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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


September 6, 2003 - Issue 95


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Tribal Leader Learned to Help by Following His Family's Example

by Marissa Stone The New Mexican

Eugene PinoEugene Pino was 10 years old when his career as a tribal leader began to take shape.

He remembers both Indians and non-Indians stopping at his great grandparents' general store on San Ildefonso Pueblo.

Pino's great-grandmother gave away more flour and potatoes at the store than she sold, he said.

That great-grandmother was Maria Martinez, the renowned potter.

"She lived with open arms," Pino, 48, said Thursday, as he took a break from a Native American Parent Committee Retreat in Santa Fe.

Martinez taught her children and grandchildren to do the same. She and her husband, Julian, also taught their children to respect their elders and serve their community, Pino said.

In February, Pino became the first Indian to win a seat on the Pojoaque Valley Board of Education in more than 20 years.

Pino, who attended Pojoaque schools and St. Catherine's Indian School, remembers seeing Indian students falling behind because of poverty, substance abuse and domestic violence.

The students' problems were sometimes made worse because tribal leaders weren't held accountable, Pino said. And those students weren't represented in their classes or on school boards.

Someone needed to do something. Pino decided to be that person. Now he's serving students full time, but he stresses that said he works for all students, not just Indians.

Before running for the board, Pino spent two terms between 1992 and 1998 as a San Ildefonso tribal councilor. During one of those terms, San Ildefonso Gov. Pete Martinez couldn't serve his duties as governor so he delegated them to Pino.

Pino likes has always wanted to be a conduit, which is Hii-tuu in Tewa. The word also means the voice, listener and communicator.

Pino sees himself as a bridge between Indians and non-Indians. Members of San Juan, Santa Clara, Nambé, Pojoaque, Tesuque and San Ildefonso pueblos come to Pino for advice and information about the schools, he said. And Pino is around to make certain things clear to the board, like the importance of feast days and other tribal activities, which sometimes come up without much notice. Another issue was that Indians were unsure of was who to contact in the school system about those events.

At one time, the tribes liked to be autonomous and "everyone was on their own," Pino said. Now, Indians are realizing the good side of representation, he said. Through cohesiveness, things get done and the tribes are on the path to making their children's' lives better, he said.

But the tribes still need to work on maintaining their language and making parental participation in their children's' schooling a priority, he said. More than 360 Indian students attend school in the district and even more want to, Pino said.

He wants to be a stepping stone for other Indians, Pino said. "I want others to seek positions where they can make a difference, rather than for political gain."

For now, Pino urges Indians to get involved in the Native American Parent Committee, which strives to improve opportunities for Indian students

Pino is also the chairman of the Native American Caucus of the National School Board Association and a delegate for the Democratic Party of New Mexico.

For more information on the Native American Parent Committee, call 983-2667.

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