ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO – JUNE 26, 2022: The alcohol department at a grocery store Albuquerque, NM on June 26, 2022. CREDIT: Adria Malcolm for New Mexico In Depth
Many New Mexican families struggle with alcohol but the problem has often been neglected. That’s partly because of stigma towards addiction: it doesn’t always feel easy to share stories about it. New Mexico In Depth published Blind Drunk last week, a series about why New Mexico leads the country in deaths related to alcohol, and what can be done about it. The reporting examines myths, misconceptions, and outright fallacies in thinking about alcohol dependency.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission appears to have slowed its timeline for deciding whether to let another federal agency house uranium-contaminated debris on a mill site it regulates near Church Rock. Local Navajo people and Navajo Nation officials object to the plan, saying the proposal doesn’t move debris far enough away from the community.
“It’s very surprising to me, in a good way,” Eric Jantz, an attorney for the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, said Thursday of the slow down in the commission’s approval process contained in a May 4 letter.
“Typically, the NRC sits back and waits for formal appeals, but this time they got involved at a critical juncture,” said Jantz, who represents the Red Water Pond Road Association, an organization formed by residents who live near two large abandoned mines and the mill site just north of Church Rock. The center has litigated on behalf of the community for decades to force cleanup of abandoned uranium waste and to resist future uranium mining.
The slow down by the commission follows a historic visit in April that NRC commissioners made to the Red Water Pond Road community, about 20 minutes northeast of Gallup. The commissioners wanted to see the mine and mill sites for themselves, and to hear what residents and Navajo officials, including Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, thought.
The EPA plan to move the uranium contaminated mine debris to the mill site, in the works for more than a decade, would clean up one of the largest abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation. It’s one of more than 500 abandoned mines on the Navajo Nation. But it wouldn’t move the debris far, which is why Navajo residents exposed to the mine waste for more than 40 years oppose the plan. Community members at the April visit urged commissioners to not allow the EPA to move the mine debris to the mill site that has itself been undergoing cleanup for years.
This week the U.S. Interior Department released a 100-page report on the lasting consequences of the federal Indian boarding school system. You might recall last June Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo, announced the federal agency would investigate the extent of the loss of human life and legacy of the federal Indian boarding school system, a chapter of U.S. history many Americans know little to nothing about.
This week’s report is the first of possibly many, and it deserves to be read by as many Americans as possible.
Here are some of the investigation’s top-level findings:
Beginning in the late 1800s, the federal government took Indian children from their families in an effort to strip them of their cultures and language.Between 1819 and 1969, the U.S. operated or supported 408 boarding schools across 37 states (or then-territories), including 21 schools in Alaska and 7 schools in Hawaii. Of those 37 states, New Mexico had the third-greatest concentration of facilities, with 43, trailing only Oklahoma and Arizona. The schools “deployed systematic militarized and identity-alteration methodologies to attempt to assimilate American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian children through education, including but not limited to the following: (1) renaming Indian children from Indian to English names; (2) cutting hair of Indian children; (3) discouraging or preventing the use of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian languages, religions, and cultural practices; and (4) organizing Indian and Native Hawaiian children into units to perform military drills.The Federal Indian boarding school system focused on manual labor and vocational skills that left American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian graduates with employment options often irrelevant to the industrial U.S. economy, further disrupting Tribal economies.
Boarding schools in New Mexico got an early start.Two years after the first boarding school, the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, opened in 1879, the Presbyterian Church opened the Albuquerque Indian School (AIS) for Navajo, Pueblo and Apache students. Later, the school transferred to federal control.The Albuquerque Indian School merits several mentions in this week’s report, including five photos as I counted them of young Indigenous girls and boys in class, and of the building itself.
Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Albuquerque Indian School, 1947-ca. 1964 (most recent
New Mexico In Depth’s 2020/2021 academic reporting fellow Bella Davis returns as full-time staff this summer with a focus on Indigenous affairs, thanks to funding from Report for America.
Report for America is a national program that helps fund reporting positions in local newsrooms.
“Report for America provides a unique opportunity for journalists to pursue meaningful, local beat reporting that sadly is missing from many of today’s newsrooms,” said Earl Johnson, director of admissions at Report for America, in the organization’s statement about their 2022 reporting corps. “Together, our emerging and experienced corps members will produce tens of thousands of articles on critically under-covered topics—schools, government, healthcare, the environment, communities of color, and more.”
Davis began reporting while a student at the University of New Mexico, with student newspaper The Daily Lobo. As she neared graduation, she joined New Mexico In Depth’s diversity fellowship program, where she was able to produce longer-form, deeply reported work. She focused on the importance of midwifery as one solution to staggeringly disproportionate rates of maternal death among Black and Native women, and a series of stories about private prisons. After graduation, she accepted an eight-month fellowship at the Santa Fe Reporter, funded by the New Mexico Local News Fund, where she wrote about criminal justice, housing, local businesses and cannabis.
Last weekend, Derek Matthews, the founder of the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow, asked GOP state lawmaker and GOP gubernatorial hopeful Rebecca Dow to pull a campaign commercial that talked about “critical race theory. Standing on a stage with Dow in front of thousands of Native people who had flocked to the Albuquerque event from all over North America and beyond after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, Matthews’s request hushed the crowd except for a smattering of clapping and whistling. Dow ignored Matthews and welcomed the Gathering of Nations attendees without responding to his request. It was an awkward moment. I want to join Matthews in asking Dow to pull the commercial.
In reporting two recent stories about abandoned uranium mines north of Church Rock, N.M., I heard residents say several times that they want federal officials to take action, not just more talk about cleaning up radioactive waste left practically in their backyards for 40 or more years. I also heard how exhausting it is for the people who live next to this waste to repeatedly tell their stories to people like me, people concerned, even outraged about the situation, but who don’t live there–journalists, government officials, and activists from elsewhere–who have the luxury to come and go. “…sometimes, you get so frustrated talking about these things,” said Edith Hood, a resident who lives in the Red Water Pond Road community near the mines, in remarks to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at their public meeting in Gallup last Friday. “…we, Indian country, we are like the people that live in the third world, in the United States,” Hood said. “Nobody listens to us.
Another political season. Another new political group with a forgettable but vaguely feel-good name.In March, a new entity registered with the Secretary of State: Working Together New Mexico. Albuquerque City Councilor Louie Sanchez, who represents part of the city’s westside, has said its purpose is to support the campaigns of particular candidates. Sanchez didn’t file a report last week saying how much the group has raised and spent despite a state deadline. Nor did he file a no activity report, a minimum requirement of groups that register with the Secretary of State under the campaign reporting act. Yesterday, six candidates in the June 7, 2022 Democratic primary wrote Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver to request an immediate investigation of Working Together New Mexico for not filing a report. “This PAC has developed a website, launched a PR campaign, raised funds, and retained a prominent consultant…to say they haven’t spent $1,000 yet just doesn’t pass the smell test,” Tara Jaramillo, running for State House District 38 in central and southern New Mexico, stated in the press release sent out by campaign consultant, Neri Holguin. This analysis originally appeared in our Friday newsletter.
Update: Shortly after publishing the following newsletter on Friday, Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, wrote in an email to New Mexico in Depth that lawmakers would include transparency in a revised junior bill during an upcoming special session. She said lawmakers would use as a model new transparency measures passed last year for capital outlay allocations. “I wish we had done this originally but we think we have an answer to how to make those changes,” she wrote. Later on Friday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and legislative leaders announced a special session of the Legislature would convene on April 5, to take up a revised junior bill and consider measures they can take to help New Mexicans in the face of rising inflation. After sending out our newsletter last week about lawmakers’ outrage over the governor vetoing their dark spending bill, I had a moment of deja vu.
Otero County is the latest local front in a war that is dividing Republicans over the 2020 election. The County Commission in southeastern New Mexico has paid for a $50,000 study they call an audit of the county’s election results, provoking headlines after voters complained that volunteers who are going door-to-door quizzing them are asking them who they cast ballots for — a charge one of the organizers has denied. While the county commission has authorized paying for the audit, it’s not an official audit like the ones completed after each election by the Otero County Clerk, the Office of the Secretary of State or an independent firm contracted by the state agency. Leading the effort is a group called New Mexico Audit Force and an ally is Otero County’s most famous commissioner — Republican Couy Griffin, the Cowboys for Trump leader awaiting trial on federal criminal charges of entering and disorderly conduct in a restricted building related to the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.