Money for abandoned uranium mine cleanup spurs questions about design, jobs

This story is part of a collaboration from the Institute for Nonprofit News Rural News Network in partnership with INN members Indian Country Today, Buffalo’s Fire, InvestigateWest, KOSU, New Mexico In Depth, Underscore and Wisconsin Watch, as well as partners Mvskoke Media, Osage News and Rawhide Press. Series logo by Mvskoke Creative. The project was made possible with support from the Walton Family Foundation. 

Uranium mines are personal for Dariel Yazzie. Now head of the Navajo Nation’s Superfund program, Yazzie grew up near Monument Valley, Arizona, where the Vanadium Corporation of America started uranium operations in the 1940s. His childhood home sat a stone’s throw from piles of waste from uranium milling, known as tailings.

Tribal Remedy Framework boosted with funding

With about 24 hours left in this year’s session, Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Albuquerque, was celebrating additional money earmarked in the state budget to help tribes take more control over educating their own children. 

“We’re walking out of the session with $35 million for the tribal remedy framework,” said Lente of the Sandia Pueblo. The tribal remedy framework is a set of goals negotiated and agreed to by the state’s 23 tribes going into this year’s session that would beef up tribal education departments and resources.In recent years tribes have demanded more control over educating their own children and have used the 2018 landmark Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico court ruling to buttress their case. That ruling found New Mexico negligent in providing a sufficient education to at-risk students, which includes Indigenous students.Indigenous students make up about 34,000, or 11% of New Mexico’s K-12 student population and they lag behind their New Mexico peers in reading, math, high school graduation and college enrollment. The Yazzie/Martinez decision suggested those outcomes mostly stem from decades of underspending and neglect by New Mexico, shattering the perception that blame rests on children and their families instead of on a systemic failure.Lente and others had sought more than $40 million in additional money for tribes, but the $35 million is a significant boost over previous years. For example, $15 million of the $35 million in the budget would go toward beefing up tribal education departments and is substantially more than the $5.25 million appropriated for this year, which ends June 30.

New Mexico Democrats aim to expand right to vote, and make voting easier

Across the country, “our whole democratic system is under attack.”So said New Mexico’s Senate Majority leader, Peter Wirth, a Democrat from Santa Fe, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday as he presented Senate Bill 8, now poised to pass the Senate having cleared three of that chamber’s committees with Democratic but no Republican support. The effort comes in an election year in which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, is running for re-election and all seats in the state House of Representatives are up. 

The legislation would allow people who’ve committed a felony to vote before completing their probation or parole. It would ensure ballot access on tribal land, make it easier for New Mexicans to stay registered, and cast a ballot too. According to Wirth, the bill responds to frustration over the failure of the U.S. Senate in January to pass a voting rights measure called the Freedom to Vote Act. The federal legislation would have expanded voting rights and prohibited gerrymandering of political districts to favor one political party over another. 

Lessons were learned during the “COVID voting cycle of 2020” about voter disenfranchisement, and the value of mail by vote, the Senate majority leader said.

Why New Mexico must adopt a tribal remedy framework for public education

When recent high school graduate Chaslyn Tafoya of Taos Pueblo was asked in a public forum with New Mexico’s education secretary what she loved most about where she called home, she pointed to her culture, her language, and her tribal community. When asked what threatened what she loved most, she replied, “public education.” 

Her response echoed the verdict issued by New Mexico’s First Judicial District Court in its 2018 Yazzie/Martinez ruling: Indigenous students “will be irreparably harmed” if the State does not enact a comprehensive overhaul of public education. The Court ordered the State to implement the New Mexico Indian Education Act of 2003, which requires the New Mexico Public Education Department to collaborate with Tribes in providing a culturally and linguistically relevant education to Native students. 

Public education has long posed an existential threat to our Native children and to the cultural survival of Indigenous peoples. The recent discovery of mass graves at Indian boarding schools exposes only the most egregious atrocities committed in the name of Western education. After boarding schools came the forced integration of Native children into public schools.

‘Like a demon that’s always behind us’, the Jackpile Mine toxic legacy continues

The Jackpile mine after groundcover was planted and sidewalls of the pit were contoured to prevent erosion. Image/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. In the village of Paguate as June Lorenzo’s grandmother knew it growing up, orchards and fields of wheat and corn carpeted nearby hillsides. Streams traversed a verdant valley where people hunted and grazed sheep near the small farming community in Laguna Pueblo. This was before a massive mine cratered the nearby land and altered the skyline.