State rep looks to increase protections for Native American traditions

Politics - Government

New Mexicans are surrounded by Native American culture. It’s a huge part of our history and non-natives sometimes showcase it, but one lawmaker wants to make sure it’s being done in the right way. 

Supporters of a memorial want to fight back against people and organizations who misuse Native American songs and dances for financial gain or even misportray their culture. 

“If what these organizations are doing is acceptable as honoring us Native people, then we should accept blackface as acceptable—but it’s not. Nor is this type of activity. You don’t honor a group of people by dressing up like them and pretending to be them,” expert witness Shawn Price said. 

Rep. Anthony Allison is sponsoring House Memorial 70. The representative says Native American dances and songs have cultural and religious meanings and it’s offensive when people use or portray those songs and dances for the wrong reasons. 

The memorial calls for state departments and the Attorney General to prosecute people and groups that exploit, misappropriate or mislead the portrayal of Native American songs and dances. 

During a hearing on the bill, some called out the Boy Scouts saying they are the worst offenders of this by using Native American songs and dances as part of a Boy Scout tradition known as “Order of the Arrow.”

Committee Republicans expressed concern that current state statute doesn’t allow prosecution of these actions as a crime. 

“Asking the Attorney General to enforce that seems to me a little odd, given that the Attorney General what I think would be a private right of action,” Rep. Greg Nibert said. 

Those concerns prompted talk of instead having state agencies work more closely with state pueblos, nations and tribes to get those statutes created. 

They also want to better educate non-natives to make sure they realize mimicking Native dances and songs is not okay. 

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