Governor Edward Paul Torres, Pueblo of Isleta. Isleta, New Mexico; January 2016.

Edward Paul Torres: NMAI’s Meet Native America Series

Dennis Zotigh
4/21/16

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.

My name is Edward Paul Torres, and I am currently serving my second two-year term as Governor for the Pueblo of Isleta.

Can you share your Native name and its English translation, or your nickname?

My Native Tiwa name is Kimo, which means Mountain Lion.

Where is your tribal community located?

The Pueblo of Isleta is located in central New Mexico along the Rio Grande River, 13 miles south of Albuquerque. The name Isleta means Little Island in Spanish, as the pueblo was situated on an island within the Rio Grande River when the Spanish colonists arrived in the region.

I am very proud to say that our Pueblo now consists of approximately 210,000 acres after this winter, when over 90,000 acres of land was placed into trust status by the Obama administration. This represents the largest single transfer of land back to a tribe’s control in U.S. history.

Where is your tribe originally from? 

Our Pueblo people have been here since time immemorial. We were born of our Mother Earth for our Creator Father. We Isleta Natives are the direct descendants of the peoples of the Mesa Verde Cliff-dwellers civilization of southern Colorado. I share an Isleta Pueblo and a Laguna Pueblo heritage. The Laguna Pueblo people are the descendants of the great Chaco Canyon civilization of west-central New Mexico. Both of my peoples maintained contact with and traded with the Mayans, Aztecs, and other great civilizations of Mexico.

What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?

It was a temptation for the Europeans in the 16th century to let the notion of racial inferiority become an excuse to push the Indians from the lands they occupied. Largely as the result of arguments of Spanish theoreticians such as Francisco de Vitoria, the idea developed that certain basic rights are inherent in men as men—"not by reason of their race, creed, or color, but by reason of their humanity." In 1537, by the bull Sublimis Deus, Pope Paul III gave the Doctrine of Vitoria papal support by proclaiming to the Christian sovereigns of Europe that Indians, and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or lands. A doctrine of respect for Indian possessions became the guiding principle of Spain’s Law of the Indies, and the origin of recognized tribal sovereignty, which is still recognized today, including in a proclamation recently issued by President Barack Obama.

How is your tribal government set up?

In centuries past, our Pueblo governmental organization was similar to all other Pueblo governments, headed by a Cacique and other traditional positions of government. The Spanish introduced the position of Governor and other civil officials to carry on the duties of our tribal governments aside from our religious positions. After the Spanish, the Mexican government recognized the Pueblos, and after a war with the United States, we were also recognized by the United States government.

The Spanish king initially presented the Pueblo Governors with a vara or cane of office that represented our sovereign authority. Thereafter, the Mexican government also presented us with a cane to recognize that same authority under their government, and, finally, the United States government, through President Abraham Lincoln, bestowed upon us the Lincoln cane that recognized our sovereign status and government-to-government relationships. Today, all Pueblo Governors maintain their canes of office as symbols of hundreds of years of sovereign authority over our people.

Today, Isleta has a democratic tribal government and a Constitution that was approved in 1947, with three branches of government: the Executive Branch, which is headed by a Governor and two Lieutenant Governors; the Legislative Branch, which consists of a seven-member Tribal Council; and the Judicial Branch, with a Chief Judge and two Associate Judges, as well as an Appellate Court.

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

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