Regis Pecos on Cochiti Pueblo's battle against the US Corp of Engineers

Evaluation Lab News

Posted: Apr 09, 2024 - 12:00am

Regis Pecos has had an extensive career in policy and government. Born and raised in Cochiti Pueblo, he served multiple terms as Lt. Governor and Governor and served on the traditional Tribal Council for 35 years. He was the longest-serving Chief Executive of what is now the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department and served as the Chief of Staff to Speaker Representative Ben Lujan in the House of Representatives for 12 years and four years as the House Majority Floor Leader, Representative Rick Miera. He also co-founded and co-directed the Leadership Institute at the Santa Fe Indian School and was recently appointed by Secretary of Interior Debra Haaland as a member of the Board of Directors of the congressionally enacted National Fund for Excellence in American Indian Education.

The Policy Seminar was thrilled to have Mr. Pecos as a guest speaker this semester. He spoke about his expansive career and the US history that still influences policy today. He also shared an early experience that influenced his life and work in politics and policy.

In 1965, construction on Cochiti Dam began, and the area was turned into a lake in 1973. This devastated Cochiti Pueblo. The lake destroyed their traditional lands and holy places and ruined their farmland because of the rising water table. This was compounded further by the lake being designed to be a recreational hot spot in New Mexico, creating even more burden on the pueblo and its people. Cochiti fought back by filing a lawsuit against the US Corp of Engineers. During the lawsuit, Mr. Pecos acted as a translator for the Pueblo. This battle, which Mr. Pecos described as “David vs. Goliath,” profoundly impacted him. The Pueblo’s Elders had limited fluency in English, and Mr. Pecos had to watch as his revered leaders were belittled and insulted by the opposing side. He witnessed how little capacity his Pueblo had to fight this battle compared to the US Government. He told the class it was his first major introduction to the power of politics and the way policymaking can change peoples’ lives.

The lawsuit was settled in 1990 in favor of the Cochiti Pueblo, and the government paid 4.5 million dollars in damages. Mr. Pecos shared that something his grandfather told him during this battle still applies to his work in policy and politics: “Remember that your perceived enemies will be your best teachers in compassion.”