Joe Garcia keeps a schedule that is as ambitious as his resume.
You might find the indefatigable advocate and legislator at a meeting of the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo Council, or working on pueblo restoration, or on the phone talking with fellow members of a federal committee about substance abuse prevention and mental health services, or teaching a class at Northern New Mexico College.
Some leaders say the former NCAI president, Ohkay Owingeh governor, and All Indian Pueblo Council chairman has the energy, knowledge and team-building experience to accomplish all he sets out to do.
“I see him in action at our national meetings,” said Cecelia Johnson, chairwoman of the Ketchikan Indian Community Advisory Health Board, and a member of NCAI and the federal substance abuse and mental health advisory committee.
“He’s a big advocate for Native issues and Tribal governments. He knows the issues and he has a lot of charisma. I would vote for this guy for anything.”
Pawnee Nation President Marshall Gover said Garcia is an effective leader who’s well versed in mental health and substance abuse issues, as well as other issues affecting Indian country.
Garcia is one of four announced candidates for president of NCAI, the organization he led in 2006-09. The others: Brian Cladoosby, Swinomish Tribe; Juana Majel-Dixon, Pauma Band of Luiseno Indians; and George Tiger, Muscogee Creek Nation. The election will take place during NCAI’s 70th annual Convention & Marketplace Oct. 13-18 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
NCAI’s president serves a two-year term and is not salaried. NCAI has a staff of 33.
Garcia’s priorities: Protect, and promote understanding of, sovereignty; build partnerships between NCAI and other national Native organizations; improve strategies for more effective advocacy on legislation, funding and issues such as protection of culture, language, tradition, land and environment; and mentor Native youth to prepare them for the future.
“We could create this myriad of partnerships – on education, with the National Indian Education Association; on health, the National Indian Health Board; on housing, the National American Indian Housing Council – so everybody’s not off doing their own thing,” Garcia said. “They know the funding, they know the issues related to that particular category. The more we partner up, the better our knowledge and the better we can address the issues.”
Sovereignty – Tribes’ independent authority and right to govern themselves – is the foundation on which on all things are built. “The bottom line is, we need to protect sovereignty,” Garcia said. “Many members of Congress believe tribal government [ranks] less than state government. Who’s going to teach them? If we leave it to the feds, they’ll get only one side of the picture.”
NCAI could facilitate an “Indian Education 101” course for members of Congress, particularly newer members, he said. (In Washington state, Indian Law 101 is taught during orientation for freshman state representatives, according to state Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip.)
Garcia said NCAI must also ensure that tribal leaders understand the federal budget process. He said NCAI’s 12 regional vice presidents play an important role in that understanding, and in building a unified voice on issues related to the federal government’s budget and commitment to its treaty obligations.
“It’s important that they are active in committees, provide feedback to committees and bring it back to the forum,” he said of the VPs. “We need a systems approach, not trial and error, so everyone is sending the same message.”
By all accounts, Garcia was an effective NCAI president. When he left office in 2009, the National Indian Gaming Association honored him as a defender of sovereignty and a strong voice for America’s First Peoples, and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson proclaimed October 15, 2009, as “President Joe Garcia Day” in the state.
“During his tenure as NCAI president, Garcia and Indian country faced the scourge of meth, battled budget cuts aimed at cutting Indian funding, and welcomed the start of new opportunities with the Obama administration,” NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. said at the time.
“During the 109th Congress in 2006, President Garcia’s leadership proved invaluable as Indian country came together to defend Tribal Sovereignty from attacks on Indian gaming. President Garcia brought NCAI together with NIGA and we held over eight national meetings to develop a consensus in Indian country and take our message to Congress.”
Garcia served two terms as governor of Ohkay Owingeh, and served as chairman of the All Indian Pueblo Council, serving 19 pueblos of New Mexico, from 2009-11. He has an electrical engineering degree from the University of New Mexico, retired in 2003 from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and started his own consulting firm, and has taught at Northern New Mexico College since 1979.
He is Ohkay Owingeh head councilman, an NCAI regional vice president, and an advisory committee of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
He enjoys spending time with his family, singing and playing guitar, and traditional lifeways. He speaks the Tewa language and has long worked for preservation of indigenous languages. He sees language as central to indigenous identity.
“I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t speak my language,” he said.
Joe Garcia’s Top 8
Protect our people
Protection our language, culture and tradition
Protect our land and environment
Regain what we’ve lost; stay united
Improve strategies to battle court cases, legislation, funding
Increase participation by all Indian country
Mentor our youth for the future
Indian Country Today Media Network will profile each of the four candidates campaigning for the NCAI president’s seat. Juana Majel-Dixon and George Tiger will follow.