GALLUP, N.M. (AP) — Albert Shirley grew up learning the importance of helping others. His parents and grandparents set a great example of working for the community and assisting those in need.
Shirley, a former Iyanbito Chapter president and member of the New Mexico House of Representatives, was chosen in mid-January by N.M. Speaker of the House W. Ken Martinez, D-Grants, as Native American Legislative Liaison — a salaried position that called for the day-to-day assisting with committee meetings, scheduling appointments and the dissemination of information pertaining to Native American issues.
The New Mexico Legislature concluded its 60-day session March 16. There are 70 members of the House of Representatives and each represents roughly 25,980 residents of New Mexico.
“He’s done a wonderful job,” Martinez said of Shirley. The Navajo-born Shirley, 57, served the state House of Representatives for eight years during the late 1980s and early 1990s. As is customary with former legislators, Shirley’s official legislative photo is one of hundreds that adorn the second floor walls of the House chamber at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe. A legislator since 1999 and chosen as Speaker at the start of the 2013 session, Martinez said, “We’re pleased to have him here — again,” Martinez said.
The soft-spoken Shirley has many interests, but his main focus the past two months was with making sure the members of the House of Representatives understood the various bills that impacted Indian Country. Those bills dealt with everything from water and energy to detoxification services, school performance-based budgeting, teen suicide, capital outlay and medical care. The grandson of a medicine woman, avid hitchhiker, political science and journalism graduate of the University of New Mexico and life-long Democrat, Shirley said he’s already looking forward to continuing the liaison job come 2014 — something House members don’t mind.
“I thought he did a great job,” Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, said. “As a former legislator, not much was foreign to him. As a former chapter official and community activist, he was used to being involved in government.”
Now that the session is over, Shirley — he doesn’t own a car and walked more than an hour a day to and from the Roundhouse — stays busy with community work back in Iyanbito, doing what he can to make sure chapter officials are accountable. A simple gathering with friends to talk issues and answers about the vast 27,000 square-mile Navajo Nation Indian Reservation, isn’t out of the ordinary. But it was the service he provided as a legislative go-between that sticks out with lawmakers.
“(Mr. Shirley) was a welcomed sight for tribes who came to visit legislators and the Speaker (Martinez),” Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, R-Shiprock, said. The Ivy League educated Clahchischilliage was elected in 2012 and is the sixth Native American to represent the Republican Party in the history of the New Mexico Legislature. “I knew (Mr. Shirley) prior to the session. I knew him as a community advocate on the Navajo Nation for issues like natural resources, social concerns and education. (Mr. Shirley’s) arrival to the legislative pool of assistance was a welcomed surprise.”
Shirley said it’s the spirit of his grandmother, to some degree, that makes him so altruistic. That makes everything special and memorable, he said.
“Look for what you can do to help others without any concern for receiving recognition for yourself,” Shirley mused. “If you do this, you will be self-rewarded, knowing that you have made a small difference in somebody’s life.”