Governor Frank Paiz, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo.

Frank Paiz: NMAI’s Meet Native America Series

Dennis Zotigh

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Frank Kengie Paiz, governor for the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo.

Can you give us your Native name?

I can give you my official title on the Tribal Council:Ta-budeh means governor in our native language, Tiwa.

Where is your community located?

The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo is located within El Paso County in far West Texas and is comprised of a reservation having a checker-boarded, noncontiguous geography. Its primary land base, housing the tribal government headquarters and residential districts, is surrounded by the cities of El Paso and Socorro. The tribe owns more than 74,000 acres of land with approximately 3,000 acres held in trust by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The tribe has also invested in the acquisition of property for tribal businesses and future development. The tribe owns the Chilicote Ranch, totaling more than 70,000 acres of grasslands, hills, canyons, and highlands located in Presidio and Jeff Davis counties. In addition to the diverse wildlife and plant life, the Chilicote houses the tribe’s cattle ranching operations.

Where was your tribe originally from?

After leaving the homelands of Quarai Pueblo due to drought, the Tigua sought refuge at Isleta Pueblo, located in what is now Albuquerque, New Mexico. The people were later captured by the Spanish during the 1680 Pueblo Revolt and forced to walk south for more than 400 miles. The Tigua settled and built the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo in El Paso, Texas, and soon after built the acequia (canal) system that sustained a thriving agricultural-based community. The tribe's early economic and farming efforts helped pave the way for the development of the region. The tribe maintains its traditional political system and ceremonial practices and continues to flourish as a Pueblo community.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

The governor/administrator is the chief administrative executive for the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, performing executive management and administrative duties in planning, organizing, and directing the administrative systems and direct service programs of the tribal government. The governor/administrator provides visionary, innovative leadership, supervision, and general direction for the Pueblo management team to coordinate their efforts as they work to achieve departmental objectives. The governor/administrator is the chief liaison between the government administration and Tribal Council.

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your Native community?

Born and raised on the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo reservation, I experienced many obstacles and challenges that helped shape the tough exterior and sympathetic heart needed to serve as a tribal leader of a small, tight-knit pueblo. Rooted in deep tradition, my family line prepared me for the leadership role I believe I was born to assume, and I vowed to restore a traditional grounding to the Tribal Council.

I can relate to many of our community members and the socioeconomic challenges that oftentimes plague our children and families. Conditions of poverty, unemployment, and discrimination sometimes coincide to paralyze progress. The promise of our children, however, and the assets we possess as a collective pueblo always resonated in my will to institute change. I labor daily to make decisions and chart courses that will lift the pueblo in success and sustainability. As I enter my ninth year in office, I often reflect on the experiences of the past to keep me grounded, humble, and accountable.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

The legacy of tribal leaders in my family line has always been the driving force behind my inspiration to serve in tribal leadership and to promote the Tigua customs and traditions. I remember looking in awe at my relatives during tribal feast days as they stood proud to be Tigua. I am a child of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and was raised and mentored not only by my immediate family, but also by extended family members, neighbors, and elders alike who now serve as my inspiration for creating and administering responsible government.

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

Yes, the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo has a Traditional Council consisting of a cacique (chief), capitan de guerra (war captain), aguacil (tribal sheriff), tribal governors, and four capitanes (captains). The cacique and war captain provide spiritual and traditional guidance. The cacique and war captain are appointed to life-long terms. Members of the traditional council are elected annually on New Year’s Eve and are responsible for maintaining all aspects of Tigua culture, including traditional ceremonies, feast days, marital and death rites, and other related functions.

To read the full interview, visit the NMAI series here.

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