East Meets West: ENMU Native Affairs Policy Raises Questions

WNMU’s Mustang Newspaper is proud to announce that they have joined forces with ‘The Chase,’ the student-led campus newspaper out of Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, New Mexico. Select stories from ‘The Mustang’ will begin running in the ENMU newspaper (both in print and online) while select stories from ‘The Chase’ will appear on our website. The goal for this experimental venture is to support student journalism and to increase the reach, readership and influence of both publications across the state.

This story, written by Mr. Greg Wells, originally appeared in The Chase out of Eastern New Mexico University.

Portales, NM- ENMU displays its “commitment to diversity and inclusion” described in the Student Handbook through its Office of Multicultural Affairs, which includes the offices of African-American, Hispanic, International, and Native American Affairs. These offices provide support to minority and foreign students and seek to educate the Eastern community about various cultures by sponsoring and hosting public events.

But for the Office of Native American Affairs, inclusion for some means exclusion for others.

A brochure for Multicultural Affairs states that Native American Affairs “functions as an advocate and cultural liaison for all tribes” where native students “support one another in [their] diversity.” However, only native students with a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB)—an official document certifying ancestry in a U.S. government-recognized tribe—are eligible to work in the office.

This disqualifies potential employees who fit the definition of Native American but come from cultures outside of the United States, such as Hispanic indigenous students from Mexico and Central America. It also rules out U.S. natives from non-federally recognized tribes.

Native American Affairs is the only office under the Multicultural Affairs umbrella with a specific employment requirement of this sort.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers of 15 or more people, including educational institutions, from discriminating on the basis of race or national origin. A bona fideoccupational qualification (BFOQ) exception to Title VII may be granted if it is considered “reasonably necessary to the normal operation of [a] particular business” for its employees to be of a certain national origin. There is no BFOQ exception for race, which refers to physical characteristics rather than ancestry.

Title VII also contains an exception that allows preferential treatment to be given to Native Americans, but it only applies to employers located on or near Indian reservations who employ natives living on or near those reservations.

One student who reported being denied the opportunity to work for Native American Affairs said that her father, a native from the Chichimeca people of Mexico, was involved in a Native American club at Eastern in the 1970s. He spoke highly of the experience, which encouraged his daughter to seek out Native American Affairs.

“I feel excluded by Native Affairs because from my knowledge of the past, you didn’t need a CDIB to be a part of it,” said the student, who asked that her name not be used. “It turns me off to the whole Native Affairs idea here on campus because they seem to be more focused on one area of natives than others.”

The student said she did not consider working for Hispanic Affairs instead after being turned down by Native American Affairs because she “never really identified or grew up with” the Hispanic aspects of her heritage.

Multicultural Affairs Director Diana Cordova did not agree to an in-person interview. In an email exchange that included Cordova, Native American Affairs Director and undergraduate student Jerene Yazzie said that although students do need a CDIB to be employed by the office, it has an open-door policy toward visitors and does not have an official membership.

Yazzie emphasized Native American Affairs’ duty to “preserve, respect, and protect tribal history,” which she said the office accomplishes by only hiring people with CDIBs. She said she is “not familiar with the term Hispanic indigenous” as it pertains to Native Americans.

Cordova explained that Multicultural Affairs does not operate under a specific set of bylaws because it is a mission-based department, not an organization.

Dr. Jeff Long, ENMU Vice President of Student Affairs, said in an interview that Multicultural Affairs is funded by both university money and private donations. The ENMU Foundation does not have records of individual donors to Multicultural or Native American Affairs.

ENMU Human Resources Director Benito Gonzales declined to comment on Native American Affairs’ hiring policy for the time being, saying he wishes to look into the matter first.

For more stories, visit www.enmuthechaseonline.com

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