The gale-force winds that swept across New Mexico on Friday, driving fires and evacuations, gave Diné residents in a small western New Mexico community an opportunity to demonstrate first hand the danger they live with every day.Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) members were in the Red Water Pond Road community, about 20 minutes northeast of Gallup, to hear local input on a controversial plan to clean up a nearby abandoned uranium mine. It was the first visit anyone could recall by NRC commissioners to the Navajo Nation, where the agency regulates four uranium mills. Chairman Christopher Hanson called the visit historic, and the significance was visible with Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and other Navajo officials in attendance. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is republished with permission through a Creative Commons license. As commissioners listened to 20 or so people give testimony over several hours Friday afternoon, high winds battered the plastic sheeting hung on the sides of the Cha’a’oh, or shade house, making it hard for some in the audience of many dozens to hear all that was said. “This is like this everyday,” community member Annie Benally told commissioners, mentioning the dust being whipped around outside by the wind.
With three weeks to go before the US Census is scheduled to end, 19 percent of Navajo people have responded to the U.S. Census, a much lower rate than for New Mexico and the U.S. overall, and lags behind all other tribes located within the state other than Jicarilla Apache.The once-a-decade head count of the U.S. population helps determine federal funding for healthcare, housing, roads, and a range of other important services and robust responses by tribal members ensure that their communities receive an equitable share of federal resources.
This story was first published by New Mexico In Depth and is republished here with permission. But the census deadline looms ominously following the Trump administration’s decision in early August to abruptly move it from the end of October to September 30. Earlier this month the Navajo Nation and the Gila River Indian Community joined a lawsuit filed last month by several nonprofits, including the National Urban League and the League of Women Voters, as well as cities and counties in a number of states, to keep the census deadline at the end of October.
There is no guarantee the court fight will end in an extended deadline, however. Over the past month, the Navajo Nation, which is one of the largest tribes in the U.S. and dwarfs other tribes in New Mexico by size, has nudged upward the number of people who have responded to the census, with responses rising from 10 percent in late July to 19 percent this week. But that’s significantly lower than its 53.6 percent goal, presented on the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department website.
While New Mexico grapples with a delayed roll-out of reopening businesses and cancelled public events, some detention centers are grappling with increasing numbers of COVID-19.
A privately run prison in Otero County, which houses both state and federal detainees, has seen a dramatic increase in cases of the disease.
But now a county jail in northern New Mexico with hundreds of reported cases since March has caught the attention of at least one tribal leader.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez sent a letter to San Juan County leaders last week calling for an investigation into how the county jail is run and what is being done to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A portion of the Navajo Nation is in San Juan County and, like the county jail, has seen a high number of positive cases. In his letter, Nez cited a phone call from someone whose relative is in the San Juan County Adult Detention Center (SJCADC). The caller, Nez wrote, said the jail is lacking adequate ventilation, no separation of infected inmates, no laundry service and little to no sanitation efforts by jail officials.
“How is SJCADC providing for the respect and dignity of the Detainees with a safe and secure environment that is maintained for operational readiness?” Nez asked in the letter.
He went on to say that he would like to see county officials look into the conditions at the jail.
“An investigation into the SJCADC operations and more specifically during these times of unprecedented crisis is requested, along with remedies for accountability and responsibility to do the right thing,” he wrote.
The Navajo Nation did not respond to interview requests. In response, Chairman of the San Juan County Commission Jack Fortner wrote a letter disputing the allegation that inmates are subjected to sub-par conditions.
Fortner wrote that the jail accepted an offer from the New Mexico Department of Health to provide guidance from Infectious Disease Bureau Medical Director Dr. Aja Sanzone.
GALLUP, N.M. — At the end of the Howard Johnson Hotel’s orange and white hallway, Dr. Caleb Lauber paused by a mirror as if he were lost. The mirror was an invention of the crafty security guards who’d leaned it against a chair, allowing them to quickly see around the corner in case any guests, all COVID-19 positive, should leave their rooms. Lauber worked 60, sometimes 80-hour weeks, caring for the homeless that Gallup had arranged to shelter at local hotels. He’d seen 500 of these patients in the past month. And now his memory was failing. “What’s the room number?” he asked his nursing assistant for the second time as they rounded the corner.
This story originally appeared at Searchlight New Mexico and is republished here with permission.
BySunnie R. Clahchischiligi, Searchlight New Mexico |
SHIPROCK, N.M. — Four miles down Farm Road, just off U.S. Route 491 in northern Navajo, a group of young Diné used what was left of daylight in early May to plant onions and potatoes on Yellow Wash Farm. As the novel coronavirus stretched its way through Navajoland, leaving a trail of heartbreak and uncertainty, the four Navajo men, a mixture of family and friends from Shiprock, picked up their seeds and broke the earth with their shovels. This story first appeared at Searchlight New Mexico and is republished with permission. By month’s end, the Navajo Nation would have the highest per-capita infection rate in the country, surpassing even New York state. The outbreak cut a swath across the vast reservation, from outposts in Arizona to the mesas and high desert in northwest New Mexico, where Shiprock, or Naatʼáanii Nééz — the largest Navajo community — became a hotspot seemingly overnight.
As cases continue to grow in McKinley County, the governor invoked the state’s Riot Control Act to authorize a lockdown of Gallup, at the behest of both the outgoing and new mayor of the city. The state closed all roads into Gallup as of noon on Friday, ordered that essential businesses will be closed from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. and vehicles traveling in the city can only have a maximum of two individuals. The order from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said that people should remain sheltered in place at home unless they are traveling for essential or emergency outings. Gallup city police and the McKinley County Sheriff’s Department will help the New Mexico State police to enforce the emergency order. The order will run through noon on Monday, May 4.
As COVID-19 causes crisis and panic across the nation, one Diné (Navajo) mom reflects on how the virus adds stress to an already impoverished people. Jana Pfeiffer, who lives in Albuquerque with her family, has been able to stock up on extra food during this time of crisis. Because she’s a state employee, she can also work from home while her two kids are out of school for the next three weeks. But back on the Navajo Nation, Pfeiffer’s extended family are in a much more tenuous situation. “I think I just feel the magnitude of this problem.
Top leadership of the Navajo Nation endorsed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for president Friday. The Democratic National Committee announced the support of Navajo Nation president, Russell Begaye, and Vice President, Jonathan Nez, on Friday. The endorsements came as part of the DNC’s bus tour, which traveled to Albuquerque earlier that same day. Begaye praised Clinton’s work with Native Americans both during the campaign and during her time as U.S. Senator from New York. “In this campaign, she has committed to serving tribal nations through strengthening public safety, combating drugs and alcohol, advocating for access to high quality education, improving Indian health care, and fighting for our Native American veterans,” Begaye said.