Regis Pecos: The Role of Core Values in Cochiti Governance and Renewal

Archibald Bush Foundation and the Native Nations Institute

In this excerpted video, former Cochiti Governor Regis Pecos provides an overview of the core values that are integral to Cochiti's culture and way of life, and shows how his people relied on the application of those core values to overcome a catastrophe and rebuild its nation and community.

This video resource is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Bush Foundation.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Pecos, Regis. "The Role of Core Values in Cochiti Governance and Renewal." Remaking Indigenous Governance Systems seminar. Archibald Bush Foundation, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Prior Lake, Minnesota. May 2, 2011. Presentation.

"[Cochiti language] is, in my language, a greeting to all of you. I wanted to first express my appreciation and thanks to the, our sister and our elder who shared with us this morning a prayer and a song. And sitting back there as she sang really, it's not difficult to become emotional. If you think about how, over time, these songs of our people have been shared and really, no matter what language, it resonates deep with inside of us because those are the voices of our forefathers, those become the voices of all those who've gone before, that we are connected to, and so it's a beautiful way to remind all of us of the sacred trust that we have to all those in our communities, to all the children, to all those who are yet to be born. And I want to thank the Bush Foundation, as well as the Native Nations Institute. One, for creating the opportunity for this kind of discourse that really also needs to be said in congratulating all of you, in all of your respective capacities, to take this time in our collective journey to stop and reflect. I want to share with you, and I'm going to use my Native language because I think like the song shared with us, to begin this dialogue today, it's only in our language that we can fully come to appreciate and understand what enormous responsibility we have, at this particular time in our journey, and how everything that we do affects so many more into the future. But it also is a way to honor all those who have gone before who, in their time, rose to the challenge to define our inheritance, all that defines who we are as Indigenous people. And so I want to begin in sharing with you, something very intimate about Pueblo people. And I want to begin -- I have only 30 minutes -- and I'm going to take you from our time our origin or emergence or creation, all the way to 2012 in 30 minutes. So we're going to be on a fast track here. But, for us, this is how we describe from where we come from, what we're connected to that defines our present day sacred trust, to those who have gone before, but to those yet to be born...

This we call the gifts of the Creator. From this the Creator also gave us something that we call our traditional calendar, the day-to-day, the week-to-week, the month-to-month. In all of our societies and all of our cultures we all have a cycle, don't we? We all have a cycle and here for us it's broken up into winter, spring, summer, and fall. But each of us know intimately something very similar to this calendar no matter where we are as Indigenous people. And this process, during the course of the year, is an annual renewal of these core values, reminders, validators, confirmation, reaffirmation of all that is connected to our core values. Year round we engage in this process. And if I went to table to table to ask, when is a time in your life when you find the greatest joy and peace in your existence? I'll bet to say that every one of you will point to a time somewhere in this cycle of our traditional calendar where we are engaged in ceremony and we feel the peace because there is an expected kind of behavior that connects all of us. We hear the children laugh, we see the love and respect given in accordance to our elders, we see those who are singing, those who are dancing, those who are supporting ceremony by observation and support and encouragement. Don't we? And we find incredible sense of joy and peace engaged in this process.

But, over time, our elders also spoke that along this journey that there will be times along our journey that there will be many challenges to these core values. For the Pueblo people it came at a time when conquistadors came to New Mexico, threatened the core values: our land, our way of life, our people, our families, our resources. And what was the response? As all of you in your time as you reflect upon your past and your history there have been similar challenges to your core values, the core values of who you are. And often our forefathers knew the only way to continue to sustain a way of life, to protect all the gifts of our Creator, was sometimes to give their lives to resist these threats. Right? Our forefathers gave often their lives so that we would inherit all that we have that sustains who we are as a people.

And so the Pueblo people in that time revolted in 1680 to move back the Spanish colonizers in what is now New Mexico. Upon their return was our first challenge of adaption. In order that Pueblo way of life, as the Creator gave to us, would survive they compromised necessarily and adapted to embrace Catholicism in order that our own way of life as was a gift from the Creator might survive. It also compromised to embrace an overlay to Pueblo government as they knew and as we knew it since time immemorial that results in a layer that is still part of that adaption today as we have governors and lieutenant governors, viscales, which is an overlay. But they adapted to protect our own internal leadership that continues to this day. And in that process of the first adaption, to protect what the Creator gave us, affected our governance system, creating one of the rare theocracies in this world where there is no separation of church and state. If we go through the rest of history since the time of colonization that all indigenous people have experienced, in all parts of the world, but for all of us in this country, right?

I just want to quickly take you through a timeline that would look something like this for everyone. Since colonization, since the U.S. experience, here we are, us, today. And here are our parents. Here are our grandparents. Here are our great grandparents, and so on, our connection to the past. In the last one hundred years, there is a personal connection to the imposition of federal policies and laws that threaten in the same way our core values. Our lands have been reduced, policies prohibiting the practice of our own way of life, policies and laws that attempted to destroy our family institutions, to destroy our communities. But 1934 became an important imposition for us to remember because 1935 is a reminder of one of the most significant impositions of recent history that affects the very foundation and framework of governance in our communities, the transformation, the detribalization of our own traditional governance systems, right? And the way in which many of our communities, that kind of imposition has resulted in the kind of dysfunction that results in similar dysfunction in this country. That when you turn on the television, turn on the radio, and all you hear is adversity and antagonism between the republicans and the democrats, right? Sometimes we think whether or not they are for the citizens of this country because it all is about what, the maintenance of power driven by the economics. And if we can imagine that kind of dynamics at one level, think about what that does in small communities where that kind of imposition results in tremendous conflict, sometimes unresolvable it seems. But let us think about that imposition and the lasting impacts and let us think about what happened in 1980 during the Reagan administration, where sometimes the unconscious imposition, in the name of development, results in equally devastating, the destruction of our core values with this kind of imposition for planning and development that has resulted in a whole other overlay, that results sometimes as it did for us; one of the first experiences, experiments in this country with private investment on reservation lands. And sometimes this kind of scenario drives us away from the core values paradigm of decision-making when we consider the cost and the benefits of imposed development.

On our reservation, as a result of these kind of proposals imposed, was a master plan for development. Forty thousand people -- where our Pueblo leased half our reservation for 99 years, creating an unprecedented non-Indian government that in time would compete against us. But an associated development with a master plan of this kind, unheard of, was a construction of the tenth largest man-made lakes in the world and in this country that destroyed in the process, revered places of worship. How could it be that this kind of decision would be made by leaders in our community? Well it happens when we move away from our core values, to disregard the costs and the benefits whether or not these decisions are compatible with the protection of something as sacred as our core values. And so it was for a predominately oral society, a traditional governance system, we had to work from within, stepping back as you all are in your respective capacities to assess what is happening and what is likely to happen if this continues. The obvious for us is that we would become a minority on our own reservation within just a few years if the master plan and the development were to be pursued and it became a reality; forty thousand on a reservation where we number just around a thousand, leasing half the reservation for ninety-nine years. I have a grandson who would be an elder in the community before that expires in 2065.

The destruction and the desecration is something we can undo with regard to where our emergence and our origin centers. So the elders said do what is possible to undo the mistakes made. And so now for the last thirty years we have been engaged to undo this master plan from within developing probably one of the first community development corporations as was recommended by the Reagan administration as a way to separate traditional governance from governing major business and development. But we chose to move in the other direction to really use the core values as the heart of our decision making and strategizing in how to reclaim, how to re-control so that those children yet to be born in fulfilling our sacred trust might still have a homeland. For the children yet to be born can still have a place to call home; that they might inherit from us, the language that connects them to the core values the Creator gave to us that they still might have a meaningful way of life connected to family, connected to community, connected and revering the relationships to the resources and the environment. But most importantly, that they maintain at the core of their existence, the kind of love and respect and compassion that comes with living core values as central and being the heart and the soul of what the Creator intended in the gifts the Creator gave us, in the traditional calendar of engagement of reaffirming and validating that that is what is the meaningfulness of our lives is to have that connection.

So over time there has been all these impositions using education as a classic example with the creation of boarding schools in 1890 taking children from our families from our communities to destroy all our core values, to wipe it out of existence so that we would become like everyone else in this country. Right? But our forefathers resisted. Think about when we became eligible as native people in this country with head start. What we still have not reconciled is one other classic example. That when we embraced head start we never asked the question of where is it a head start to? Is it a process of accelerating fluency of English at the expense of our mother tongue central to our core values? Since the time of forced integration of Johnson O'Malley into public school, the racial and discrimination that was epitomized in that time that resulted in many adults in their time making conscious decisions that they would not teach their children their mother tongue because of what they experienced. Right? A threat to our mother tongue. And today in this time of self-determination, let's ask ourselves that as we're controlling BIA schools, as we are now contracting schools through grant schools, tribally controlled schools now in our own communities, let us ask ourselves, what are we doing differently in this time of self-determination from those times when we didn't have control and that we were critical of? Right? Does that make sense? What are we doing differently in this time of self-determination from now that we are in control different from those times when we didn't have control and that we were critical of?

Education has been one of those other classic examples that has been elusive; knowing full well that that formal education process is a process and a movement from our core values. Right? At the expense of diminishing the influence of our cultural education connected to our core values. Think that in 2011 there are a few places in all of Indian Country that really has been able to strike a balance in the way that we educate our children. What we've not been able to do to maintain the connection of all those who we encourage to go out and to get an education in hopes that someday they might come home to be a part of the capacity of our communities, to create the kind of insulation so that we can preserve and maintain the internal aspects that connect us to those core values while we create the capacity of another concentric circle as we have in pueblo governance to deal with the external forces so that we insulate and protect the oldest form of our government system closest to our core values where we have been able to strike that balance internally, maintaining the leadership of our spiritual leaders, of our clan leaders who have their own role for the maintenance of this the maintenance of our traditional calendar so that what we have built over time are these concentric circles.

But all of these concentric circles that define shared responsibilities that insulate and protects the internal core and maintenance of our way of life while the capacity in another concentric circle deals with all the external forces with state government, with federal government, with business and development. But the center of the heart and soul of the strategy is how do we maintain the indigenous knowledge tied to our core values while we are able to deal with development in ways that does not threaten the survival of our core values, with our connection to all of these core values, as business and development can, in ways that in this time of self-determination to think about this in conscious ways that in this time of self-determination we cannot afford to do this. We're here today, us. The decisions we make today affect our children. Right? The decisions we make for those of us who are grandparents are already there affecting grandchildren. How many have great-grandchildren? The decisions we make today, we're already here effecting multiple generations but a hundred years hence. Our responsibility is to maintain these connections. The worst that we can do if we are unconsciously making decision not connected to the core values is to do this; is to contribute to the disconnect of future generation to our core values and thus breaking the relationship and connections that have existed since the time of origin of emergence of creation that has sustained our relationships our connection as the Creator intended along this journey.

For us in Cochiti, the threats to our survival, to our core values was real. But over the course of the last thirty years we have really used our core values to return to our policy making, our decision making to those set of core values to fully evaluate using the core values of all decisions with this very simplified cost/benefit analysis. That if a decision is going to be a threat to our core values it better have greater benefits because what we cannot afford to do in this time is to contribute to what the federal government failed to accomplish in all that it did to conceive policies that disconnected many from their homelands in the creation of the reservation, the laws that they created to kill our mother tongue with language prohibition, laws that they created to disconnect us from our way of life when they created codes and laws to persecute religious practitioners, laws and policies they created to dismantle family and community, laws and policies that they created to completely reorganize traditional governance systems, laws and policies the federal government created to completely remake our jurisprudence system, laws and policies this federal government created and implemented to disconnect us from our most precious resources. Right? But here we are today, starting with a prayer, with a beautiful song that represents that connection to our core value; using language as a way to communicate; rethinking how we maintain a way of life, our sense of spirituality. Here we are reflecting on how we restore our governance systems; that in the name of revenue and employment and development that it cannot be the ultimate compromised and demised to our core values. Here we are evaluating how governance, more comprehensively, is interrelated to all of the core values in this core values paradigm and not isolated. And how in isolation, if we treat it that way is a demise to the rest of the core values in this cost/benefit analysis, absent the core values.

And so I'm here simply to share in a very short period of time what holding true to our core values as the Creator intended has resulted in a second chance to maintain that connection as we have done in our little community of Cochiti, challenging the United States of America in its desecration and devastation of our place of worship and prevailing; undoing a master plan that would have brought forty thousand people leasing half the reservation with a non-Indian government. No one gave us a chance but we prevailed. Stopping hydroelectric power at that same sacred site, suing the federal energy regulatory commission. No one gave us a chance but we prevailed. That's our story. But we built from within using the core values using the oldest forms of government, no constitution, unwritten, using our oral societies, its customs, its traditional laws and applying it outwardly and externally to protect our core values at every turn drawing from that source, of that spirit and prayer that comes with our connection to those core values. We prevailed in all that David and Goliath challenges.

I want to simply say to end this that the elders speak that along this journey for all of us as indigenous peoples, each generation is faced with incredibly profound challenges and sometimes for all of us its overwhelming. Where we are today in our journey collectively as indigenous peoples, we've never been. Right? We've never been faced with quite the same set of circumstances but all we have to do is to reflect upon what our forefathers overcame, to look at their courage, their vision, their resiliency that sometimes what we feel so overwhelmed with, at a time when all these federal polices and laws have resulted in fragile nature of our core values, but they have survived and they have survived as a result from all those who have gone before who were never willing to compromise, all of that because that is what defines who we are as Indian people. The question becomes how will in a hundred years from now, how will those great, great grand-children reflect upon this time? And how...and will they be as kind as we are to our forefathers as they reflect what it is we did in this time that connected them to that time since origin, emergence or creation. That's our challenge today. But here you are in a very significantly profound time of stepping back and reflecting and asking, what am I contributing to? Am I contributing to sustaining and strengthening our core values in my community? Or are the decisions that I'm making taking us further away from our core values? And lastly, I just want to stop and ask, for all of us to ask this thought provoking question. What will our children inherit from us? What will your grandchildren inherit from you? And what will your community look like in the next one hundred years? These are all questions that you can't find anywhere else but within you. And you can be driven to connect them in this similar fashion if we hold strong to the core values.

And I really think as I was sharing with my good friend here that it is incredibly rewarding to know the courage that you all possess to simply be having this kind of discussion because it is a time in history, as long as we maintain and sustain this discourse, I think history will look kindly upon all of you and all of us as a time that we step back to reflect, to see where we've come from, to look at the complex challenges that have deep roots in the past but to be conscious in thinking of how I'm going to contribute to what those children of the future will inherit from us. And it truly is in time, I feel strongly, that will be represented by a definition that this really was a conscious time of a major renaissance of our people. That's how I look at this time. And I want to thank you for your courage and your own resilience because I know the difficulty in each one of our communities to be having the discussion that you all are. So thank you all and I hope this is a useful reflection in a very quick way."

Related Resources


Former Governor, Cochiti Pueblo Regis Pecos speaks to the Native Nation Rebuilders Cohort 2015.  He highlights the strength of indigenous heritage and resilience of culture for Native nations to govern themselves.


Former Cochiti Pueblo Governor Regis Pecos shares his thoughts about the ultimate purpose of constitutions, governments and governance from a Pueblo perspective, and argues that constitutional reform presents Native nations with a precious opportunity to reclaim and reinvigorate their cultures and…


Regis Pecos is the Chief of Staff, House Majority Office; Co-Director, Leadership Institute; Former Governor, Cochiti Pueblo Regis Pecos is from Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico. He received his undergraduate degree in Political Science from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy at Princeton…