The Demise of Desert Rock

This is a must read by Laura Paskus at the High Country News:

This March, after seven years of planning and with millions of dollars poured into attorneys, consultants and travel junkets, Sithe Global not only delayed the (Desert Rock) project once again — beyond 2015 this time — but said it is considering changing it extensively. In June, the company gave up the only funding it had secured for construction of the project, when it allowed a $3.2 billion industrial revenue bond and tax break from San Juan County, N.M., to expire. And now, with its champion (Navajo Nation President) Shirley stepping down because of term limits this fall, Desert Rock’s days are likely numbered.

The life and death of Desert Rock

Medic(aid) no longer?: A look at what Medicaid cuts will mean for NM’s American Indian population

A Clearly Guest post by Anthony Fleg of Native Health Initiative

As American Indian Day is celebrated at the New Mexico Legislature on Friday, there is much to worry about amongst Tribal health leaders who fear drastic cuts in Medicaid will cripple an already under-funded health infrastructure. Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley recently wrote to the State’s Medical Assistance Division (MAD) expressing his Tribe’s opposition to cuts in Tribal health, with Pueblo and Apache leaders voicing concerns as well.

By the statistics, requests from Shirley and other leaders make sense. American Indians continue to live sicker and die younger than other New Mexicans, a trend replicated throughout the United States. 2008 data from the NM Department of Health shows that this population fares the worst amongst NM racial/ethnic groups in 9 of the 20 health indicators measured, including homicide, motor vehicle deaths, and youth obesity. American Indians in our state are three times more likely to die from diabetes and alcohol than the best performing groups in these areas.

Dr. Kristine Suozzi, Coordinator of the New Mexico Health Equity Working Group points out, “We simply cannot take healthcare away from the most vulnerable. It is in all of our best interest to provide healthcare services to the level of the need for those services in our state. Suozzi points to a recent letter by UNM economists to Governor Richardson, a warning that cutting income and services to those who need them will have a spiraling downward effect on our overall economy.

The funding of health care for American Indians continues to lag far behind the national average, roughly 1/3 of that spent per-capita by those with private insurance, and ½ of that spent on prisoners. While the Indian Health Service (IHS) provides much of the funds for on-reservation care, 17% of the IHS budget comes from third-party payers such as Medicaid. The majority of the Native population does not live on reservations, and for this group, Medicaid becomes an even larger source of healthcare coverage. In all, almost half of our state’s American Indians (43%) are on Medicaid, and 66% of this group are children.

Last September, when the MAD announced impending cuts to Medicaid, Tribal leaders and advocates, along with Medicaid supporters such as the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (NMCLP) began to strategize how to minimize these cuts, and more importantly, minimize the impact that such cuts would have on the vulnerable populations they serve.

Sireesha Manne, a lawyer with the NMCLP remarks, “With the $4 to $1 match in federal funding, it would be fiscally irresponsible to forego funds that are critical to our economic recovery and thousands of jobs in the healthcare sector.”

Manne is equally unimpressed with proposals to restructure Medicaid benefits.”We’re looking at devastating cuts to healthcare coverage for people living in poverty. This will make the difference of whether a family member with a disability can continue to receive services at home, or whether a child can see the eye doctor or dentist.”

One proposal, introduced in House and Senate Joint Memorials by Ray Begaye and John Pinto, respectively this Tuesday, requests the development of a program to establish Native Americans in a separate category of Medicaid eligibility with its own benefits package.

The bill invokes legal arguments, pointing out that under New Mexico’s State-Tribal Collaboration Act signed into law last year by Gov. Bill Richardson, Tribes must be given information regarding redesigns of programs such as Medicaid so that Tribal leaders an opportunity to give “important systemic input into the redesign.”

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Navajo Nation Passes Green Jobs Bill

Navajo Nation Summer Council

Navajo Nation Summer Council

Great news comes today from Window Rock, AZ as the Council of the Great Navajo Nation passed legislation enacting a Green Economy Commission and Fund to support a transition to a healthier and more sustainable economy.

I first heard of this initiative when a co-worker and I attended a Black Mesa Water Coalition meeting that focused on bringing a green economy to the Navajo Nation.  As time has gone by the coalition has grown, and it’s exciting to see a how a group of young people are playing their part to help change politics in native communities.

From the official press release:

“This legislation will set up the infrastructure needed to capture federal money already earmarked for green job development.  What’s more this legislation will focus on small-scale, community development— a form of economic development that empowers local communities and allows folks to work near their homes and communities.   This moves the Navajo Nation and the Navajo people one step closer to a green economy.”

A big congratulations goes out to everyone at the Navajo Green Jobs Coalition for all their hard work.  And another thanks to the Navajo Nation Council for realizing the potential of a green economy.

Mt. Taylor Protected After Years of Struggle


Guest Post by Nadine Padilla. She is an organizer for the Sacred Alliance for Grassroots Equality (SAGE) Council.

The New Mexico Cultural Properties Review Committee has unanimously decided to place Mt. Taylor permanently on the State Register of Traditional Cultural Properties.  This designation follows a year-long battle between private landowners, who say the designation will affect development that may occur on their lands, and Native American tribes, who honor Mt. Taylor as a sacred place central to the cultures and livelihoods of Native Americans.

The permanent designation of Mt. Taylor as a Traditional Cultural Property is the culmination of hard work for five tribes acting on behalf of all tribes in the southwest and the residents of New Mexico.  The five nominating tribes, Acoma Pueblo, Laguna Pueblo, Zuni Pueblo, and the Hopi and Navajo Nations began the application process over a year ago in order to protect Mt. Taylor from renewed uranium mining interests.  This designation will ensure that the public has the opportunity to give proper comment on any new mining proposals that are within the TCP boundary.

The Cultural Properties Review Committee was under great pressure and received over 6,000 letters and emails concerning the nomination.  The letters were 4 to 1 in favor of the nomination.  The CPRC should be commended for their continued service in protecting New Mexico’s greatest treasures.

Mount Taylor is a stratovolcano in northwest New Mexico, northeast of the town of Grants.  It is the high point of the San Mateo Mountains and the highest point in the Cibola National Forest.

Editor’s Note:  SAGE Council’s Nadine Padilla, who is of Navajo descent and grew up near Grants, remembers that being close to the sacred mountain was integral to every important moment of her childhood, including her coming-of-age ceremony at age 13.

Borrowed Time: Predatory Lenders vs. Native Americans

Great White SharkWhen President Barack Obama comes to New Mexico on Thursday, he’ll apply the considerable power of his presidency to the problem of credit card consumer abuse.

In a speech at Rio Rancho High, Obama will endorse current federal legislation that would force the powerful credit card companies to outlaw sudden interest rate hikes, unfair penalties and hidden fees while prohibiting them from giving cards to anyone under 21.

This consumer advocacy is welcome, coming from the only people with the power to actually make the hugely profitable industry retract apparently arbitrary policies that hurt millions of Americans.

But the shameful practices of the credit card companies are just one leg of a sticky web of predatory lending practices that include car title loans, payday loans and tax refund anticipation loans.

That point is borne out shockingly in a new report that says New Mexicans living in counties with high Native American populations paid more than $12 million in fees in 2005 to obtain tax refund anticipation loans, or RALs. The loans, which are unregulated in New Mexico, can carry interest rates of up to 500 percent.

The report, Borrowed Time: Use of Refund Anticipation Loans Among EITC Filers in Native American Communities, was done by the Colorado-based First Nations Development Institute and the Center for Responsible Lending.

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