A high-ranking legislative staffer who made disparaging remarks about Native Americans has sent a letter of apology to New Mexico pueblos and tribes.
In a letter sent Wednesday to the Navajo Nation and the All Pueblo Council of Governors, among others, Rachel Gudgel, head of the Legislative Education Study Committee, wrote, “As has been been heavily reported, I made some isolated, insensitive comments about Native Americans and Native American education in 2019 that were insulting and harmful.”
She added she regretted her “ignorant choice of words and cavalier attitude and apologize to New Mexico tribal leadership and their communities, families and children.”
Gudgel, who became director of the committee in 2016, came under scrutiny earlier this year when it was reported five workers put together a three-page list of grievances about her — including charges she disparaged Native Americans — in 2020.
Those workers also criticized her management style.
Lawmakers on the Legislative Education Study Committee recently deadlocked over the issue of whether to fire Gudgel. The 5-5 vote means she gets to keep her job.
Some of those lawmakers were criticized for not being more open about the process, which, some of them said, should remain confidential because it is a personnel matter.
Gudgel alluded to this in her letter, noting her decision to “remain quiet until now was based on the fact that this is and was a part of a confidential personnel matter reviewed by my employer and the process and knowledge that my employer’s reprimand and corrective action addressed this sad and unfortunate chapter in my government career.”
In the letter, Gudgel wrote she had spoken with Navajo Nation officials.
“These conversations have been very humbling for me and provide a needed understanding to be more culturally sensitive and effective on behalf of all New Mexicans, particularly our Pueblos, Tribes and Nations,” she wrote.
Speaking by phone Wednesday night, Gudgel said she sent the letter because, “This is taking away from the job that we all have, which is focusing on the kids. My greatest hope is that we can get back to doing that in a meaningful, collaborative way.”
She said she was not pressured to write or send the letter by any lawmaker. She said she couldn’t comment further about the personnel issue.
She said she planned to send the letter to the individual leaders of the state’s pueblos Thursday morning.
Reached by phone Wednesday night, Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, who publicly called for Gudgel’s removal last week, said that while he had not seen the letter, the apology “is appreciated.”
Still, he said many Native Americans “may still very much be offended by the whole situation.”
He said he would still like to see some “sort of action related to the individual [Gudgel].”
Efforts to reach Sen. Bill Soules, chairman of the study committee, were unsuccessful Wednesday night.
In her letter, Gudgel said she looked forward to “put these events behind me” in hopes of working with “the Tribes, Nations and Pueblos of New Mexico to focus on the great challenges Native students face.”
She ended her letter by writing, “I again sincerely and humbly ask for your forgiveness. I was wrong and am deeply sorry.”