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.
On an afternoon in June, neighbors walked the grass loop of Albuquerque’s 4-H park as kids chased underneath a metal sculpture and stepped on a marker that hints of the unmarked grave site below for students at the old Albuquerque Indian School who died more than 100 years ago. Draped on a solitary tree nearby were orange tapestries, part of a community-built memorial dedicated to the gravesite near the former site of the Albuquerque Indian School. It went up after someone noticed a plaque missing that commemorated the cemetery for Zuni, Navajo and Apache students buried there between 1882 and 1933. How the plaque went missing is a mystery, and its absence might have escaped notice a few years ago.
But a discovery in May of 215 unmarked graves at an Indian boarding school in southern British Columbia has sparked heightened awareness of the history and legacy of boarding schools in the United States.
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced in late June the agency would investigate the extent to which there was loss of human life in this country and the lasting consequences of boarding schools. The federal government, beginning in the late 1800s, took Indian children from their families in an effort to strip them of their cultures and language.
Early this year, five of Gallup, New Mexico’s 16 water wells stopped producing water, including two of its biggest. After a few days of maintenance, two worked. The other three were out of commission for more than a month. Had it happened in summer, the city might have asked residents to dramatically reduce use. “I’m not in crisis mode,” said Dennis Romero, Water and Sanitation Director for the City of Gallup, but “it could go to crisis mode very quickly.”
The shortage isn’t wholly surprising — 20 years ago, the city decided it could limp along on aging groundwater wells with dropping water levels until a new water project began delivering San Juan River water in late 2024.
When Julie Badonie was growing up in the small Navajo community of Tohatchi in the 1940s, her father drove a horse-drawn wagon early each morning to a nearby spring. There, he filled wooden barrels with water the family would use that day to drink, cook, and wash.
Badonie, the youngest of seven children, including brothers who fought in World War II and the Korean War, or one of her siblings would go along. She remembers it as fun. At home, a hose siphoned the water into buckets to bring into the house. Badonie left for boarding school in kindergarten, first just a few miles across town, then several days’ travel away in Crownpoint, where an older sister worked as a cook, and eventually, all the way to Albuquerque for high school.
For a while, Chee Smith Jr. thought he was going to have to send his father to die among strangers. His family lives at Whitehorse Lake, a Navajo chapter where, until a few years ago, roughly 550 of 700 residents had no running water in their homes, including Smith’s. As Smith’s father aged and his health worsened, it became harder and harder for him to live at home. “We had to haul water from the chapterhouse or the watering points every day for just basic things — for cooking, for laundry, for stuff like that, and also for our livestock,” Smith said. “It takes a big toll.
Even by the most optimistic standards, the logistics of learning in 2020 have been difficult, if not close to impossible, for a significant number of New Mexico students. Technological challenges have combined with trauma caused by COVID-19’s deadly rampage through hard-hit populations, especially the state’s Indigenous communities, to disrupt classrooms and educational plans. More than 32,000 students — or one of every 10 enrolled in public education statewide — have been referred to a state-sponsored coaching program, many for being disengaged, regularly missing classes, or in danger of failing one or more classes. Less than a quarter are participating, however. And more than half of those, or 5,173 students, are in need of the most help, according to the state education officials, meaning they endure significant on-going barriers and are receiving regular interventions, sometimes daily.Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart and his staff didn’t mince words about the severity of the challenge in a December presentation of the education agency’s 2022 budgetary request to state lawmakers.
Learning losses caused by the pandemic — particularly for at-risk students, which make up a majority of New Mexico’s student population — will likely weaken already low student outcomes, according to the 13-page memo.“Additionally, school closures and remote learning have had a dramatic impact on enrollment in many school districts, leading some school district leaders to worry about the pandemic’s impact on their school district’s finances,” they added.The state education agency went on to ask the legislators for $4 million in emergency funds, citing the possible need for additional grants in light of enrollment shifts in school districts and increased costs related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
ByMarjorie Childress, Shaun Griswold, and Aliya Uteuova |
The coronavirus feels the way it looks in widely circulated images, said Cleo Otero: like a thorn. “That’s how it felt inside my body, especially my lungs. It was painful. Like it was scratching the inside of your body. I could really literally feel the virus inside my body.”
Otero’s first clue she was sick came at the laundromat in Albuquerque where she usually buys a bag of spicy chips as she waits on her clothes.