ALBUQUERQUE – With cuts and bruises on his face, back and shoulders, Jerome Eskeets frantically told police about the violent assault he barely survived the night before. In his 30s, Eskeets had been sleeping in an empty lot on Albuquerque’s west side with friends and relations, Allison Gorman and Kee Thompson, who like Eskeets were Diné, as members of the Navajo Nation call themselves. Soon after talking to Eskeets, police found Gorman’s and Thompson’s bludgeoned bodies. The 2014 crime shocked Albuquerque, the state and occasionally made national news as the cases against the three defendants eventually arrested in the brutal killings — youths Alex Rios, Nathaniel Carrillo and Gilbert Tafoya — worked their way through the court system. Three years later, the judicial system is nearing an end to the case.
As tribal members dig in their heels to prevent construction of an oil pipeline they say threatens their water supply and damages sites sacred to them, a growing police action in North Dakota over the weekend has landed many of them in jail. Since the summer, thousands of Native Americans, including New Mexicans, have converged on North Dakota, heeding the call of the Standing Rock Sioux to protest against the pipeline construction. Liz McKenzie of the Diné Nation (Navajo Nation), for one, felt a sense of unity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe when she visited North Dakota in September, she said. The 2015 Gold King Mine Spill that contaminated the San Juan and Animas Rivers and affected agricultural communities in New Mexico and on the Navajo Nation made water contamination concerns raised by the Standing Rock Sioux more than a political call to action. ”It’s not even like we are standing in ‘solidarity’,” McKenzie said.
Last week New Mexico In Depth published a series about a crisis happening in plain sight– the frequency with which Native American youth in New Mexico are dying by their own hands.
The rate is more than twice as high as in other ethnicities or populations — a stunning statistic.
Given the significance and seriousness of the issue, the subject might as well not exist for many New Mexicans. New Mexico media seldom reports on it for various reasons, including many outlets’ struggle to do more with less in an era of downsizing. More importantly, the subject seems to rarely break through the haze of competing priorities each year in Santa Fe as the state’s 112 lawmakers convene to deliberate on the state’s most pressing issues.
Judging from reader response, however, our series touched a nerve.
If I learned one thing from the young people I’ve met while reporting this project, it’s that my daughter needs me to listen without judgment, forsaking the temptation to give advice or prattle on about my own childhood experiences.
This taboo of speaking about death is common among New Mexico’s tribal communities. Some people in and around Thoreau are pushing to change that after as many as 15 young people died by suicide in 2010.
While it might not seem like it from reading headlines day-in, day-out, the heart of journalism beats with hope. It is with that hope that NMID offers this series in a spirit of both humility and gratitude.