Community Rallies at Roundhouse for Anti Racism Day

Poet Hakim Bellamy performing in the Capitol Rotunda on Anti Racism Day. Photo by Claus Whiteacre.

By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative

The most important piece of health legislation in this year’s session might just be one without the words Medicaid, health insurance, or the names of any disease conditions in it.

Instead, it is a bill addressing institutional racism, the practices and policies within institutions (e.g schools, courts, hospitals, businesses) that lead to unequal access to resources based on skin color.

A week ago, the health professionals, educators, and community activists of the New Mexico Health Equity Working Group (NMHEWG) rallied for the bill at the first-ever “Anti Racism Day” at the legislature.

House Joint Memorial 32, sponsored by Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas (D-Albuquerque) and Sen. Tim Keller (D-Albuquerque) passed its first test, being approved by the House Labor Committee at 8pm on Thursday, February 17th.

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MLK Today, Legislature Tomorrow

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A Guest Post by Anthony Fleg

On the eve of the 2011 legislative session in Santa Fe, the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday gives us a moment of pause, a moment to reflect as New Mexicans about what we hope to see come out of the two-month session, and how we will individually and collectively affect the process. Using some thoughts from Dr. King’s vast repertoire of proverbial wisdom, I hope that you will find inspiration today to fuel your service and advocacy tomorrow and beyond.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – MLK

I often hear friends and colleagues lament that “politics is just not for me,” in the same way they might discuss foods and movies they dislike. The important distinction is that our political system does affect all of us. It can protect our natural resources and sacred places, or it can do just the opposite. It will determine over the next sixty days whether the budgets of our schools and social programs are slashed, or whether we instead decide to go after un-tapped revenue from corporations to solve our state’s deficit.

These are not small, insignificant decisions. We will all live with the effects, good or bad, from decisions over the next two months. Get involved! If you are one of those likely to shrug off politics, my first, simple suggestions would be to check out the very user-friendly NM legislative website where you find your legislators, look up specific bills, and even watch proceedings from the Roundhouse and then to go up to Santa Fe and see the legislative process for yourself. Those who do see quickly that it is not the scary world they had imagined, and that in fact, all of us can make more of an impact than we think.

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. ” – MLK

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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.

A Report From The National Congress of American Indians, Meeting This Week in Albuquerque

A Clearly Guest Post by Anthony Fleg

Albuquerque – How can we advance the rights of the world’s Indigenous Nations through treaties?

This was the central question Monday evening as Indigenous leaders from Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. gathered at a special session of the 67th Annual Convention of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in the Albuquerque Convention Center.

Central to the discussion was the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). More than simply the sum of its 46 Articles that affirm the rights and sovereignty of Indigenous Nations, this document sets an important precedent by recognizing these groups at the level of the United Nations.

Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007, the U.S., New Zealand, Australia and Canada were the only countries not to sign the declaration initially. As of last week, when Canada added their signature, the U.S. is now the only country who has not signed.
“We expect President Obama to sign this declaration on behalf of the United States in the near future, and it is important that there is not a group of non-Indian people telling us how it is going to be implemented,” said Frank Ettawageshik, Executive Director of the United Tribes of Michigan.

Indeed, attention at the session was more focused on steps needed once the U.S. signs, with sentiment hopeful that Obama will reverse the Bush Administration’s position on the document. At the NCAI meeting, a resolution being proposed calls upon the president to create a commission of Indigenous leaders to implement the UNDRIP once it is signed by the U.S.

Andrea Carmen from the Yaqui Nation (Mexico), and the Executive Director of the International Indian Treaty Council reminded those gathered the long road toward United Nations recognition. In the 1920s, various Indigenous leaders arrived at the UN’s predecessor, The League of Nations, only to be turned away.

“Finally, in 1977 we were invited to Geneva for the UN Conference on Discrimination against Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, but it took another three decades before we had the support in place to talk seriously about the rights of Indigenous peoples,” she noted.

Even as the UNDRIP was being drafted, there was tension around the voice given to the Indigenous voices involved, with the Indigenous delegation walking out of negotiations in 1996 and then staging a hunger strike in 2004 to show their disproval with the process.

Carmen added, “Remember that our rights, the rights of our Nations, are not set by treaties or declarations. Our rights can be affirmed or violated, but they are not something that can be given or taken away.”

To some at the gathering, the talk of treaties left doubts. An elder from the Tanana Tribal Council (Alaska), Curtis Sommer, voiced his concerns.

“To me, I don’t hear us addressing colonialism…we need our countries to be held accountable for the enslavement, murdering, and genocide, and I am not sure that begging for a small slice of what we are owed through treaties is the way to get this accomplished.”

Election News: Water Is Life For The Navajo Nation

A Guest Post by Anthony Fleg of the Native Health Initiative

As votes are furiously cast and counted Tuesday, there is a critical vote that will not be decided on Nov. 2.

On Thursday in Window Rock, Arizona the Navajo Nation Council of Delegates is set to vote on the Northeastern Navajo Water Rights Settlement. In essence, this 405-page document will quantify the amount of water available from the Colorado River to certain areas and citizenry of the Navajo Nation.

On the Navajo Nation, many still lack running water, and of those with running water, many continue to consume water that that is not fit for human consumption.

Couple that with the growing population of the Southwest, with large cities expanding at the edges of American Indian communities, and with ever-increasing water demands, and you get a sense for just how precious and precarious the water situation has become.

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Native Youth Lead The Way At Local Health Conference

Youth presenters at the AAIP meeting. Back row (L to R): Leon Paquin, Nick Felipe, Emmit Yepa, Mark Panana. Front row: Tiffany Faustine, Leroy Paisano, Lindsey Toya and Tianie Toya

A Clearly Guest Post by Anthony Fleg

SANTA ANA PUEBLO, NM – A week before the school year began, a group of American Indian youth in New Mexico were not only working hard, they were teaching the class!

Earlier this month, the 39th annual conference of the Association of American Indian Physicians (AAIP) featured nationally known speakers, including Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, the current director of Indian Health Services.

Alongside such speakers were three groups of local youth presenting on their efforts to create healthier, more sustainable and empowered communities.

The Walatowa (Jemez) Green Stars talked about their activism to create a full-scale recycling program in their community, with group member Lindsey Toya pointing out that “we know that our trash will be here for the generations to come, and it is our job to teach the elders in our community as they have taught us.”

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Native Elder “Grandma Agnes” Gets Honorary Doctorate at 96

Mrs. Agnes Dill (Isleta/Laguna)

By Anthony Fleg of the Native Health Initiative

At the University of New Mexico’ spring commencement this Saturday, many graduates will grasp their degree with a sigh of relief, thinking of how long a road it has been.

None of them quite knows the road like Mrs. Agnes Dill, however.

Mrs. Dill (Isleta/Laguna), born in 1913, will be receiving an honorary doctorate degree at UNM’s graduation for her tireless dedication to the issues around the access to education for American Indian women.

As a founding member for multiple organizations, including the North American Indian Women’s Association, Mrs. Dill has led a life of service and dedication to empowering women.

Whereas UNM currently has close to 1,500 American Indian students, Mrs. Dill attended UNM at a time when only 14 were enrolled.

“And we did not have scholarships in those days, so the Native students lived down at the Albuquerque Indian School (12th and Menaul) because we could not afford to stay on campus with the other students,” she remembers.

It is fitting that Mrs. Dill, a lifelong educator herself, will receive this honor in the name of the University she once attended, one month shy of her 97th birthday.

When asked how she feels about the award, Mrs. Dill closes her eyes and shakes her head.

“I really never expected something like this to happen, but I am proud of all of the work we have been able to do over the years to better the conditions in our Indian communities.”

Mrs. Dill will be escorted during the graduation ceremony by Dr. Melvina McCabe (Navajo), a family doctor at UNM who coordinates the Geriatric Center’s Council of Elders that Agnes has served on for the past years.

The Native Health Initiative nominated Mrs. Dill for the honorary degree after seeing her continued work to serve; NHI has asked Mrs. Dill and her sisters to speak to a variety of health professions students to give a perspective on American Indian health and culture.

“We felt that this was a moment where Grandma Agnes, a woman who represents the Indigenous wisdom and knowledge that is too often unrecognized by Universities, needed to be honored,” says NHI Coordinator Shannon Fleg (Navajo).

Shannon had quite a task to compile a resume spanning 80 years of advocacy, as Mrs. Dill was not a person to keep track of her accomplishments.

Saturday’s ceremony has already had ripple effects, Shannon says.

“Since we have begun to spread the news about Mrs. Agnes, leaders and elders in our local Indigenous communities are saying to us – wait until next year, because we have someone to nominate as well!”

For more information on the Native Health Initiative, visit www.lovingservice.us or contact Shannon Fleg at shannon@lovingservice.us.

Serving Toward Equity

Guest Post by Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative

The Martin Luther King Day holiday serves as an annual reminder of two of this country’s highest ideals – serving others and the creation of an equitable society. This year, amidst the economic turmoil of our country and the suffering of our brother and sisters in Haiti, the lessons from Dr. King’s life and the message of this holiday provide timely reminders to each of us individually and to us as a larger society.

Serving Others

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom. -MLK

I include this quote by Dr. King not only as a protest against our continued escalation in military spending nationally, but also to bring this closer to home. I had the opportunity to visit a local middle school last week and saw an environment that echoes more of militarism than of social uplift. Bathrooms locked, lockers taken away, field trips cancelled as the youth told me “all because of the crime here.”  This punitive environment is the best we can do to serve and empower our next generation of leaders?

And how many other elements of our society can we think of that fit with this theme – more resources poured into punishment and enforcement than in the social services that could prevent the former from being needed. We criminalize addictions, and instead of treating the addicts, we incarcerate them. We continue to see the hospitals in our city chase thousands of citizens into bankruptcy each year instead of creating a system that doesn’t punish people for getting sick. And on, and on…

When I think of the service to our community needed to dismantle such systems, it is something much more than “soup kitchen service” measured in volunteer hours logged. Using this analogy, what we need is about finding out why people are hungry, and why certain groups are disproportionately left without food, rather than simply serving up a hot meal. It requires service that makes us thermometers, not merely thermostats – we must be willing to change the temperature ourselves, facing the opposition and resistance that Status Quo and his cadre will bring.

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