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A man of ‘profound impact’

August 6, 2018 GMT

Regis Pecos has a long and impressive résumé.

A former governor of Cochiti Pueblo who has served on the Tribal Council for 30 years, Pecos is credited with leading a successful fight against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the federal government that held them liable for the “devastation” caused to tribal lands by the construction of Cochiti Lake. He helped gain a three-part settlement that included remediation of the site, but memories of the destruction of one of the tribe’s most revered holy places remain painful.

“To see the people that I loved and revered and respected be brought to their knees in literal pain and agony and tears was a really hurtful but defining moment in my life,” he said.

Though he resigned in 2000 under a cloud of controversy following two alcohol-related arrests within a year, Pecos was the longest-serving member of the New Mexico Office of Indian Affairs, where he listed among his accomplishments the state’s recognition of tribal sovereignty and the establishment of tribal eligibility for state capital outlay projects.

The late Wendell Chino, the longtime president of the Mescalero Apache Nation, once said that “no single individual has had a more profound impact guiding state-tribal relations in the history of New Mexico” than Pecos.

For his part, Pecos, who is married with two children and four grandchildren, credits his wife, Victoria, as being “the anchor and source of strength and encouragement.”

Pecos served as chairman of the Santa Fe Indian School for 15 years. During his tenure, SFIS became the first Native American school in the nation to receive the Excellence in Education award from the president of the United States.

Pecos said he also is especially proud of the time he worked as chief of staff to the late House Speaker Ben Luján, who died of cancer in 2012. His son, U.S. Rep Ben Ray Luján, said Pecos was one of his father’s most trusted advisers and friends, but also a faith leader.

“Regis was with us at my father’s bedside during his final moments on Earth,” he said via email. “My father told Regis, ‘Lend me your breath.’ My dad knew if only his lungs would heal, he would be here to fight another day.”

The younger Luján said he and his family think of Pecos not only as a friend “but consider him a member of our family.”

A friend and former classmate of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Pecos is the co-founder of the New Mexico Leadership Institute, a Santa Fe-based indigenous think tank that has played host to Sotomayor twice in recent years.

Pecos currently serves as senior policy analyst for House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton, who called Pecos “one of New Mexico’s geniuses.”

Pecos’ associates say his ability to multitask while remaining focused on an overall goal remains his unique gift.

“He’s sort of everywhere,” said Sireesha Manne, executive director of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, where Pecos serves on the board.

“I think he must be teleporting himself,” she said jokingly. “There’s always huge demands on his time, but somehow, he manages to be everywhere at once.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.