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Abeyta to Speak at Rio Rancho Commencement

Joseph Abeyta

Joseph Abeyta

Las Vegas, N.M – Joseph Abeyta, tribal councilman for the Santa Clara Pueblo and former superintendent for  Santa Fe Indian School, will speak at the New Mexico Highlands University Rio Rancho Center Commencement May 10.

Abeyta’s distinguished career as an educator and superintendent spanned more than four decades. In 2006, he received the National Indian Education Association Lifetime Achievement Award.

Abeyta chaired the National Advisory Council on Indian Education from 1974 – 1977 and again from 1994 – 1997. He was appointed to these terms first by U.S. President Gerald Ford and then by U.S. President Bill Clinton.

When reflecting on his education career, Abeyta said: “There were so many negative stereotypes about Native Americans in the 1960s and ‘70s. Perhaps my most significant contribution as an educator was demonstrating that we are capable.”

Abeyta graduated from Highlands in 1965 with his bachelor’s degree in education administration and sociology before earning his master’s degree in education administration from Harvard. Abeyta also completed Ph.D. coursework in education administration from the University of New Mexico.

In 1974, congress approved the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act. In 1977, Abeyta was appointed as the first Native American superintendent for the Albuquerque Indian School, the first tribal owned and operated school. He said he was charged with developing every aspect of the school, from academics to teachers to the food service.

The Albuquerque Indian School was transferred to Santa Fe and became the Santa Fe Indian School. Abeyta served as superintendent for the school from 1979 until his retirement in 2008.

Under his leadership, Santa Fe Indian School achieved major milestones and awards.  Some examples include: The North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and the New Mexico Public Education Department both accredited the school; the U.S. Department of Education named Santa Fe Indian School as one of 270 Outstanding Secondary Schools in America; the Bureau of Indian Affairs selected the school as exemplary; and the New Mexico Indian Education Association named the school as the Outstanding Indian Secondary School in New Mexico.

Abeyta, 69, serves as a tribal councilman for the Santa Clara Pueblo. He has a long history of leadership in tribal affairs, ranging from his position as planning director of the All Indian Pueblo Council Educational Planning Committee to serving as the tribal operations officer for the Northern Pueblos Agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Abeyta said he is looking forward to speaking at commencement for his alma mater.

“It’s a personal kind of satisfaction to speak at the Highlands Rio Rancho commencement because Highlands is so important to me,”  Abeyta said. “There were good people at Highlands who introduced me to higher education, which was very intimidating at first because it was a dramatically different experience from the all-Indian boarding school I attended. Dean Farmer was a great person and had an incredible influence on me. Dr. Mattla in the School of Education was a very good mentor. Joe Baca, another student from the Santa Clara Pueblo, encouraged and inspired me. We studied together every day,” Abeyta said.

The Highlands University Rio Rancho Center commencement is at 6 p.m. at the Santa Ana Star Center, 3001 Civic Circle, Rio Rancho.








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