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Native American leader and advocate for tribal sovereignty Joe A. Garcia dies at 70

SANTA FE, New Mexico (AP) — Joe A. Garcia, a well-known Native American leader from New Mexico and advocate for tribal sovereignty, has died at 70, his family confirmed Saturday.

A traditional funeral was already held following Garcia's death Thursday, said family members. The cause of death was not made public.

Garcia was a former two-time president of the the National Congress of American Indians, which describes itself as the oldest and largest organization of American Indian and Alaska Native governments. He previously served three terms as governor of the Ohkay Owingeh, a federally designated tribe of pueblo people in New Mexico. Garcia was currently the tribe's head councilman.

“His untimely departure is a significant loss for Indian Country, as he was a true culture keeper for his people and a dedicated advocate for Native Nations across the Southwest region,” Fawn Sharp, the president of the National Congress of American Indians, said in a statement.

“Beyond his role as a leader, Joe Garcia was a mentor, a visionary, and a compassionate soul who touched the lives of many. He leaves a profound legacy of service, leadership, and cultural preservation,” Sharp added.

Garcia had been chairman of the All Indian Pueblo Council, now renamed the All Pueblo Council of Governors, a non-profit leadership group that represents the modern pueblo tribes.

He also had been a vice president of the Board of Trustees of the Santa Fe Indian School, which serves about 700 Native American middle and high school students.

The Santa Fe Indian School noted Garcia's passing on its website.

“His work in Indian Country will not be forgotten," wrote Robyn Aguilar, president of the school's board of trustees. "I am truly thankful to have had a mentor who was courageous in his conviction to protect Sovereign lands and the rights of Indian children.”

Garcia held an an electrical engineering degree from the University of New Mexico and worked 25 years for Los Alamos National Laboratory before retiring in 2003, according to the school’s statement.

Garcia is survived by his wife, Oneva, daughters Melissa and MorningStar, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, among other family. His son, Nathan, died in 2020.