Indigenous midwives and doulas provide critical support to maternal health

Aspen Mirabal has traveled across Northern New Mexico working with women during pregnancy, birth and postpartum. A member of Taos Pueblo, her work as a doula focuses on ensuring Indigenous women deliver safely in and out of hospitals. 

“Sometimes clients don’t know how to advocate for themselves if this is new for them,” said Mirabal about the language spoken among providers in hospitals. Doulas can help with that.  

Nicolle Gonzales saw a similar need as Mirabal and decided to pursue midwifery. 

“I was very unhappy seeing how the community was being taken care of in hospitals,” Gonzales said. “That really pushed me to go back to school and become a nurse midwife.”  Gonzales later formed a nonprofit health organization called Changing Woman Initiative with a focus on reclaiming Indigenous cultural birthing practices. 

Today, an effort is growing to make it easier for Indigenous people to access doulas and midwives from their own communities, like Mirabal and Gonzales. Prior to the establishment of the Indian Health Service (IHS), the federal medical system that serves Native populations, most Indigenous births happened outside hospitals with the assistance of women.

Photo Essay: Indigenous Women’s Day celebrates female leadership and resilience while spotlighting ongoing struggles

Over 100 people gathered at the Roundhouse on Saturday for the annual Indigenous Women’s Day, starting with a prayer walk through O’Ga P’Ogeh, the Tewa word for Santa Fe that the event’s organizers used, meaning “white shell water place.” It was the third year the event was held in person after pausing during the pandemic. 

“It is a day to celebrate because we are here, we have our young ladies here to show us how beautiful life can be, that they have hope, that they have dreams,” Sen. Shannon Pinto, a Democrat from Tohatchi and member of the Navajo Nation, told the crowd. “We are resilient, we are tough. We can get the work done if we have to.” 

Lawmakers and community organizers spoke about the importance of having Native women in leadership positions, as well as the ongoing struggle against colonialism. Speakers also touched on violence against Native women, environmental issues, and abortion rights. The following photo essay was created by Bella Davis for New Mexico in Depth.

Gallup School Superintendent Says Changing a Label Explains Away Its Harsh Native Student Discipline. It Doesn’t.

At New Mexico in Depth and ProPublica, we practice “no surprises” journalism: No one should read anything about themselves in our articles without first having had a chance to respond. 

So journalists in our newsrooms were surprised to read in the Gallup Sun, a weekly newspaper, that the superintendent of Gallup-McKinley County Schools had criticized our story about his school district. We had given him ample opportunity to respond to our reporting, but the Sun did not give us that opportunity in turn. 

Superintendent Mike Hyatt told the Sun and school board members that he ignored our requests to talk to him because he believed we had a predetermined narrative. That’s not the case. ProPublica, a national nonprofit investigative news outlet, partnered with New Mexico In Depth, a state-based nonprofit news organization, to look at school discipline across New Mexico. We wanted to understand what was driving high rates of discipline for Native American students in the state.

Native leaders say tribal education trust fund would be game changer

Education programs run by Native American tribes in New Mexico rely in part on money from the state, but accessing those dollars makes it difficult to complete all of the work they envision.Tribal leaders and advocates have long lobbied for a change. This year they want to make it happen.Each year, tribes can apply for grants, and if their applications are approved, they must spend the money first and then submit documentation to the state for reimbursement. 

On paper, it sounds straightforward. But in reality, sometimes tribes can’t spend down all the money by an artificial deadline. In fiscal year 2020-2021, 22 tribes received grants under the Indian Education Act but only two requested reimbursement for the full amount they were awarded. 

It’s a cycle that repeats year after year, hampering their ability to realize the vision of educating their own children. 

With state lawmakers heading into the 2023 legislative session with a multi-billion dollar surplus, Rep. Derrick Lente, a Democrat from Sandia Pueblo, said he will introduce legislation to create a $50 million tribal education trust fund that would provide tribes automatic funding every year. 

Tribes would use annual interest earned on trust fund money for language revitalization efforts, resources such as wi-fi, and career readiness programs, among other priorities. It would give tribes greater autonomy, Lente said.

Albuquerque bought site of brutal 2014 murders years ago, spurred by talk of a memorial. But the current plan is for nonprofit office space.

A fenced-off lot near the intersection of Central Avenue and 60th Street, empty except for a portable trailer, a large “no trespassing” sign, overgrown weeds and a pile of debris, marks the site of two brutal murders. 

Kee Thompson and Allison Gorman, members of the Navajo Nation experiencing homelessness, were sleeping there in July 2014 when three Albuquerque teenagers killed them. 

In the days that followed, community members created memorials at the lot, the Albuquerque Journal reported, leaving stuffed animals, candles and a handwritten sign reading: “Let us pray for our homeless people. Keep them safe from evil” and City Councilors Klarissa Peña and Ken Sanchez suggested constructing a public memorial at the site. Thompson’s sister, Stephanie Plummer, hoped to see that proposal become a reality. But eight years later, the temporary tributes community members built are long gone and despite the city purchasing the property in 2019, there is no memorial. Current plans are for a nonprofit organization to use the site as office space. 

Peña made a very public push for a memorial at the site in 2016.

Tribal communities have low returns as U.S. Census set to begin door-to-door phase

A coloring book developed to encourage people to return their census forms.A coloring book to encourage Native Americans to fill out the census / Courtesy of New Mexico Native Census Coalition

While 99 percent of homes on the New Mexico side of the Navajo Nation have received their “Update Leave” census packet–a specific form with an identification number that is geo-tagged to the person’s home–four tribes in the state have yet to allow census workers to begin dropping the packets door to door because of COVID-19 concerns. 

Jicarilla Apache and the Pueblos of Zia, Pojoaque and Acoma have hired tribal members to drop packets at doors but haven’t started the training necessary to begin the work, Census officials said Tuesday during a media briefing. 

The door-to-door packet delivery is designed to target rural and hard-to-reach homes. In August, census workers will begin doing in-person visits to homes that haven’t returned the packets. But how that will work in tribes that have yet to start the drops at the door remains unclear. The deadline to complete the census is October 31. 

“They are in lockdown right now, that’s why we are not able to progress,” said Cathy Lacey, the U.S. Census Regional Director in Denver that oversees the operation in New Mexico tribes. “It could be that we’re never able to get on (these particular tribal lands) and do our Update Leave operation and we are in talks right now that we absolutely have to get on in order to do our non response follow up operation.”

Because tribal residents are encouraged to wait until they receive their packet, these communities have some of the lowest census returns in the nation.

Lawmakers: Budget excludes rural, tribal voices in education

Bernalyn Via of the Mescalero Apache tribe visited the Roundhouse on Fb. 10 to lobby lawmakers. Photo credit / Trip Jennings

As the annual legislative session races to an end Thursday, think of the New Mexico Legislature as an industrial-strength strainer. Only a portion of bills will pass through. But some lawmakers are saying too many bills being filtered out come from communities that are home to students identified in the landmark Yazzie Martinez education lawsuit as shortchanged in the state’s public schools.The House of Representatives and Senate may be wrangling over last-minute changes to the state budget, but raging behind the scenes is a debate over whether the spending plan is responding to the court order that demands New Mexico educate its at-risk students better.

Patchwork health care for reservation inmates raises concern

At a tribal jail in Washington state, an inmate with a broken leg banged on his cell door, screaming for pain medication, only to be denied. Hundreds of miles away, a diabetic man jailed on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming needed insulin, yet government records say authorities were unable to get any for him. And jail staff at other reservation lockups on several occasions mistakenly gave inmates the wrong medication. These episodes, and dozens of others noted in limited detail in 2016 jail incident reports collected by the federal government, underscore what health professionals and jail administrators describe as a deep-seated problem: Scores of federally funded jails on reservations have no in-house nurses or other medical staff, often leaving corrections officers to scramble in emergencies to determine whether to send an inmate to the hospital, or provide basic care themselves — sometimes with unfortunate consequences. Jail data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs from 2017 was not yet available.