Honored on the Native American Women's Arch by the Zuni Tribe.
When Carmelita Allapowa Sanchez began her career in nursing she never imagined it would lead her to one day become the lieutenant governor of Zuni Pueblo.
Sanchez, the first Zuni woman to be elected to the position, knows she is breaking ground for other Zuni women to follow and also breaking ground for Zuni Pueblo as well. She recalls the first All Indian Pueblo Council meeting she attended with Governor Arlen P. Quetawki, Sr.
Traditionally, with many of the other Pueblos, women are not allowed to hold office, so Sanchez was not sure what to expect. While the men treated her respectfully, it was the women from the other Pueblo villages who showed a great curiosity. Many women came by and showered Sanchez with gifts of bread and other baked goodies. The women told her they had heard there was a Zuni woman elected lieutenant governor and they just had to see for themselves, as they wondered who she was.
Sanchez, the third of seven children born to Tom L. Allapowa and Tessie Haskie Allapowa, completed kindergarten through ninth grade at the Zuni Day School and then attended the Albuquerque Indian School from 1952 to 1955. After completing high school, Sanchez knew she wanted to become a nurse and in August of 1955 she entered the University of New Mexico College of Nursing and graduated with her degree in June of 1959.
Sanchez and two other women from the Pueblos of Santa Clara and Cochiti were a part of the first graduating class at the UNM College of Nursing, an important milestone in her career.
However, Sanchez knows she could not have done it without her mother and credits her for directing her to the field. 'My focus for becoming a nurse was because of my mom, who was sick from rheumatoid arthritis. I had always wanted to comfort her, but I couldn't as a young girl. Unfortunately, mom died before I could take care of her.'
Sanchez's nursing career would span just over 35 years. During this time she worked at the Battaan Methodist Memorial Hospital, which is now Lovelace Hospital in Albuquerque, during her first year of nursing. From there she would work at the Fort Defiance Indian Hospital in Arizona, the Zuni Indian Hospital, and the Gallup Indian Medical Center.
While Sanchez was trained to be a nurse, she did not limit herself to just patient care. She also was a nurse educator, a head nurse, a nurse administrator, director of nursing, and her last position was in the area of risk management.
Sanchez has worn many hats during her career and eventually she thought it was time to retire in January of 1996. But true to her 'can do' nature, she decided to run for the Zuni Public School Board in 1997 and served on the board until she was elected lieutenant governor in December of 2002.
So what drives Sanchez to do all that she does, and tend to family and be a part of traditional duties at home in Zuni? She has a tireless dedication to whatever task is presented to her, and knows that she must do the best that she can, not for herself, but for those depending on her, and those yet to come.
'I hope it sends a message to others, that it can be done, (whatever you strive for), put yourself forward, be yourself. Learn to go with the tide.'
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This article was written by Mary K. Bowannie, (Zuni/Cochiti), a freelance journalist and lecturer at the University of New Mexico in the Native Studies Department. It was originally published in The Spirit of Zuni magazine, 2005.
It is reprinted here with express permission from the author and the publisher, Zia Publishing Company.