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The Spanish settlers and friars who came to colonize the Indigenous nations of the Southwest Borderlands in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries brought with them distinct ideas of voting, town governance, and citizenship. Wary of dealings with large cadres of traditional village elders, they sought to implement a streamlined system of Indian town government whereby an Indigenous electorate voted for a governor, lieutenant governor, and other town officers. Spain hoped that these semi-autonomous communities, known as repúblicas de indios, or Indian republics, would eventually result in tax-paying citizens at the Pueblos of New Mexico and Arizona, the mission communities of Pimería Alta, and in the Yaqui towns of Sonora. Although missionization did not lead to citizenship during the Spanish period, these Indian groups used imposed concepts of voting and secular town government to subvert and challenge Spanish colonial authority, protect land and water rights, and maintain village sovereignty. When Mexico gained its independence in 1821, it declared Indians citizens of the Republic of Mexico. The Mexican government hoped to end all special distinctions for Indians, and usher in their inclusion in the body politic. In some areas, Indians began participating in politics beyond the limits of their communities, working alongside Hispanos on governing councils. But in other areas, Hispano encroachments and the decline of the missions led to a constricting of Indigenous land and rights. Still, under these challenging circumstances many Indigenous communities continued with their systems of electoral town politics. While Indian in New Mexico and Arizona remained mostly outside of the political mainstream, they maintained their dedication to the vote on the town level, and to securing their status as independent Native nations. As New Mexico and Arizona passed to United States hands in the 1840s and 1850s, Indigenous communities in the region maintained hybridized forms of voting and civil government that had been adapted to local needs over the decades of colonization. The United States sought to implement Indian policies that it believed would finally result in fully enfranchised' citizen Indians. These policies included allotment of land in severalty and schooling. During the U.S. territorial period, Indians in New Mexico and Arizona rejected U.S. citizenship and did not seek the right to vote on a large scale, because voting in municipal and territorial elections would have opened up their towns to outside control. Instead, these communities continued to turn inward, strengthening town electoral systems that had served to protect Indigenous land and sovereignty for centuries. Acting as sovereign nations, they fought to secure and protect their status as citizens of Indigenous nations, as they had during the Spanish and Mexican eras. The vote was an important tool for maintaining sovereignty, and it could be rejected when it threatened Indigenous rights.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Truett, Samuel

Second Committee Member

Reyes, Barbara

Third Committee Member

Ball, Durwood

Fourth Committee Member

Chamberlain, Kathleen



Project Sponsors

Yavapai-Apache Nation, University of New Mexico-Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, University of New Mexico Office of Graduate Studies

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