Regis Pecos '77

We must ask, what do we want future generations to inherit from us? Are the decisions we are making strengthening our core values or are the decisions we are making taking us further away from our core values?
Regis Pecos '77

In 1977, fully armed with my teaching certificate from Princeton University, I applied for a social studies teaching position at The Santa Fe Indian School. I was interviewed by a non-Indian administrator and was told, "get some experience and come back in a few years." Devastated, I walked away never attempting to apply again. In 1984, seven years later, I became the Chairman of the Santa Fe Indian School Board of Trustees, a position I held for 15 years. My first policy change - any Native American who applies with little to no experience would be a priority!  We needed to give young teachers, our own, a chance. This would become a school that would usher in a new era of self determination, a school focused on language and culture and the history of resilience and perseverance of the Pueblo people. It would be a fundamental shift from the assimilation agenda the federal government designed.

In 1987, the Santa Fe Indian School with its new vision and mission received the Department of Education's Excellence in Education Award and became the first Indian controlled school in the nation's history to receive such an award in a White House ceremony. Today,  it has one of the highest graduation rates in New Mexico (98%), one of the highest percentages of students pursuing higher education and at the peak of the Gates Millennium Scholarship Program, had the largest number annually, of Gates Millennium Scholars of any school in the state.

In 1997, President Bill Clinton appointed a former classmate Kevin Gover '78 as the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, the highest ranking American Indian in the federal administration. Together, we were able to make a case before Congress, that the Santa Fe Indian School built in the 1890's was no longer safe for the students. By the end of the 1990's after a difficult congressional effort, the Santa Fe Indian School received congressional appropriations to become one of the single largest school construction projects in the history of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Today, it is one of the state of the art schools in the state and nation.

In 2001, the culminating efforts that began in 1977, beginning with the first contract to take control of education as the new law intended, achieving national recognition as a school of education excellence, securing congressional appropriations to become one of the largest single school construction projects in the history of the BIA, the culminating piece to the strategic plan was executed in 2001 with congressional action to transfer the property to the Pueblo Nations for the ultimate ownership and achievement of complete education sovereignty.

In 1998, I co-founded the Leadership Institute, an Indigenous Think Tank to build the human capital to build the capacity in our transition with a conscious effort of transferring our cultural knowledge along with our western education. The paradigm is centered on understanding that the challenges we face today are deeply rooted in the history of intentionally conceived policies and laws to disconnect us from our lands, our languages, our cultures, our indigenous laws and customs, our indigenous governance systems, our communities and families and our resources. To make sense of our challenges we face today, we have to understand the history of the policies and laws imposed upon us, to transform us. What we do today in these times of unprecedented opportunities must be mindful of our collective past experiences. Therefore, we must re-establish using our core cultural values as part of our decision-making process. We must ask, what do we want future generations to inherit from us? Are the decisions we are making strengthening our core values or are the decisions we are making taking us further away from our core values?

In 20 years, we have engaged over 5,500 people who have become part of our movement. In 2008, we developed our hallmark Summer Policy Academy program recognized as one of the exemplary youth leadership programs by Harvard University's John F. Kennedy's School's Honoring Nations Program celebrating exemplary programs in Indian Country. The Summer Policy Academy Program recruits high school students into a summer program focusing on the History of Policies and Laws That Impact Our Indian Nations, Families and Communities. In the second year, in partnership with Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs Junior Policy Institute, Summer Policy Academy fellows further their studies on topics of immediate relevance. They are guided by Coaches, Community Advisors and a Native American Faculty. I have served as the Head Faculty for the last 11 years. 

At the end of their time at Princeton, we travel to Washington D.C. and the fellows present their research and policy recommendations to the National Congress of American Indians (largest political organization of Indian Nations), the White House Domestic Policy Council on American Indian Affairs, the Museum of the American Indian archives the fellows presentations and have featured them at the Museum the last 11 years and the members of our Congressional delegation. Over the 11 years, many of the policy recommendations have become part of their agenda. One such policy recommendation is the creation of a Native American Social Workers Institute at the only School of Social Work at the New Mexico Highlands University in New Mexico. This year, legislation passed and appropriated money to establish the Institute to address the shortage of Native American social workers.      

We are now seeing the first cohort come back into the program as professionals. Last year, we brought as one of our faculty members, an attorney working on the protection of cultural resources and protection of sacred sites from oil and gas development (fracking). He was among our first students 11 years ago now among the attorney corps working on these issues at the local, state and national levels. He is but one of many. Next month, we will be graduating the second cohort of our Pueblo PhD candidates that will number 20 in partnership with Arizona State University, School of Social Justice. For that work, we received one of the most prestigious awards from the American Indian Graduate Center for our model and success in graduating the largest cohorts of PhDs as part of our program.


*Born in Cochiti Pueblo, Regis Pecos, made history as the first Native American trustee in the entire Ivy League when he was appointed a Princeton Trustee in 1997. He served three terms as Lieutenant Governor of Cochiti Pueblo. He was the former chief of staff to the speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives and former director of policy and legislative affairs for the Office of the Majority Floor Leader. For 16 years he served as the Executive Director of the New Mexico Office of Indian Affairs. Pecos founded, and is currently the Co-Director of the Leadership Institute at Santa Fe Indian School. In 2005, he co-founded the Summer Policy Academy (SPA) with the Woodrow Wilson School, a summer program for high school and college students from indigenous tribes in New Mexico.