Youth Leading Sustainability Efforts in Jemez Pueblo Invited to the White House

By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative

Emmet stands with current Walatowa Governor Michael Toledo in Washington D.C.

Service work often rewards with intangible benefits: meeting great people, satisfaction in knowing that you are working for a better world.

However, Emmet Yepa, a local youth leader received a very tangible reward for his service last week when he was invited to meet President Obama at the White House because of the work he has done to protect Mother Earth.

Emmet, who comes from the Walatowa (Jemez) Pueblo, was one of eleven American Indian youth nationwide to be selected by the White House as a “Champion of Change” for his work to create a recycling program in the Walatowa Pueblo. The program asked youth to tell the President about their service and leadership work they are doing in their communities.

“I am really honored to be accepted for this trip, and want to learn from this so that I can bring information back to our youth in New Mexico,” said Emmet as he headed to the nation’s capitol. He talked about the other founding members – Tianie and Lindsay Toya and Mark Panana – of the Walatowa Green Stars, his family, and the Walatowa community who he would be representing in his trip.

The Champions of Change ceremony took place December 1st at the White House, and each youth was given a chance to speak about the work they are doing. (click here to see video of the event). The following day, the eleven youth attended the Tribal Nations Conference at the Department of the Interior, meeting with Obama privately before he spoke to the assembled leaders.


“He is such an amazing, powerful and humble individual,” commented Emmet from that meeting.

In fact, Emmet says that the most powerful part of the trip for him was the Tribal Nations Conference. “It was a great feeling being with the leaders of the Indigenous Nations of this country…It made me think that I want to have the Green Stars further into the process of getting a recycling center. I want to be able to say that I accomplished more than I expected before I head off to college, for our Pueblo and for Mother Earth.”

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7th Grader from Tohajiilee heading to Washington D.C. to Present on Youth Leadership

By Anthony Fleg

Tohajiilee, NM – When you hear Waverly Yazzie speak about her dream of having empowered youth in her community leading efforts to improve Tohajiilee, you would probably guess that she is far older than twelve. Indeed, Waverly is a 7th grader from the Tohajiilee community of the Navajo Nation who is spearheading efforts to create the Tohajiilee Youth Council.

Members of the Tohajiilee Youth Council take a break from a planning session. Waverly is the 3rd from the right.

And this week, Waverly, her mother Dee Apache, and other members of the Native Health Initiative will head to Washington D.C. for the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA) to hear Waverly speak about the importance of youth leadership in health efforts. Waverly’s presentation, “Youth Leading the Way to Healthier Communities” will allow her, at twelve years of age, to present to public health leaders from across the country.

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Despite add-on agenda, Legislature prepares for redistricting task

By Matthew Reichbach

Before introducing the principles of redistricting, Research & Polling, Inc. president Brian Sanderoff joked that many legislatures must be tired of hearing his voice by now before addressing a joint session of the House and Senate. The presentation on the floor of the state House chambers hit many of the same notes he did during the months-long tour of New Mexico, one that some legislators heard many times.

In a nutshell, Sanderoff reminded the legislators that the districts must be compact, contiguous and substantially equal in population. He also warned that districts cannot be crafted in a way that would dilute the voting strength of minorities, which includes Native Americans.

Before Sanderoff introduced redistricting to the legislators, Professor Michael Browde of the University of New Mexico School of Law and attorney Rich Olson of Hinkle, Hensley, Shanor & Martin, LLP spoke of the potential legal challenges that New Mexico could face because of the redistricting plans.

The message was that not passing a plan would invite costly lawsuits, much like the 2001 redistricting plan vetoed by then-Gov. Gary Johnson did. According to Browde, the state incurred $3.6 million in legal fees after Johnson vetoed the Legislature’s plan. The total cost to the state was $5.2 million.

Lawsuits against the state would face an uphill battle if there is a duly enacted plan, Olson explained.

“Where there is a carefully crafted, enacted plan, those who have to challenge stand a fairly serious burden,” Olson explained. “And given that all of the potential challenges are really federal civil rights claims, which only allow recovery of attorneys fees and costs to prevailing parties, careful evaluation by those who might want to challenge, careful evaluation of their chances of success really diminishes the number of challenges that are likely to occur.”

In 1981, there were challenges but those problems were caused “by some difficulty in our translation of the census data into data we could use.” (The use of the “votes cast formula” was struck down in federal court. See Sanchez v. King, 1982.)  In 1991, there were no challenges to the law. In 2001, there was no law and there was “a free for all” in Olson’s words.

A theme that should echo throughout the redistricting debate is that some districts in rural areas will likely need to be consolidated, in both the state House and Senate, and those districts added to the areas spanning from Rio Rancho to the southwest mesa area of Albuquerque. This could cause two incumbent legislators to face each other in the 2012 election.

The congressional redistricting should be easier, according to Sanderoff, because the population changes were “not nearly as dramatic.” Each of the three districts had areas with big growth; the 1st Congressional District has Albuquerque’s Westside, the 2nd Congressional District has Las Cruces and the 3rd Congressional District has Rio Rancho. Only about 22,000 people will have to be moved to make viable districts, according to Sanderoff.

The House did move forward on the impeachment of embattled Public Regulations Commissioner Jerome Block Jr. Speaker of the House Ben Lujan, D-Nambe, appointed a subcommittee to look at the impeachment of Block, a likely occurrence because of Block’s recent brushes with the law.

The subcommittee is made up an equal number of Democrats and Republicans

Odds and Ends:

  • While redistricting was the focus of the legislature today, Gov. Susana Martinez’s proclamation allows for a number of other issues to be considered.
  • The public will be allowed to draw their own redistricting proposals in room 324 of the Roundhouse, while room 310 will house Research & Polling throughout the redistricting process.
  • Because of the difficulty in crafting redistricting proposals, attempts to change the proposals will be limited to floor and committee substitutes. This is because small changes could have large ‘ripple effects’ that would render the maps useless.
  • Special sessions are limited to 30 days by state law.

Cycles of Life: Youth Turn Their Homemade Bikes into Healing Ride Across New Mexico

By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative

Albuquerque, NM – The youth took a collective deep breath, and as Arlyn John began to sing a traditional traveling song, the cars and other noises of the city seemed to fade away.

For many, the journey they were about to begin, biking from Zuni Pueblo to Taos Pueblo, is the biggest trip of their lives. The Cycles of Life program chose this route for their healing ride, using the same route that Coronado’s army took centuries ago when the goal was the destruction of Indigenous communities.

“I am excited and also nervous because I have never biked this far,” admits Franchesca Sisneros (Dine’/Hispanic), a high school student at the Native American Community Academy (NACA) who, along with her fellow youth taking part in the Cycles of Life program, built her bike that she will now use to ride across the state. “I am thankful to have this opportunity because I know that a lot of youth do not have chances to do something like this.”

Arlyn (Dine’ –  Zuni clan, born for Tangle Water),  a teacher of personal wellness at the Native American Community Academy (NACA),  who also coordinates the NACA Conservation Corps (CC) summer program similarly breathed a sigh of. Weeks earlier he was looking for a program for his CC students, and came across the Cycles of Life Program. “It seemed like a great fit, a way to connect taking care of yourself and taking care of our Earth,” he recalls.

We are learning first-hand the power of critical thinking linked with action through, taking an indigenous perspective on health and education,” says Jake Foreman, the program’s creator. “We are creating a space that supports, encourages, and strengthens youth to realize their innate potential as compassionate leaders for our Mother Earth through service, exercise and exploration of our local community.” In addition to learning bicycle maintenance and working to build bikes that are “funky and fresh” the youth have learned how to make traditional-style waffle gardens, did an energy audit on a local building, and learned more about green energy initiatives in our region.

The inspiration for creating a summer program for indigenous youth that connects bicycling, gardening and art came from my personal understanding of the interconnectedness and impermanence of everything on our planet. A profound lesson of impermanence came when my father passed away last spring.

Cycles f Life ran off ‘loving service’ and lots of committed partners, says Jake. Entities involved in the Cycles of Life Program include community members in the Zuni, Laguna NACA and the NACA Conservation Corps, NM Game and Fish, the Sierra Club, UNM CLPS Program, Molina Healthcare, the Native Health Initiative, and Instituto Sostener.

Breathe Tradition, Not Addiction: Youth artists bring the message!

By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative

3,500 youth will light their first cigarette today.

1,000 of these will become regular smokers.

350 of this group will eventually die from tobacco related illnesses.

But this article is not about that group, nor is it about more depressing statistics around the biggest preventable cause of death in our country.

Here, we want to introduce you to two youth champions who are working toward a world without smoking. This past week, Joel Ladon and Tychelle Herron from Ramah, NM travelled to present their Tar Wars posters in prestigious settings, at the New Mexico Academy of Family Physicians (NMAFP) annual seminar in Ruidoso, and at the national Tar Wars conference in Washington D.C., respectively.

Tar Wars, a national program to teach 4th and 5th grade students about the harms of smoking, holds a poster contest where youth create anti-smoking advertisements. In NM, a partnership called the Native Health Initiative (NHI) helps the NMAFP run the Tar Wars program and poster contest. NHI has added a twist to the program, incorporating the traditional/ceremonial/medicinal ways that tobaccos are used into an anti-smoking curriculum.

“When we hear educators talk about being tobacco-free, as Dine’ and as Indigenous people, we may be confused, since traditional tobaccos are so important to us as people,” comments Shannon Fleg (Dine’) who is a health educator with NHI who came up with the Breathe Tradition, Not Addiction campaign.

“We decided to take a big step this year and work on getting our poster winners to receive bigger recognition for their work,” says Andrew Goumas, an NHI Coordinator who helps coordinate the Tar Wars NM program.

Tychelle and her mother, Melinda Herron worked for months to fundraise to make the trip to D.C. possible, receiving donations from many in the Ramah community. “We received bundles of wood, leatherwork and lots of other donations that we used to fundraise for the trip,” says Melinda. “It was a chance for Tychelle to get on a plane for the first time, and to see our nation’s capitol, and we were going to do whatever it took to make it happen for her.”

Tychelle and her mother stand by Tychelle’s poster in the “Parade of Posters” at the national Tar Wars Conference in Washington D.C.

Tychelle represented New Mexico at the Tar Wars Conference, where one youth winner from each state was picked to attend. Her poster was titled, Breathe Tradition, Not Addiction and was the only one at the conference that incorporated traditional tobacco.

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Navajo Nation Public Hearing on Energy Policy

By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative

The location for last night’s public hearing on the Navajo Nation’s proposed energy policy was fitting for political theatrics – held at the UNM Student Union Building’s theater, the stage was set for Navajo Nation officials to make their case for the energy policy as currently drafted.

The document at the center of discussion was the draft of the Navajo Nation Energy Policy, completed June 20th, 2011 (see copy of draft here). The UNM meeting was the last of the public hearings on the policy, meetings meant to gather public input on the draft.

The Attorney General for the Navajo Nation, Harrison Tsosie, reminded the audience that this document was not a law, regulation or statute. “Instead, this policy is to serve as a vision statement for Navajo leaders and for the outside world, to then guide future decisions and laws and to ensure that in the future the Federal Government is not deciding the direction of our Dine’ people.”

There have been four prior attempts to develop such an energy policy by the Navajo Nation, with the only document that made it past draft stage being the 1980 policy. The current administration, under President Ben Shelly has made energy policy a priority.

The document supports development of renewable energy, with Navajo Nation officials admitting that in the past years there has been no clear direction, and therefore, no significant strides in this realm.

Coal and uranium appear to be the biggest points of contention in the draft policy, judging from the audience members who spoke during the public response section of the hearing.

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Bill To Establish Suicide Prevention for Native American Youth Awaits Gov’s Signature

By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative

In the next days, as Governor Martinez’s desk piles high with legislation pleading for her signature, many advocates hope that Senate Bill 417 will get the precious signature and become a catalyst for increased support and resources to prevent youth suicide in American Indian communities.

Suicide is the third leading causes of death for youth in New Mexico, and the rate for AI youth is nearly twice as high as for other groups. In 2007, the New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey revealed that 34.8% of Native youth in grades 9 through 12 reported feeling sadness and hopelessness.
The additional factors of isolation, poverty, loss of cultural and individual identity, historical trauma, substance abuse, and self-esteem issues all play into the increased risk for our Native American youth to take their own lives. For instance, 40% of American Indian children live in poverty – more than 3 times higher than the rate for white children.

SB417, sponsored by Sen. Lynda Lovejoy, (D-Crownpoint), creates a statewide clearinghouse to provide technical assistance and support to facilitate collaboration and establish sustainable suicide prevention programs in Native communities. The clearinghouse will also provide culturally appropriate suicide intervention and post-event assistance to Native American children and their families.

Funding for the measure was removed due to the state’s budget shortfall, but state officials will use grant money to fund the preliminary work of the clearinghouse.

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Youth Voice Rings Loud at the Roundhouse For New Mexico Youth Alliance

By Anthony Fleg

SANTA FE – On Wednesday, Jan.  the New Mexico Youth Alliance (NMYA) brought a strong message to our state’s legislators: Support our youth!

NMYA brought youth from across the state to get a closer look at how business is done at the NM State Legislature. Ironically, in the days prior to this event, Senate Bill 158 was dropped by Senators Lynda Lovejoy and Paul Bandy, proposing to terminate NMYA altogether.

The bill calls for a Government Restructuring Task Force, doing away with many committees, councils, and boards formed under Bill Richardson’s administration.

On Wednesday, young people spoke to their respective legislators to request that the NMYA be removed from the chopping block in the bill.

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Thanksgiving Wishes From Clearly New Mexico

A Guest Post by Anthony Fleg

To our wonderful Clearly New Mexico community, we want to thank you for your support and energy. Far beyond this site, it is the work we are dedicated to, making our state healthier, safer, more equitable, and more democratic that is worth giving thanks for this holiday. Whether your efforts are improving our schools, ethical reforms in our political systems, or speaking on behalf of the most vulnerable populations that are too often forgotten, thank you!

As you can see from the stories on our site, it is exactly those efforts that inspire the writers of Clearly New Mexico. Often, these are the stories not deemed “newsworthy” elsewhere – youth working to beautify their communities, conversations about keeping the internet accessible to all, and Indigenous efforts to protect water are not the things we see much of in the media, but which have made it to our site in just the last week!

A few thoughts as you enjoy your time with family and friends this holiday, given in the spirit of Clearly New Mexico’s community:

* First, a medical fact – yes, turkey does have an amino acid called trypophan which causes sleepiness. So, get those important political, philosophical, and spiritual conversations out of the way before the turkey-induced daze!. And before you ask, NO, this does not give you lisence the next day to blame something you say to the in-laws on the trypophan!

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Navajo President Joe Shirley Approves Controversial Water Settlement

By Tracy Dingmann

On Nov. 19, as expected, outgoing Navajo Nation president Joe Shirley approved a settlement that gives Navajo and Hopi tribes limited rights to water from the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers.

Many members of the Navajo tribe had vehemently opposed approval of the Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement Agreement, saying the agreement didn’t go far enough in securing water rights for Navajos. Critics also said that the the question of whether to approve of the settlement should have been decided by all Navajos, not just Navajo politicians.

Clearly New Mexico guest poster Anthony Fleg gave good background about the actions leading up to the Navajo Nation Council of Delegates vote on the settlement on Nov. 4.  Shirley signed the agreement days later, following the council’s approval.

For even more background about opposition to the settlement,  here’s a link to a locally-made film about the settlement and the struggle for equitable and fair water rights on the Navajo Nation. The film was made by Concerned Citizens For Dine Water Rights, a grassroots effort for and by Dine people.