The Jicarilla Apache Nation will hold a special primary election on April 17 following the resignation of president Levi Pesata in mid-February due after he remarked that Jicarilla women were “loose.”
The tribe is largely located in New Mexico, though a northern section of the reservation is located Colorado. Pesata announced that he was stepping down on Feb. 15, citing “personal reasons” in an official statement issued by the tribe. But as was pointed out by Indianz.com, and initially reported by Indian Country Today, Pesata’s resignation appears to be one in name only for the five-term office holder.
On Feb. 2, Pesata spoke at a Jicarilla Legislative dinner focused on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s crisis, one the tribe sponsored for a delegation of New Mexico state legislators. In addition to the state politicians, seven tribal council members were in attendance with their families, according to Jicarilla tribal members in attendance. At the event, Pesata, in what seems to have been an attempt at a joke, told the state legislators, “If any of you are single, we got lots of loose women up there,” in reference to the Jicarilla reservation.
According to ICT, members of the tribal Legislative Council pressured Pesata to step down in the days following the event. Thirteen days later, the Farmington Daily Times reported the council held a meeting to publicly announce Pesata’s resignation and tap Vice President Edward Velarde to serve as interim president until a new election. The legislative council also passed a resolution to hold a special election within 60 days, though the May 17 general election date marks 61 days out from the event.
Nine candidates have thrown their name in the hat thus far. According to ICT, the field includes Velarde, former President Ty Vicenti, current Legislative Council members Troy Vicenti and Darrell Paiz, former Legislative Council member Leon Reval, and tribal citizens Violet Garcia, Merrill Guitterrez, Ouray Muskrat, and Jennifer Muskrat. The top two vote-getters next week will square off in the general on May 17. All nine had statements printed in the tribal newspaper, the Jicarilla Chieftain, with the majority of the statements expressing a need for fresh, transparent leadership.
One candidate, Jennifer Muskrat, first blew the whistle on Pesata’s misogynistic comments by posting about it on Facebook; she was also among the tribal citizens that led the charge to replace Pesata last August, when the former president was wrapped up in a major embezzlement scandal following an audit of the Apache Nugget Casino. In a statement to ICT, she said that the current leadership operates as a “police state” and that reform is needed to include the urban Jicarilla population.
In 2020, the Jicarilla Apache Nation will hold a vote for a full-term president, as well as votes for vice president and four tribal council slots.