Legislative aide apologizes to Native Americans

SANTA FE  — Rachel Gudgel – a top legislative aide who was reprimanded last year after allegations that she made disparaging comments about Native Americans – has issued an apology to New Mexico’s tribal leaders, students and families.

But she also faced new calls this week to resign or be removed from her position, including comments by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who said she would have fired Gudgel if she worked for the administration.

In a letter to tribes, nations, pueblos and their children and families, Gudgel said she made insensitive comments that were “insulting and harmful” and that she was reprimanded by her employer, the Legislative Education Study Committee, where she serves as director.

“I humbly ask for your forgiveness,” she said in the letter. “I realize that my comments were hurtful and caused disharmony to you, your families and children, and to the Navajo, Pueblo and Apache tribal communities.”

In a closed meeting of the Legislative Education Study Committee last week, a motion to fire Gudgel failed on a 5-5 vote.

What she is accused of saying – and whether the allegations were substantiated – isn’t clear. Legislative staff wouldn’t release the findings of the personnel investigation.

In a statement, Lujan Grisham said Friday that her administration would have handled things differently, including publicly releasing the investigative report.

“If this individual were under my employ, she would have been fired by now,” Lujan Grisham said.

The Jicarilla Apache Nation, meanwhile, joined other tribal leaders this week in calling for Gudgel to resign or be removed.

“Ms. Gudgel has lost the respect and credibility of the Jicarilla Apache Nation and other tribal leaders,” Nation President Edward Velarde wrote to legislative leaders.

The next steps aren’t clear.

In written statement, Sen. Shannon Pinto, a Democrat from Tohatchi on the Navajo Nation, said “the priority now should be focused on the important issues to improve educational outcomes for every child in New Mexico.”

She said she had “experienced nothing but professionalism and respect” from Gudgel.

But state Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, said he stands with tribal leaders who condemn racism. “I really don’t think this is over yet,” he said.

Gudgel, for her part, said she has spoken to tribal leaders and is committed to becoming a “better supervisor and better person.”

“I was wrong and am deeply sorry,” she said in her letter.

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