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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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.

Indigenous Health Leadership Institute: Wisdom Is The Course

It’s a health leadership institute where the professors are not doctors, but rather native elders, youth and community activists. Knowledge and wisdom are the course subjects….and there are NO powerpoint presentations!

Organizers of the Indigenous Health Leadership Institute say they are proud to present this new, community-friendly way of approaching health care. The institute runs from April 9 to 11 and will involve community leaders in Isleta and Acoma Pueblos.

“We want our attendees to see the knowledge and wisdom that our Indigenous communities have, and our ‘professors’ for IHLI are elders, youth, and community activists,” says NHI Coordinator Shannon Fleg (Dine).

“I am excited to show these future healers how important our culture, our language, and our community is to health, since I do not think they get this message in their formal training,” says Robin Clemmons, (Acoma) who is organizing a community health forum in her community for IHLI.

Included in the teaching during the April institute is a night of film, “Indigenous Film: A Lens for Health, Healing and Social Justice” that is open to the public. The event takes place at the Trillion Space (510 2nd St NW, Albuquerque) on Saturday, April 10th at 8pm.

It is clear that those attending have a diverse spectrum of interests and reasons for attending, with professional interests that range from medicine to public health, and coming from Baltimore, California and all parts in between the two.

One local IHLI participant, Laura Alonzo de Franklin, a traditional healer in the Nahuatl (Aztec) tradition sees her attendance as a “way to improve relations with our brothers and sisters from American Indian Nations.” The Native Health Initiative purposely used the word “indigenous” for the institute, hoping to deconstruct and decolonize the notion that Indigenous communities and traditions from north of the border are distinct from those south of the border.

“In some small way, we see IHLI as a beginning to the healing and unification that is needed between Indigenous peoples on both sides of sociopolitical dividing line we call the Mexican-American border,” says NHI Coordinator Raphael Lope (Navajo). “New Mexico is the perfect place for this healing to begin.”

Also making IHLI unique is that it is largely funded by what NHI calls “loving service” – not monetary funds. This institute, which has no grant funding, no educational or health institutions as sponsors, is happening because of a committed group of students and community leaders who are giving their time and talents to make it happen.

“From the housing to the learning sessions in our local communities, IHLI is funded on people power, replacing money with our traditional Indigenous value system,” says Clemmons.

Local co-sponsors for IHLI include the Acoma Pueblo, Isleta Pueblo, Sabawear, The Trillion Space, First Nations Healthsource, La Plazita, and Kapulli Teocalli Ollin. National co-sponsors for IHLI include the American Public Health Association (APHA), Association of Native American Medical Students (ANAMS), and the American Medical Student Association (AMSA).

For more information on this event, contact Shannon Fleg at Shannon@lovingservice.us or 505.340.5656. Or visit the website at www.lovingservice.us/ihli_2010.

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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