Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
September 23, 2000 - Issue 19

Women in Charge of Jicarilla Apaches
By Morgan Lee Journal staff writer

The Jicarilla Apache tribe Friday turned its top job over to a mother of two who admires Cherokee leader Wilma Mankiller, quotes baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda and believes some tribal ceremonies should be reserved for men.

Incoming Jicarilla Apache President Claudia Vigil-Muniz, the first woman to hold the tribe's highest office, said what distinguished her campaign from past efforts was teamwork with her unofficial running mate Lamavaya Caramillo, a veteran parole officer for the Jicarilla Tribal Court.

Although Jicarilla voters separately chose their president and vice president, Vigil-Muniz campaigned closely with Caramillo and the two made history at the polls. They became the first all-female Jicarilla administration.

The tribe had a female vice president, Rose Vicenti, in the late-1970s but Vigil-Muniz's ascent to the presidency is the first for a woman, according to Bureau of Indian Affairs Superintendent Sherryl Vigil.

The female leaders have attracted attention beyond the Jicarilla reservation.

Madeline Garcia of Santa Domino Pueblo took Friday off from work at Bernalillo Public Schools and traveled more than three hours to attend the inauguration.

"What impressed me, what interested me was the election of women leaders," Garcia said. "I hope they will continue to open the government and get more of the tribal members involved in functions."

Vigil-Muniz said she made a last-minute decision to run for president just in time for the election filing deadline.

Her résumé appears to point toward the presidency.

The daughter of a professional painter, Vigil-Muniz was born and raised in Dulce, the Jicarilla capital.

After graduating from Dulce High School, she attended The College of Santa Fe and earned a bachelor's degree in business administration. She chose a propitious major: public administration.

Since then, Vigil-Muniz has served on several public boards and committees that supervised public schools, KCIE radio station, the tribal constitution, economic development and public housing groups.

Despite her accomplishments and influence, Vigil-Muniz peppered her inauguration speech with self-deprecating remarks, asking forgiveness from tribal elders if she spoke out of turn.

Humility aside, Vigil-Muniz had been eager to take office after winning the election July 15. When the tribe delayed the inauguration from August to September, Vigil-Muniz protested through an attorney. The disagreement pitted the new leadership against opinions of the Nordhaus law firm, which represents the tribe.

Vigil-Muniz said Friday it was too soon to tell whether the tribe's relationship with the Nordhaus firm would change under new leadership.

Dressed for the inauguration in a lavender Apache cloth dress made by her sister, Vigil-Muniz removed the microphone from the podium and walked the stage in the modern, informal political fashion, speaking in the Jicarilla language for brief periods.

"The message I want to send to the Jicarilla people today is to work together," she said.

In deferential moments at the inauguration she reaffirmed to applause from the audience that certain male-only rituals should remain off-limits to women.

She also lobbied in general terms for change and new ideas.

"It may mean having to put aside our pride for a while to think differently," she said.

Vigil-Muniz will be at the helm of a 1,300 square-mile, oil- and timber-rich reservation. She also will be expected to lead a tribe of about 3,000 that, despite new-found economic resources, faces health threats from an antiquated water system, management difficulties at a shuttered casino and a faltering school system that recently was placed on probation by accreditation officials.

Upon election, Vigil-Muniz resigned her position at the Jicarilla Apache Department of Education, which administers federal education grants to local schools.

Education was on the new president's mind as she called for the teaching of the Jicarilla language when foreign language requirements arrive in a few years at public schools on the reservation.

Jicarilla children should learn their native tongue before French and German, she said. She implored the tribe to send more of its students to college.

"The time has come that we need our people to be educated," Vigil-Muniz said.

Speaking about the delicate task of leading, Vigil-Muniz quoted Lasorda and said, "a leader is someone that gets out in front of people but doesn't get so far out ahead so that he doesn't hear their footsteps."

And the vice president had a different sign off from the stage after taking the oath of office.

"May the great spirit bring you peace and wisdom," Caramillo said.

Jicarilla Apache



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