever our grandfathers feel that it's a good time to make the decision, we'll make that decision and we'll proceed."

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