Speaker: Deb Haaland ('06),
U.S. Secretary of the Interior
Thursday, September 22, 2022
Lecture Begins: 5:30 PM
Post-Lecture: Mingle & Refreshments

UNM School of Law Forum 

Watch Lecture Recording

 This program has been approved by NM MCLE for 1.0 General CLE credits.

Deb Haaland, native american woman with long black hair

This lecture/symposium series has been established to celebrate and keep alive the extraordinary legacy of Dennis Chavez, one of New Mexico’s most influential U.S. senators during the mid-20th century. Sen. Chavez was a remarkable New Mexican, a populist from the South Valley who served a noteworthy and significant term in the U.S. Senate from 1935 until his death in 1962. He is remembered as a pivotal and early advocate of civil rights legislation.

"Half a century after his death, Dennis Chavez's life and legacy are a powerful reminder that the struggle for civil rights and social justice and against discrimination is always with us. And that no matter how unpopular, we must always have the courage to raise our voices to speak to truth and stand up for the rights of others."

Gloria Tristani

Deb Haaland ('06)

Secretary Deb Haaland made history when she became the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary. She is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and a 35th generation New Mexican.

Secretary Haaland grew up in a military family; her father was a 30-year combat Marine who was awarded the Silver Star Medal for saving six lives in Vietnam, and her mother is a Navy veteran who served as a federal employee for 25 years at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As a military child, she attended 13 public schools before graduating from Highland High School in Albuquerque.

As a single mother, Secretary Haaland volunteered at her child's pre-school to afford early childhood education. Like many parents, she had to rely on food stamps at times as a single parent, lived paycheck-to-paycheck, and struggled to put herself through college. At the age of 28, Haaland enrolled at the University of New Mexico (UNM) where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in English and later earned her J.D. from UNM Law School. Secretary Haaland and her child, who also graduated from the University of New Mexico, are still paying off student loans.

Secretary Haaland ran her own small business producing and canning Pueblo Salsa, served as a tribal administrator at San Felipe Pueblo, and became the first woman elected to the Laguna Development Corporation Board of Directors, overseeing business operations of the second largest tribal gaming enterprise in New Mexico. She successfully advocated for the Laguna Development Corporation to create policies and commitments to environmentally friendly business practices.

Throughout her career in public service, Secretary Haaland has broken barriers and opened the doors of opportunity for future generations.

After running for New Mexico Lieutenant Governor in 2014, Secretary Haaland became the first Native American woman to be elected to lead a State Party. She is one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress. In Congress, she focused on environmental justice, climate change, missing and murdered indigenous women, and family-friendly policies.

The Endowment

In Fall 2009, the Dennis Chavez Foundation and its representatives, Gloria C. Tristani, Jorge E. Tristani, Jr., and Gloria M. Tristani (`90), established an endowment for a lectureship/symposium on Law and Civil Rights, designed to promote awareness and academic discourse of U.S. Senator Dennis Chavez and topics related to his legacy and life's work.

A gift of $100,000 created the opportunity to invite preeminent scholars to deliver an annual public lecture on Law and Civil Rights, the life work of Senator Dennis Chavez or related topics of human rights, equal opportunity, Hispanics and New Mexico in government, law and politics and their impact on human welfare.

El Senador

Senator Dennis Chavez

Dennis Chavez grew up the Barelas neighborhood of Albuquerque in a Spanish-speaking household in the late 1800s. It was during those early years that he developed an internal foundation that would drive him and guide him for the rest of his life.

The second oldest of eight children, Chavez left school at 13 to help support the family. During his six-day-a-week job delivering groceries for Highland Grocery Store, he witnessed disturbing inequities in class and race. His time off was spent at the public library immersing himself in U.S. history.

Before he could vote, Chavez became involved with the Democratic Party. His exceptional ability to communicate with the state's Spanish-speaking voters so impressed A.A. Jones during his 1916 U.S. senatorial campaign that Sen. Jones invited Chavez to join his Washington, D.C. staff. Determined to become a lawyer, Chavez took evening law classes at Georgetown Law School and earned his law degree in 1920, spending his days on Capitol Hill.

Chavez returned to Albuquerque to set up a law practice, but his future was in the political arena. After one term in the New Mexico Legislature, he served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1935, he became the only Hispanic in the U.S. Senate, where he served until his death in 1962, establishing himself as an advocate of civil and human rights.

Chavez and Kennedy

Chavez also was concerned with the development of resources in the West. He actively supported measures such as water and soil conservation programs and rural electrification. He introduced many bills to protect Indian lands, citizenship, voting rights and self determination.

Chavez conferred with every president from Hoover to Kennedy, and ultimately became one of the most powerful members of Congress, but when he returned home to New Mexico, he always delighted in the opportunity to visit with his constituents. And he never forgot his humble roots.