“I never imagined I’d become a politician.”
I was working steadily on my PhD and dreaming of ways I could bring Native American food systems back to the world so we could survive the coming collapse of monoculture food systems. I was dreaming about writing my album. I was dreaming of all the ways that I could make a difference in this life before I died.
Around this time community members came to me desperate for help. The Roundhouse in Santa Fe, New Mexico has become an impenetrable wall where the people’s needs and concerns cannot readily enter. Democrats who currently hold power in our centralized government are often sold out to oil and gas. They devise climate action strategies on one hand and hire former oil executives on the other. They appease the climate concerned world on one had, while making back door deals with PNM and oil companies on the other. This is exacerbated by the fact that the Permian Basin in southeastern New Mexico has become the Saudi Arabia of fracked gas.
Oil and gas hawks have turned toward New Mexico and are striking and preparing to leave us holding the clean up bill. If this oil goes into the air it will represent 60 giga tons of carbon dioxide. They told me that they needed someone like me if we were do our part in the climate crisis. of transforming New Mexico policy from an unsustainable, oil-driven machine, to a sophisticated, forward thinking approach to education, infrastructure, and prosperity.
We have some time to break free from these oil addictions. This departure from our carbon life will happen no matter what since it is a finite resource. We can either do it deliberately (in a graceful and beautiful way that our children can be proud of) or it will be forced upon us when we are not ready. Those are our only two options. There is no middle road, whether we want to admit it or not. I choose the first option. I believe that New Mexico is strong enough to do this. I believe in our people, I believe in our hearts, I believe in our minds, and I believe in our spirits.
I believe in us because I have seen it in my own life. I myself have broken deep-seated addictions. You see, I was born into an environment of drugs and alcohol. I was socialized to become an addict and started doing drugs and alcohol at age eleven. Many adults around me sold illegal drugs to pay rent and buy groceries. The young people in my family and I started to sell drugs too, thinking it was cool and normal. Even though I was conditioned to do this, the shame of these times and my actions haunts me to this day.
In the midst of all of this, I somehow made it into the prestigious Stanford University. Once I entered, my childhood conditioning was running my life. During my sophomore year, I hit rock bottom. This rock bottom was ushered in by an 8.8 earthquake while I was studying abroad in Chile. I broke my hip and my spine. I could not walk for two months. It was hard but I always say that breaking my hip and spine was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. It showed me that life is too short to be a slave to chemicals. Life is too short to waste. I went back home to Taos and my mother helped me make a good prayer. I prayed to the Diyin Dine’é (Navajo deities) to please help me get free from the cage of my addictions.
Turns out the Diyin Dine’é were listening. They sent me incredible messengers and helpers. Within ten months of making that prayer I quit all the drugs I was doing! I have since completed seven years of complete sobriety. I ended up graduating from Stanford with honors and embarking on a life of public service. I have since dedicated my life to making up for my less than glorious past and helping others.
To this day, I feel a great need to make up for what I have done, even though my childhood made it nearly impossible to escape the fate of an addict. I wake up each morning hungry for positive change, hungry for a chance to be a force of help in this world, hungry to help others before this short life disappears. Through this hunger, I have accidentally become an internationally renowned educator, author, public speaker, PhD student, scientist, musician, anthropologist and community organizer. All of this became possible when I broke my addictions. What could be possible for New Mexico, if we break our addiction to the product of oil and gas drug dealers? Could we become an international leader and show the world how to walk away from the boom and bust?
Speaking at Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Indigenous knowledge (2019)
We have a decision now – just as I faced a decision two months ago. Are we going to sit on the sidelines and let corrupt politicians decide our future for us? Or are we – everyday “ordinary“ citizens – going to jump into these uncomfortable places of leadership and tell the establishment what is going to happen? Tell the establishment how we are going to respect and take of this earth? Tell the establishment that we do not “work for oil and gas”? No. We work for our children, our grandchildren, and the next seven generations to come.
I was born and raised here in New Mexico. I went on to study at Stanford where I studied environmental anthropology. I came back to UNM to get my masters in education. Now I’m pursuing my doctorate in indigenous studies. I urge you to remember today that New Mexico is not the land of enchantment just because of our striking vistas and incredible geological formations. It is the people who make this land enchanted. It is the people who make me proud to be a New Mexican. It’s the Pueblos, the Diné, the Apache, and all the other Indigenous Nations who have fought tooth and nail to retain their culture and identity, that make me proud to be a New Mexican.
It is the farmers and dreamers who strive to bring innovative ideas to the world through our dreams and hard work. It’s the Hispanic families who have such a deep value of family and togetherness that make me proud to be a New Mexican. It’s the European Americans who fled the East Coast or fled the West Coast, who fled mainstream America, in search of a deeper meaning in life. It’s the African American neighbors who found a home in our desert and mountains, who are welcomed and cradled by these arms and bring all the strength of their ancestors here with them, who make me proud to be a New Mexican. It is every other race, creed and class who have come here to bask in the sunshine of this sacred land, who make me proud to be a new Mexican. You all make me proud to be a New Mexican.
We as a people have the power, ingenuity, and inspiration to change the direction of this state. To not become another case of the “resource curse”, like the Middle East, like Russia, like all those oil rich countries that fold into themselves and collapse in a heap of corruption. That doesn’t have to be us. Not if we take a step forward and take our power back. We have the strength to deviate from that norm and show the world what it looks like to gracefully and beautifully walk away from the bloody money the oil industry hands us. We have the strength to build a living for our people that does not destroy the living of our children. We have the intelligence to choose a future that is sane, forward thinking, logical, and compassionate for not just our children, but all life in New Mexico. And not just all life in New Mexico, but all of our relations across the globe and beyond. Everything that will be affected by the climate crisis. This is who we are. This is who I know us to be. I hope you will join this battle with me as warriors of innovation, compassion and courage.