Criminal cannabis operations that took root in Navajo Nation could pop up in other Indigenous communities

Last year, Dineh Benally, the former president of San Juan River Farm Board in the Navajo Nation, oversaw the transformation of 400 acres of cropland into illegal marijuana farms across the Shiprock chapter in the northeast corner of the reservation. Despite a state, federal and tribal crackdown on the operation, multiple sources told Searchlight New Mexico and High Country News that he is attempting to establish new cannabis ventures in other Native communities. A source confirmed the same to Navajo Times. This story was originally published in Searchlight New Mexico and High Country News and is republished with permission. Since the November raids, Navajo Nation Police Chief Philip Francisco told Searchlight New Mexico and High Country News that law enforcement did not know Benally’s whereabouts and presumed he was in hiding.

Payday too late: New Mexico bungled payday for hundreds of Medicaid caregivers

ALBUQUERQUE — Nearly every day for the past ten months, Lina, 23, has worked as a personal care assistant for Lisa Langrehr, a 60-year-old woman who is paralyzed on her right side. It’s been a full-time job for Lina — from 8 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon, seven days a week, she’s helped Langrehr take showers, accompanied her to and from medical appointments, paid the bills, done the laundry, walked Blacky the dachshund, and cooked meatloaf and enchiladas. 

“Without caregivers, I don’t survive, I don’t survive at all,” Langrehr said. She’s been receiving in-home care services since 2013, when she fell in her kitchen and broke her neck. A cadre of three caregivers work in shifts, paid for through Medicaid. Lina, who requested her last name not be published to protect future employment opportunities, usually made about $800 every two weeks.

COVID is pushing thousands of Chinese immigrant workers into the marijuana business—sometimes leading to exploitation and labor trafficking

MONTEREY PARK, Calif. — Irving Lin, a jovial entrepreneur in his late 60’s, wanted to share a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a near-miraculous way out of the economic devastation wrought on Southern California’s Chinese communities by the pandemic: the gift of marijuana. “We are making a fortune in Oklahoma, and you can too,” Lin, speaking in Mandarin, told a crowd of 30 potential investors gathered for a PowerPoint presentation at a Chinese cultural center on Dec. 5. The return on investment is as high as 1,200 percent, Lin explained eagerly.

A Black life ends in a New Mexico police shooting

Rodney Applewhite, 25, was driving through New Mexico late last week on his way to Arizona to spend Thanksgiving with his mother and other family members. 

Just outside of Los Lunas, on the last leg of a trip that started in South Bend, Indiana, a New Mexico State Police officer attempted to pull Applewhite over for what was described as a traffic stop. It was 8:32 a.m., a NMSP press release said. About 10 minutes later, two state troopers tried to arrest Applewhite. When an altercation occurred with the first officer, the second officer shot Applewhite, firing “at least one round,” the NMSP said. Applewhite, unarmed, died that day in the hospital. 

“I can’t sleep, I can’t eat.

Once the Wild West, Las Vegas is now the wired West as parents and kids cope with a life lived online.

LAS VEGAS, N.M. — “I don’t like school, because it’s not real,” declared Colin Atman, age 6. The first-grader had a good point. Before the pandemic, Colin could dash around his Las Vegas school playground with his friends James and Damian, playing tag or a game called zombie. “I was, of course, more into zombie,” he clarified. 

That all screeched to a halt in March, when COVID-19 arrived in New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham halted in-person education, and Colin had to switch to virtual learning. On a recent Tuesday afternoon, he was still running around, with his hair gelled into a 4-inch mohawk and wearing a T-shirt decorated with glowing green skeletons.

Cruel and Usual: Taos County jail accused of abuse and dysfunction

TAOS — It was the evening of Aug. 25, 2019, and William Berry, a 63-year-old former ski lift operator, had been arrested earlier that day for driving without a license. He struggled to breathe in his cell at the Taos County Adult Detention Center and repeatedly asked the guards for his asthma medication. His requests were ignored, until finally, at 9 p.m., seven hours after Berry was booked, Sgt. Leroy Vigil told him to step out of his cell if he wanted his medicine, according to Berry.

Spending unmasked: How NM overpaid $330,000 for face masks and the corrections department profited

How’s this for a business plan? Buy hundreds of thousands of cloth face masks, mark up the prices and sell them to a bunch of state agencies for a tidy profit. That’s what New Mexico’s prison system did earlier this year during the state’s scramble to purchase supplies to protect against the spread of COVID-19, a review of state records shows. The New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD) bought 371,000 cloth masks and sold them to at least a dozen other government agencies, making a minimum of $330,000 on the deals, according to state purchasing documents. Those funds were taxpayer dollars, and some came from New Mexico’s limited allotment of federal stimulus money, chipping away at the state’s resources to respond to the pandemic.

Schools revamp meal programs during COVID-19 to curb childhood hunger, with potential to fix long-term problems

The day starts early each Friday at the Mora Independent School District in northern New Mexico. Staff arrive before the sun is up to pack coolers of breakfasts and lunches to supply 310 remote students with five days of meals. By 9 a.m., loaded school buses rumble out of the parking lot on their delivery run.Another 25 students pick up meals at school cafeterias each week day, while 71 students attending in-person classes eat at school Monday through Thursday. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is republished here with permission. It’s just the latest variation for Rachel Martinez, Mora schools food service director. Since COVID-19 shut down schools in March, she’s mailed meals through the postal service and distributed them using six fire departments around the rural district.

A massive hemp empire is accused of growing illegal marijuana and sowing violence on the Navajo reservation

SHIPROCK, N.M. — In the fertile northeast corner of the Navajo Nation, fields that only months ago were traditional open-air corn farms are now stuffed with hundreds of industrial-sized greenhouses, each glowing with artificial lights and brimming with emerald cannabis plants. Security cameras ring the perimeters and hired guards in flak jackets patrol the public roads alongside the farms.

Every weekday throughout the summer, a group of local kids woke at sunrise and arrived at the farm by 7:30, ready for a 10-hour shift of hard labor under the high desert sun. Many were teenagers, 13- and 14-year-olds lured by offers of quick cash. A few were as young as 10. Joining them were scores of foreign workers — an estimated 1,000 people, many of them Chinese immigrants brought to New Mexico from Los Angeles, according to Navajo Nation Police Chief Phillip Francisco. 

Searchlight New Mexico reported and originally published this story, and it is republished with permission.

Wired for success: How tiny Navajo Technical University took big steps to keep students connected

The college experience has been reduced to the size of a computer monitor on many college campuses this fall. In an effort to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks, more than 1,000 colleges and universities are fully or heavily relying on virtual learning, including schools on the Navajo Nation – where internet access is notoriously scarce. 

How can online learning succeed in a place where students aren’t wired? For the answer, Searchlight turned to Colleen Bowman, the provost at Navajo Technical University, a small school that’s taken major steps to keep students connected. Based in Crownpoint, on the plains northeast of Gallup, NTU was founded in 1979 as the Navajo Skill Center and has since expanded to four satellite campuses. This story originally appeared at Searchlight New Mexico and is republished with permission.