Do politicians know enough about the constituencies they represent when examining laws and making important decisions? According to attendees at the new Legislature's Native American Caucus, the answer is no. One Navajo lawmaker pointed out that in Arizona, for example, lack of knowledge about Native American history hinders politicians from making informed decisions as they deal with important issues that effect the state's tribes.
The Caucus is a bipartisan forum for legislators to discuss issues facing Arizona's twenty one recognized tribes. The discussion centered around the importance of increasing the amount of contact politicians have with Indian nations and providing more cultural competency training. New Mexico recently passed a law that requires state employees who have contact with Indian nations to undergo training in Native American culture. The law even requires the governor to meet with tribes at least once a year. Arizona is looking at adopting a similar law.
It will be interesting to see whether or not Arizona follows New Mexico’s lead. Having this kind of valuable contact and deeper understanding of tribal needs undoubtedly makes it much easier for New Mexico’s politicians to maintain healthy relationships with tribes, because they are on the ground level and understand critical issues by seeing them with their own eyes and learning from tribal leadership.
All politicians should be educated about the foundations and structures of Native governments. Perhaps if Arizona follow suit so will other states as well. It is too early to tell but will be an interesting initiative to follow in the years to come.