Indigenous advocates call for more education on domestic and sexual violence

Tribal leaders need to push for more education within their communities about domestic violence and sexual assault, from consistent training for police to classes on healthy relationships for young people. 

That’s one of the main recommendations to emerge from this week’s annual summit organized by the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women. 

“Always remember the solutions to violence exist within our tribal communities,” Tiffany Jiron (Isleta Pueblo), the coalition’s executive director, said to a room of about 70 people to kick off the event on Wednesday and Thursday at Isleta Resort and Casino. The summit brought together tribal leaders and advocates to discuss challenges but also “celebrate our collective progress” in addressing “one of the most pressing issues facing our communities,” Jiron said. About 84% of American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence in their lifetime, according to a report published by the Department of Justice in 2016. (While about a third reported experiencing violence at the hands of another Indigenous person, 97% had been harmed by a non-Indigenous person.)

Shannon Hoshnic (Navajo) works at Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico, which provides exams used to collect evidence and therapy, among other services. Some patrol officers she encounters don’t know what resources are available to offer victims or how to interview them, Hoshnic said during a panel discussion Thursday.

Senators throw support to embattled Ivey-Soto

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto is running for a fourth term despite the state Democratic Party’s decision to censure and sever ties with him over sexual harassment and assault allegations, many of which were made by advocates of liberal causes. 

A spokesperson for the party confirmed last week the party has continued to bar Ivey-Soto from participating in its internal activities, a position first made public last August. But the party has stopped short of calling for him to resign. 

However, senior Democratic senators – including some of the most liberal – have thrown Ivey-Soto a lifeline in his contest with Heather Berghmans with big campaign contributions even as changing mores of the #MeToo era test the gender dynamics in the Roundhouse. 

Some of those senators say they support Ivey-Soto in the June 4 primary election because of his open mind and attention to detail in lawmaking and parliamentary procedure. The accusations, made public in February 2022 when progressive advocate and lobbyist Marianna Anaya issued an open letter saying Ivey-Soto groped her at a teachers union reception at a downtown Santa Fe hotel in 2015,  humbled the Albuquerque attorney who is known to toss invective in legislative debates, they say. 

Ivey-Soto has denied Anaya’s allegation — as well as another that he held up a voting rights bill Anaya lobbied for in January 2022 after she refused his advances over drinks at a downtown Santa Fe restaurant. 

But Anaya’s accusations set off cascading events that have Ivey-Soto scrambling to retain his Senate District 15 seat to represent Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights. 

An attorney retained by a Senate ethics subcommittee to investigate a formal complaint by Anaya concluded in 2022 that probable cause existed in two of the three allegations to trigger a public hearing by the full Senate ethics committee. But the subcommittee — composed of four of his fellow senators — instead closed the case. It’s unclear what other information they considered.

Albuquerque Is Throwing Out the Belongings of Homeless People, Violating City Policy

New Mexico In Depth co-published this story produced by ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up for Dispatches, a newsletter that spotlights wrongdoing around the country, to receive their stories in your inbox every week. On a recent morning, Christian Smith ran an errand, leaving a shopping cart carrying everything she owned near the Albuquerque, New Mexico, underpass where she’d been sleeping. When she returned, the cart was nowhere to be found. Most of the belongings, such as clothing, makeup and blankets, could be replaced in time.

Democratic lawmaker defends campaign spending

Democrat State Rep. Ambrose Castellano in interviews justified expensing a trip to Hawaii, new vehicle tires and restaurant tabs of more than $1,000 to his campaign as not only allowable but necessary to perform his legislative and political duties.  

Castellano’s defense comes in response to the campaign of his primary opponent, Anita Gonzales, promoting a recent complaint to the State Ethics Commission as evidence that Castellano used campaign funds for personal expenses. But Castellano said in an interview he did not intend to break campaign spending rules and that he welcomes a fair review by the Ethics Commission. He called the complaint an attempt to discredit him as a Hispanic leader in the midst of the primary election campaign he is currently running. 

“I do very well for myself and I wouldn’t put myself in jeopardy in any situation to do something” that is not allowable, Castellano, who owns his own Santa Fe based construction business, said. 

Castellano is currently trying to fend off a challenge from Gonzales for the District 70 House seat in San Miguel and Torrance Counties in the June primary election. 

In the ethics complaint, Damon Ely, a former Democratic state representative and Albuquerque attorney, alleged Castellano spent thousands of his campaign funds on personal expenses going back to 2020. 

“Representative Castellano reports having reimbursed himself for $6,233.75 in gas around the state and in Texas. He spent a total of $8,101.79 for hotels in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Chama, and Honolulu. He shows having charged at least $14,773.52 in meals eating out over 135 times and 84 of them in Santa Fe, a district he does not represent,” Ely wrote in the complaint dated April 15, 2024.

Indigenous midwives and doulas provide critical support to maternal health

Aspen Mirabal has traveled across Northern New Mexico working with women during pregnancy, birth and postpartum. A member of Taos Pueblo, her work as a doula focuses on ensuring Indigenous women deliver safely in and out of hospitals. 

“Sometimes clients don’t know how to advocate for themselves if this is new for them,” said Mirabal about the language spoken among providers in hospitals. Doulas can help with that.  

Nicolle Gonzales saw a similar need as Mirabal and decided to pursue midwifery. 

“I was very unhappy seeing how the community was being taken care of in hospitals,” Gonzales said. “That really pushed me to go back to school and become a nurse midwife.”  Gonzales later formed a nonprofit health organization called Changing Woman Initiative with a focus on reclaiming Indigenous cultural birthing practices. 

Today, an effort is growing to make it easier for Indigenous people to access doulas and midwives from their own communities, like Mirabal and Gonzales. Prior to the establishment of the Indian Health Service (IHS), the federal medical system that serves Native populations, most Indigenous births happened outside hospitals with the assistance of women.

Progressives going after incumbents in hot Democratic primaries

It’s a safe bet Democrats will barrel into 2025 with their supremacy intact at the New Mexico Legislature. Barring an unexpected shock during this year’s elections, Democrats’ stranglehold on power is assured.Going into the 2024 contests, Democrats control nearly two-thirds of all seats in the House and nearly three of every five seats in the Senate.The question going into the June primary election is whether the party’s progressive wing will continue to increase power in the Legislature or will more centrist Democrats hold ground.  This year’s effort by progressives is the latest in a long standing campaign, stretching back to the mid-2000s, to bring more progressives into the Legislature. In 2008, progressives successfully replaced a slate of centrist Democrats with newly minted candidates who are now political veterans, including the launch of current Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s political career, who joined the Senate that year. 

Because of this one-party dominance, the ideological fault lines within the Democratic Party have major policy implications on abortion, the environment, education and workplace issues like minimum wage and paid family and medical leave benefits. 

Progressive political candidates and committees have raised tens of thousands of dollars for bids to oust certain Democratic legislators in June’s primary election. 

New Mexico’s progressive political machine was buoyed dramatically in 2020 when insurgents unseated long-time Democratic incumbents viewed as more centrist or right of center. The first campaign finance reports filed April 8 show progressive insurgents amassing thousands in contributions from individuals.  And the efforts of progressive independent expenditure committees will undoubtedly benefit their campaigns. 

Incumbents hold an advantage in corporate money, with energy, healthcare and hospitality interests giving big.

New wildfire defense grant program at a snail’s pace as fire season looms 

Kim Wright has spent hundreds of hours on the phone with neighbors.Wright, a retired nurse, volunteers with the Cimarron Watershed Alliance, a nonprofit focused on watershed and forest health on the eastern edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The 2022 Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon fire made the fears of a catastrophic fire feel all the more real. So when she learned a year ago that the federal government was awarding more than $8 million to the alliance to help nine northern New Mexico communities better defend themselves against wildfire, she said, “We couldn’t believe it. We were so excited.”Creating defensible space around a house and structures, thinning nearby forests, and hauling away wood can cost up to $4,000, Wright said, “So this is a huge opportunity for everybody in these communities.”But people needed to know about the opportunity. She found and reserved places for three community meetings that later drew between 40 and 90 attendees each.

Assisted living facilities are the new nursing homes. Oversight falls short.

In July 2022, a partially paralyzed and “nearly bedridden” 75-year-old man in a wheelchair fell in his bathroom at Albuquerque Uptown Assisted Living, fracturing his hip, according to court filings. 

But instead of staff immediately calling an ambulance for the man, who “required assistance in all aspects of his life,” he remained at the facility “in significant pain” for three weeks, his estate’s wrongful death lawsuit alleges. Eventually, the lawsuit says, he was taken to Presbyterian Hospital, where the elderly man was diagnosed with blunt pelvic trauma and a broken hip. He subsequently developed severe bed sores and infections. He was taken home, where his obituary says he died on October 1, 2022, his wife of 35 years at his side. 

When the family’s attorney sought the man’s medical records, court documents claim, Uptown administrators said they did not have them. The man’s family could not be reached before publication of this story, and an Uptown official refused to answer New Mexico In Depth’s questions. 

If the man’s case prompted scrutiny from state regulators, their report doesn’t appear in the health department’s health facilities inspection reports database.

New Mexico AG greenlights new task force, creates online portal for missing Indigenous people

This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Fund for Indigenous Journalists: Reporting on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Two Spirit and Transgender People (MMIWG2T). Attorney General Raúl Torrez plans to establish a task force focused on the disproportionate rates at which Indigenous people experience violence and go missing, the New Mexico Department of Justice announced Tuesday. The agency also launched the initial phase of an online portal for tracking cases of missing Indigenous people. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration in mid-2023 dissolved a group dedicated to addressing a crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people. Advocates and affected families spoke against the decision, saying their work was just beginning. 

The Legislature seemed to agree, unanimously passing Senate Joint Memorial 2 last month calling on Torrez to convene tribal representatives, survivors and families, and law enforcement officials to update a state response plan created by the defunct task force in 2022 and offer legislative recommendations. 

The state budget includes $200,000 for that purpose. 

A spokesperson for Torrez, Lauren Rodriguez, said he’ll follow the Legislature’s guidance outlined in the memorial as he figures out the task force’s membership.  

The public portal unveiled on Tuesday — which includes 201 missing Indigenous people, with an average time missing of 2,886 days, or nearly eight years — comes two years after lawmakers mandated it. 

Lawmakers in 2022 passed a bill requiring the attorney general’s office to develop an online portal for cases of missing Indigenous people.

State budget includes $200,000 for new task force on missing and murdered Indigenous people

This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Fund for Indigenous Journalists: Reporting on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Two Spirit and Transgender People (MMIWG2T).The state budget awaiting Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s signature contains $200,000 for Attorney General Raúl Torrez to create a new task force concentrated on a crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people.The money adds weight to the Legislature’s non-binding request that he take such action. Senate Joint Memorial 2 (SJM 2) passed on the last day of the 30-day legislative session. 

The task force’s fate now falls to Lujan Grisham and Torrez, in that sequence.The governor could eliminate the $200,000 appropriation using her line-item authority, which would leave Torrez to decide to form the task force anyway, without funding, or ignore the state Legislature’s request. 

Torrez’s office did not respond to New Mexico In Depth’s request to comment on his plans.The dollars are included in a special section of the budget that was added in the final days of the session. That section contains allocations by individual lawmakers. Which lawmakers provided $200,000 for the proposed task force is unknown, but will be published on the legislative website 30 days after Feb. 15, the day the session ended. 

Sponsors introduced SJM 2 — which, unlike a bill, doesn’t have the force of law — in response to Lujan Grisham’s decision last year to disband an earlier task force dedicated to finding solutions to the crisis, “leaving questions unanswered,” the legislation reads. 

The governor’s staff argue the previous group met its objectives and the state is now executing its numerous recommendations.