SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Native American communities across New Mexico are putting the finishing touches on proposed redistricting maps aimed at greater self-determination in future public elections, as competing plans wind their way toward the Legislature for consideration.
Participants in a redistricting commission for New Mexico's Indigenous pueblo communities said Friday that map proposals may be finalized as soon as next week.
The maps will be submitted to a seven-member Citizen Redistricting Commission that is reviewing and vetting redistricting maps for the Legislature, which can adopt recommendations or start from scratch. The seven-seat commission has no Native American representation.
New Mexico is home to 23 federally recognized tribes, whose growing political clout is reflected in the election of Laguna Pueblo tribal member Deb Haaland to Congress in 2016 and her promotion this year to Secretary of the Interior.
Attorney Joseph Little is working with a broad alliance of Native American communities to turn redistricting principles into action using results of the 2020 census to track population changes.
He said the census numbers were only provided recently because of a federal delay that held up their release for months. Major redistricting changes are most likely in the heavily Native American northwest region of the state and an oil-producing region in the southeast.
“It’s important that we get these maps in early,” Little said. “We didn’t have the census numbers until recently."
The share of New Mexico residents who identify themselves as Indigenous by race or by combined ancestry was 12.4% according to census results announced in August. Alaska was the most predominantly Native American state, followed by Oklahoma and then New Mexico.
At the same time, Native American politicians have ascended to top legislative leadership posts on committees overseeing taxation, Indian affairs, agriculture and elections, though some frustrations persist about the distribution of state resources to tribal communities.
In April, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, signed a bill that funnels more federal “impact aid” to schools in Native American communities to offset property tax losses on tax-exempt federal and tribal lands.
State Rep. Georgene Louis of Acoma Pueblo on Friday commended tribal communities for their engagement in the redistricting process.
“In New Mexico, I think we’re very fortunate, where the tribes are very active in looking at how we can ensure that we’re involved in the process about selecting our own representatives that will then hold the state accountable," she said.