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.
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.
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.
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.
Three bills that would bolster the state’s 23 Native American tribes’ ability to educate their own children cleared their first legislative committee this week.The House Education Committee’s passage of House Bills 87, 88 and 90, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo, never was much in doubt.With a little over two weeks left in the 30-day session, the question is whether beefed-up money for tribal education contained in the bills will make it into the $8.5 billion state budget.
And whether the Legislature will change how New Mexico distributes money to tribes from one-off grants that require applying for the money each year to an automatic year-over-year appropriation — called recurring in statehouse lingo. Lente explained to his legislative colleagues during Monday’s committee meeting that the legislation before them was foundational to the Tribal Remedy Framework, which details education reform priorities sought by the state’s 23 tribal nations.
In recent years tribes have demanded more control over educating their own children. They’re supported by the 2018 landmark Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico court ruling that found New Mexico negligent in providing a sufficient education to at-risk students, which includes Indigenous students.Indigenous students, who make up about 34,000, or 11% of New Mexico’s K-12 student population, 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.The court ruling wasn’t the first to name systemic or institutional causes for low educational outcomes for Indigenous students. From the 1960s on, report after report has documented the dismal education afforded to the state’s Native American communities.
The Kennedy Report of 1969, a federal review of indigenous education, acknowledged the classroom was a tool of assimilation for indigenous children for much of this country’s history.
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We’re working on a project on economic issues in tribal communities and we want to know more from you. News organizations joining New Mexico In Depth in this collaboration are Indian Country Today, Buffalo’s Fire, Investigate West, KOSU, Mvskoke Media, Osage News, Rawhide Press, Underscore and Wisconsin Watch. Please use this form to provide us with details about what is happening in your community.
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.
Julia Bernal (Sandia, Taos and Yuchi-Creek Nations of Oklahoma) in Sandoval County in the Middle Rio Grande Valley. “It’s like this concept of landback. Once you get the land back, what are you going to do with it after? It’s the same thing. If we get the water back, what are we gonna do with it after?
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.
New Mexico’s inaugural use of a nonpartisan committee in the once-a-decade political tradition that will reshape state elections for the next 10 years could mark a milestone Friday. The seven-member committee created by state lawmakers earlier this year is scheduled to select maps that would redraw the boundaries of legislative and congressional political districts and send them on to New Mexico’s 112 state lawmakers. The process is undertaken after each U.S. Census to ensure political districts represent roughly the same number of people.New Mexico’s new Citizens Redistricting Committee’s recommendations are non-binding. State lawmakers will decide whether to accept or reject them and approve different plans when they meet in Santa Fe in December. But the committee’s monthslong process of collecting public input from hundreds of New Mexicans and disparate groups provides a window into choices before the Legislature.