I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
The county planning and zoning commission had approved his application…
On last Friday’s episode of KNME’s New Mexico in Focus, “The Line” opinion panel discussed a recent case in which three Farmington men were charged with a hate crime after allegedly branding a swastika into the arm of a…
In the wake of a brutal incident in which a young mentally challenged Navajo man was branded with a swastika symbol, officials in Farmington have been asked to sign an agreement, prepared by the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, that would serve as a guide for improving race relations. But the mayor of Farmington deleted two paragraphs of the document before forwarding it to his city’s community relations committee last week, saying the discussion of a history of oppression was “negative.”
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In April, three Farmington men used a heated coat hanger to brand a swastika into the arm of a mentally challenged Navajo man. The community was shocked, but the branding was part of a recent spate of violence against Navajos that began in 2006, just a few years after the New Mexico Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights returned to the city to assess how things have changed since another violent incident 30 years ago.
Farmington has struggled with racial violence
In the mid-1970s, an economic boycott and weekly protests by Navajos brought attention to the city after three young Anglos were sent to reform school rather than jail after torturing and killing three Navajo men.
In 1975, the Commission on Civil Rights produced The Farmington Report: A Conflict of Cultures, which described a city ill-equipped to handle a “crisis in race in relations” and detailed the discrimination faced by Navajos. In its 2005 follow-up, The Farmington Report: Civil Rights for Native Americans 30 Years Later, the commission noted continued discrimination in the city but also said significant progress had been made.
But then, in 2006, two brutal incidents in Farmington led the Navajo Nation to create an official human rights commission. First, a young Navajo, Clint John was killed, shot four times by a police officer in Farmington. The police officer was cleared of wrongdoing in the case, but many thought the officer had used excessive force. A few days later, three white youths beat and robbed a middle-aged Navajo man. They were convicted under New Mexico’s 2003 hate crimes law after admitting they intentionally targeted a Navajo.
Now, there is the branding of the 22 year old man—who has the mental capacity of a 12-year old—with a swastika; the three perpetrators also shaved a swastika into his hair and wrote racial epithets on his body. The victim said he felt treated like an animal. Authorities haven’t released all of the evidence found at the crime scene, but they told The Navajo Times that they found memorabilia and items associated with white supremacists.
Authorities have indicated they will charge the three perpetrators under New Mexico’s hate crimes statute, which allows for stronger sentencing when a jury finds that a criminal act was motivated by bias. In this case, while two of the perpetrators are white, defense attorneys have pointed out that the third is American Indian—part Navajo and part Sioux. One of the white perpetrators told authorities that the victim wanted to be branded with the swastika because it’s a tribal symbol, which the victim disputes.
Duane “Chili” Yazzie, Chairman of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, believes the act is a hate crime regardless of the ethnicity of one of the perpetrators.
“Whether or not he’s a young native person is beside the point,” Yazzie said in an interview with The Independent. “He participated and therefore he’s a perpetrator of a hate crime.”
Yazzie swiftly dismissed the idea that the victim would want to be branded with a swastika.
“The idea that it isn’t a Nazi symbol, but more of a Navajo symbol, is an excuse to minimize that it’s a Nazi symbol,” Yazzie continued. “It doesn’t explain away what they did. They had no thought that it was a Navajo symbol when they branded the young man.”
Ongoing violence against Navajos has multiple sources
Farmington is one of a series of “border towns” that bridge the intersection of the Navajo Nation with non-native communities. Located in San Juan County, in northwestern New Mexico, the town is home to about 43,000 people, roughly 70 percent of them white, according to Census figures. Almost 17 percent are American Indian, higher than the statewide average of 10 percent.
The town is an economic hub that is heavily reliant on both the oil and gas industry and members of the surrounding Navajo community who come into town to shop and do business. An expansion of the oil and gas industry over a period of recent decades has led to an influx of people, Yazzie said.
“These relative newcomers seem to be one source of insensitivity that’s been targeting our people,” he said.
According to Yazzie, mass protests and a boycott by Navajos after the 1970s incident led community leaders to take notice and improve the environment for Navajos in Farmington.
“Our action back then had a strong impact,” he said. “The education of the community was substantial and it led to the people refraining from that kind of activity for many years. We’d hear of people being cheated over counters and disrespected, but not this violent type of activity until 2006.”
But according to Navajo educator Dr. Larry Emerson, who lives near Shiprock, a Navajo town not far from Farmington, the violence Farmington has deeper roots.
“Certain Farmington white youth seem to carry on a violent tradition of venting their unresolved rage, loss, and anger on disadvantaged Diné,” Emerson wrote in an e-mail to The Independent.
Both Yazzie and Emerson made a point of acknowledging that many of white society in Farmington strives for change in the racial pattern of the area that has led to violence against Navajos.
“There are white folks in Farmington who appreciate and value cultural and racial diversity and tolerance, too,” Emerson said. “They bother to understand Diné history, culture, identity and politics. Many whites work for such values, but I don’t know if they are in the majority. I suspect not.”
Yazzie said the solution is ongoing education, which is why the commission is actively working to develop partnerships with surrounding border towns and major cities in New Mexico and Arizona, with the goal of expanding coordination and cooperation in educating young people and newcomers.
But in addition to public programs, Yazzie said, in order to rid society of hate crimes families have to do internal education as well.
“I think the city of Farmington and the business community is doing all it can to prevent this kind of incident—there’s a focus on education for the public,” he said. “They need to continue doing what they are doing. But also, every person who has an understanding of these issues should set an example, both in public and when with their families.”
Two New Mexicans have joined a federal lawsuit that seeks to stop Arizona’s tough new immigration law from taking effect in July. Jesús Cuauhtémoc Villa and Vicki Gaubeca of Las Cruces, two of more than a dozen plaintiffs, said they joined the legal challenge because they said they travel back and forth between the two states and are concerned about being pulled over by Arizona police officers, they told The Independent.
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Federal, state and tribal officials met Wednesday morning to launch a three-month long White House-sponsored television ad campaign aimed at methamphetamine abuse among Native Americans. The campaign will last through July and cost the federal government approximately $750,000.
“It’s not a hugely expensive campaign,” U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske acknowledged. But the ads are tailored to Native American audiences, emphasizing cultural pride and strength, he said.
State and tribal officials urged that more federal resources be devoted to confronting Indian Country’s meth epidemic, while others said the government is ignoring the underlying problems driving the crisis.
“A decade ago, it seemed that meth use was very rare in Indian Country,” U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Assistant Secretary Larry Echo Hawk told an audience of 50 Wednesday at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. “That’s certainly not the case anymore. It’s reaching what can be described as epidemic proportions now.”
Methamphetamine abuse rates among American Indians and Alaska Natives are the highest for any ethnicity in the nation, nearly twice that of any other ethnic group in the U.S. based on emergency room data and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, White House Drug Control Policy Director (U.S. “Drug Czar”) Gil Kerlikowske said.
The Navajo Nation, where 15 percent of high school students reported meth use in 2003, is particularly hard-hit, New Mexico Secretary of Indian Affairs Alvin Warren noted.
“The FBI estimates that 40 percent of violent crimes on the Navajo reservation are meth-related,” Warren said. “To succeed, this campaign must be a part of a comprehensive, collaborative effort with the federal government. It has to include sufficient resources for treatment, prevention and law enforcement.”
The true scope of the meth problem in Indian Country is unclear, Kerlikowske acknowledged — partly because of the number of urban Indians involved.
“It’s very difficult to get your head around just how many people (are involved),” Kerlikowske said. “A lot of Native people don’t live on tribal lands.”
Part of the problem for those who do live on Indian reservations, is the allure of vast, under-policed and remote spaces to meth manufacturers and traffickers, officials said.
Reservation land “is very remote,” Isleta Pueblo Governor Robert Benevides, a retired BIA police officer, told The Independent. “Drug traffickers know that.”
As Mexico has clamped down on the importation of meth precursor chemicals and the U.S. has tightened control of the U.S./Mexico border, myriad small-scale “shake and bake” meth labs are popping up in Indian Country, Drug Czar assistant director Mark Krawczyk said.
“Mexico as a key source of meth has sort of evaporated,” Krawczyk said. “Now we get small-scale shake and bake labs using pseudoephedrine bought over the counter. The effects are magnified because there are all these tiny meth labs on the sides of roads.”
Over the past two years, federal agencies have assigned 30 new drug enforcement officers to help police the land of more than 500 U.S. tribes, Echo Hawk said.
“Six or seven” more will be added nationwide this year, he told The Independent.
But that’s not enough to confront the problem, others said.
“We need more law enforcement in the field,” Benevides said. “The money is not adequate.”
Isleta is surrounded by centers of meth abuse, and federal support for law enforcement on the Pueblo is inadequate, Benevides told The Independent. The tribe has enough money from its casino to fund two police officers, he said.
There needs to be increased collaboration between tribal, state and federal law enforcement, emphasized Joe Garcia, Southwest Area Vice President for the National Congress of American Indians.
Underlying problems unaddressed?
Some tribal members, while supportive of the ad campaign, told The Independent the underlying problems driving meth and heroin drug abuse on Indian reservations are not being addressed by government anti-drug efforts.
“Mental health, that is where it comes from — depression,” said Adrienne Mauskemo, a member of the Meskwaki Nation in Iowa.
Mauskemo emphasized that she was speaking as a mother, not a representative of her tribe.
“Maybe children are neglected and they are trying to find some ways to get away from their pain,” Mauskemo said. “They have suicidal ideas. When they’re trying to treat the drug problem, first they need to deal with the mental health.”
The television ads emphasized key words, Mauskemo noticed: support, nurturing, strength.
”But what does it mean to be strong,” she asked. “Do the youth know? To me, it’s inner strength, to speak to yourself. I will not do this. I was able to speak to myself that way. It kept me out of trouble. That is how I see things.”
In an effort to provide safe recreation venues for children and teens, the Isleta Pueblo has built soccer, baseball and T-ball fields, a recreation center and swimming pool, Benevides said.
”If you don’t give our kids a place to go, they will get into trouble,” Benevides said.
Acoma Tribal Councilman Derek Valdo also cited underfunding of the U.S. Indian Health Service’s mental health programs as part of the problem.
“It’s bad enough just trying to get medical services for basic needs,” Valdo told The Independent. “They’re emphasizing law enforcement and prevention, but what’s lacking is the other part: how do we fix it afterward?”
Tribes face a major challenge with cleaning up houses that have been used as meth labs, Valdo said.
There exist no national standards for what residual level of meth lab chemicals is safe, as there are for radiation exposure or radon, Valdo pointed out.
Expansion to include public health
The ad campaign represents a shift for the federal government, toward a public health model of confronting the meth problem, officials suggested.
Acknowledging widespread mistrust for the federal government in Indian Country, Kerlikowske emphasized the state and local government backgrounds of the federal officials at the meeting, and said that talking of a “war on drugs” was not “the best way to talk about what is a public health problem.”
“We’re not going to arrest ourselves out of something like this,” Echo Hawk said. “We’ve got to challenge our young people to make good decisions.”
Older adults abusing meth too
The ads, which emphasize the themes “pride” and “we don’t need meth,” were produced by Alternative Marketing Solutions, a Native American-owned advertising agency, according to a press release distributed at the meeting.
The ads were test marketed in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, New Mexico, Arizona and Washington, Kerlikowske said.
“In the past, ads have been generic. I don’t think an anti-drug ad made in Brooklyn will resonate (in Indian Country),” Kerlikowske said. “These ads are directed both at young people but also adults, elders, parents—about how to…provide help.”
But many Native Americans struggling with meth addiction are themselves middle-aged and older adults, others said.
“It’s not just youth,” Garcia said, whose hair is graying. “A lot of people as old as I am, and older, are using meth.”
“We are seeing it in the older group, the 40 to 50 age group,” Mauskemo told The Independent after the meeting. “I’m speaking as a mother, not for the tribe. I see huffing (of solvents or gasoline) in 10 and 11 year-olds. That’s how you see the pattern start.”
The three-month campaign has a $1.5 million “media value,” Kerlikowske said, though only about $750,000 of government money was actually invested in the ads and paid advertising slots, Krawczyk later told The Independent.
“These are paid ads,” Krawczyk said. “After the campaign ends, we’re making them available as public service announcements to tribal and local governments.”
The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population but a quarter of its of its prisoners, according to a new report on the economic impact of the corrections industry released to lawmakers Tuesday by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Few facets of the national economy are untouched by the burgeoning prison industry, the report concludes.
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Last week, Michael Wiener had to apologize for sending out an offensive e-mail about President Barack Obama. Now the Democratic Party of New Mexico and the YWCA are calling for his resignation.