Tribal Economic Development in New Mexico
The climate for economic development for tribes in New Mexico has improved in recent years, but there are still a number of obstacles. Much of tribal land is held in trust, so people seeking a loan to start a business can’t use their land as collateral. Then there is the issue of dual taxation. The proceeds from operations on tribal lands such as mining are taxed by the state as well as by the tribes, who object to the state’s taxation. The issue has been in litigation.
The 56 million acres of tribal lands in the United States hold great potential for solar, wind and geothermal projects. The recently updated Department of Interior regulations and the HEARTH Act (Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership), signed into law in 2012, give tribes more authority to oversee leasing arrangements.
Tribes don’t want to rely solely on gaming and related businesses. Some tribes that have had success through gaming and tourism are now interested in diversifying by increasing education to promote entrepreneurship. Gaming funding, in addition to providing a source of capital for tribes, is funding scholarships and training for tribal members.
Issues of Tribal Sovereignty
How can Indian tribes strengthen the sovereignty that lies at the heart of their self-government? This is a central question for tribes, which strive to relate as independent governments with local, state and federal authorities when they negotiate everything from water and energy rights to the curriculum that they teach children.
LaDonna Harris, a Comanche who founded the Albuquerque-based nonprofit, Americans for Indian Opportunity, speaks of the need to educate people about the history and political rights of tribes. “We need to teach Indian 101,” she says. “We start with history and with the sophisticated cultures that existed here when the first Europeans arrived. We need to begin by teaching our own young people.”
The tribes also bear the burden of educating nearby local governments that Indian tribes are sovereign states. “They don’t realize that tribes are governments, too,” Harris says of local governments that interact with land-based tribes. “They have never been taught who the tribes are.”
Walter Echo-Hawk, a Pawnee attorney, anticipates a new era in federal Indian law if the next generation of Native attorneys works to apply the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to American cases. He says that the declaration proclaims the same rights for Indigenous people that the rest of the world already enjoys. And while it is not a binding treaty, the declaration could be the foundation of a new legal theory that could help replace the “doctrine of conquest and colonialism.”
Echo-Hawk says that tribes often do not take the steps necessary to protect their water rights. Only 30 of the 567 federally recognized tribes around the nation have appointed a tribal water engineer to help create water policy on tribal lands. Echo-Hawk encourages Native students to pursue careers in engineering, hydrology and other technical fields, in order to defend and preserve their homeland’s resources.
$4.6 million for Navajo Nation Drought Relief
On July 1, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly declared an emergency because of drought conditions throughout the Navajo Nation. On July 25, President Shelly signed a bill to provide drought relief funding for his tribe, along with a memorandum ordering all executive departments to help update and revise a drought management plan.
“We need to get help out there to the communities. We are in difficult times and thankful for the recent rains, but we still have to create plans to manage the drought,” President Shelly said. “I know it’s difficult with little vegetation for our livestock and small yielding crops. We are strong people and we will persevere through these challenging times.”
The legislation provides $3 million to the Navajo Department of Water Resources for well and windmill repairs, about $1.4 million to the Department of Agriculture for feral horse round-ups, and $202,761 to the Department of Resource Enforcement.
Western Agency is about 65 percent below normal precipitation amounts this year, while Fort Defiance Agency is about 63 percent below normal. Northern and Eastern agencies are about 55 percent below average, while Chinle Agency is about 30 percent below average precipitation levels.
First Nations Development Institute Awards Grants to Native Food-System Projects
First Nations Development Institute has awarded grants to several projects in Arizona and New Mexico under the organization’s Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI). The grants of $37,500 each were made possible by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. First Nation’s NAFSI projects aim to enhance Native control of local food system—especially in addressing issues such as food insecurity, food deserts, health and nutrition —while simultaneously bolstering much-needed economic development in those communities.
The grantees and projects are:
San Carlos Apache Tribe, San Carlos, Arizona—Traditional Western Apache Diet Project—To address several social issues and diet-related diseases, and to build knowledge of nutrition, the tribe will create a detailed description and nutritional analysis of its pre-reservation Western Apache diet, work to retain valuable traditional knowledge and use the grant to support strategies aimed at maintaining physical health and ecologically sustainable lifestyles, and make this knowledge available for community members to leverage in order to build health-related programs and businesses in Apache communities.
Pueblo of Nambé, New Mexico—Community Farm—The pueblo will expand its community farm to increase the output and diversity of the fresh, local foods produced there, with the goal of moving toward fiscal sustainability. The farm’s original intent was to combat food insecurity by providing free food, but with increased production it can also sell products to external markets while creating new youth jobs and a healthy business enterprise. Additionally, Nambé will explore developing its own brand and creating value-added products.
Taos County Economic Development Corporation, Taos, New Mexico – Native Food Sovereignty Alliance—TCDC is receiving continued funding for it to be the lead coordinator/organizer of a new Native American Food Security and Food Systems Alliance. The purpose of the alliance is to build a national Native movement and voice on Native food security and food-system control. This includes developing a collaborative group of Native leaders who are concerned with Native food security, hunger and nutrition issues.
Native Language Preservation Projects
The Towa language at Jémez Pueblo is passed down orally; it is not written. It is handed down from generation to generation along with the tribe’s history and traditions. In a survey it was found that 75 to 80 percent of the Jémez people were fluent in their Towa language, with the older generation at 85 to 90 percent and younger generations between 50 to 70 percent. In response, Jémez, with the support of the New Mexico Community Foundation, developed SPARK, “Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids,” an early childhood development program that increases family engagement.
In April, Jémez Pueblo hosted the Walatowa Language Symposium at Jémez Valley High School. Tribal leaders and tribal members from pueblos around the state attended. In addition to Towa, the Tiwa, Keres and Navajo languages were represented, as well as Spanish. Funding for the symposium was provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the San Manuel Mission Tribe from California.
The Khapon Tewa Verb Lexicon Project is a seven-year-old effort by one extended family of Santa Clara Pueblo to write and publish a lexicon of Tewa verbs. Tewa is spoken by the northern New Mexico Pueblos of Santa Clara, Ohkay Owingeh, San Ildefonso, Pojoaque, Nambé and Tesuque. The language has been steadily fading in all the Tewa communities. In a 2002 survey conducted by Santa Clara Pueblo, 63 percent of adults over 40 years of age were fluent speakers, while only 15 percent of adults 18-40 and 3 percent of children and youth were fluent.
This specific effort to preserve the Tewa language began when a young Santa Clara person decided that he wanted to learn Tewa. His extended family responded by gathering once a week for language immersion sessions. He learned the language and then requested a continuation of the sessions to better understand Tewa thinking through language structure. Three elders worked with him to focus on verbs that they considered the keystones of the language. They identified and conjugated 290 Tewa verbs.
A 200-page study guide was produced and made available for free to Tewa Libraries, language programs and interested individuals. Flowering Tree Institute, Santa Clara Pueblo, McCune Charitable Foundation, Lore of the Land, and the Northern Río Grande National Heritage Area, Inc. funded the project.
Alternative Agreement Reached for Navajo Generating Station
The Navajo Generating Station in Arizona provides over 90 percent of the power for the Central Arizona Project, the state’s primary water delivery system, which sends water through a series of canals to Phoenix and Tucson and is part of a water rights settlement with tribes. The NGS plays a major role in the region’s tribal economies.
NGS is the largest coal-fired plant in the West. It contributes to ozone and fine particle pollution, and its emissions have created widespread haze in the Grand Canyon and in 11 other national parks and wilderness areas. In February, the EPA proposed reducing NGS’s emissions by 84 percent by requiring installation of Selective Catalytic Reduction technology on each of NGS’s three units.
On July 27 the Department of the Interior announced that it is part of an agreement that will maintain essential operations at NGS while significantly reducing nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide emissions. The agreement was also signed by the Salt River Project, Central Arizona Water Conservation District, Navajo Nation, Gila River Indian Community, Environmental Defense Fund and Western Resource Advocates.
The agreement has been submitted to the EPA for consideration as a “Reasonable Progress Alternative” to the EPA’s proposed Best Available Retrofit Technology. It proposes as series of commitments and objectives by the stakeholders to find ways to produce “clean, affordable and reliable power, affordable and sustainable water supplies, and sustainable economic development, while minimizing negative impacts on those who currently obtain significant benefits from NGS, including tribal nations.” The EPA will issue a ruling after the public comment period ends on Oct. 4.
New Hearing Ordered for NM Uranium Mine
Last month a district judge overturned a decision by Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration, which granted a permit for Río Grande Resources’ Mt. Taylor mine to remain inactive without being cleaned-up. The case is now to be sent back to the NM Mining and Minerals Division for public hearings.
Judge Raymond Ortiz’s ruled that the environmental groups Amigos Bravos and the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment (MASE) weren’t given the required opportunity to raise the issues of groundwater protection and contamination from mining waste. The judge also said that the state agency was wrong to protect the confidentiality of a company report regarding the mine’s economic viability.
The Albuquerque Journal reported in June that a group of western New Mexico residents told Ron Curry, US Environmental Protection Agency Region 6 administrator, that the waste from an abandoned uranium mill near Milan need to be moved or the owners of nearby homes should be relocated. They cited a recent draft EPA report that says that residents near the Homestake mill have a cancer risk 18 times higher than the EPA considers acceptable. At least 20 cases of cancer, four deaths and five cases of thyroid disease have occurred among residents who live within proximity of the Superfund site.