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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Albuquerque, NM — Today the All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG) welcomed a major development in the historic Yazzie/Martinez v. the State of New Mexico lawsuit and court ruling. At a monthly APCG meeting on August 24, 2023, New Mexico Attorney General Raul Torrez informed the Pueblo Governors of his intent to take over the year’s long litigation on behalf of the State of New Mexico, aiming for a definitive resolution and potential settlement.
In 2018, a district court judge ruled that New Mexico failed to provide Native American students a sufficient education, a guaranteed right under the state’s constitution. The landmark ruling, which also included three other student groups as plaintiffs, led to substantial criticism of the state for its slow and inadequate response in addressing a myriad of education deficiencies outlined in the court’s findings.
APCG Chairman Mark Mitchell called the announcement welcomed news, “We are elated to hear that the Attorney General is making a bold move and will assume control of this unfinished business and hopefully bring an end to this litigation. The tribes, especially our children, have been waiting so long for some meaningful progress since the court decision came down 5 years ago. Our patience was starting to run thin.”
Typically, the New Mexico Attorney General represents the state and its agencies when a claim has been filed against the state. The Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit was filed when former Republican Governor Susana Martinez was in office. However, rather than have the Attorney General at the time, a Democrat, represent the state, she chose to have outside counsel to manage the case. That decision continued under Governor Lujan Grisham. Today, Attorney General Torrez informed the Pueblo Governors, he is asserting his authority and will push to assume control of the litigation.
“The Yazzie Martinez lawsuit is a profound case that identifies systemic issues we have in our educational system,” said Attorney General Torrez. “This case is monumental in setting a precedent for Native American and other minority students.”
Pueblo Governors including Acoma Governor Randall Vicente were pleased that the Attorney General Office is willing to work New Mexico’s tribal leaders in hopes of reaching a significant outcome for Native students.
Governor Vicente said, “Today’s announcement is huge. It’s a major shift in how this lawsuit and court decision have been handled by the state. In the years since the lawsuit was filed and the decision came down, so many of our Pueblo students have graduated. Unfortunately, so many were not able to reap the benefits. Now, my hope is that policies will finally be put in place and education programs will be developed, along with recurring funding, so that our children get the education they richly deserve both now and in the future.”
Representative Derrick Lente (D-65) primary sponsor of the Tribal Remedy Framework remarked, “ The intent as announced by Attorney General Raul Torrez is welcomed news, a legislator, standing shoulder to shoulder with the Pueblos, Tribes and Nations of New Mexico to advocate for our children has always been the right thing to do.”
Rep. Lente continued, “If this is what we need to move us forward in a coordinated and collaborative manner, I welcome the Attorney General’s vision and decision to join us in responding to the magnitude of this crisis. I remain committed to these efforts on behalf of our children.”
The Attorney General has committed to collaborating with tribal educators and education specialists in crafting a solution-focused framework, encompassing the plaintiff’s perspective, along with the necessary resources that will hopefully bring an end to the litigation.