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Fri: Navajos narrow list of 15 presidential hopefuls in primary, +More

Ethel Branch
Felicia Fonseca/AP
/
AP
Ethel Branch poses for a photograph before a Navajo Nation presidential forum at a tribal casino outside Flagstaff Arizona, on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. Branch is among 15 candidates seeking the top leadership post on the largest Native American reservation in the U.S. (AP Photo/Felicia Fonseca)

Navajos narrow list of 15 presidential hopefuls in primary- Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

Natalia Sells has a list of qualities she wants to see in the next Navajo Nation president: Approachable. Adaptable. Inspiring. Someone who upholds traditional values but also is progressive.

She'll join thousands of other tribal members on Tuesday in casting their vote for one of 15 presidential hopefuls in the nonpartisan race. The field includes incumbent Jonathan Nez, former Navajo Vice President Frank Dayish Jr., former tribal Attorney General Ethel Branch, attorney Justin Jones, and Buu Van Nygren, the vice presidential candidate from 2018.

“I'm trying to go into this with an open mind,” said Sells. “It's a very hot topic in my family. Everyone is voting differently. I think it's going to be an interesting election season.”

The Navajo Nation is largest Native American reservation in the U.S., spanning 27,000 square miles of high desert, forests, wind-swept mesas and mountains bordering New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. Its population of 406,000 is second to only the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, which has 420,000 enrolled members.

The top two vote-getters in the Navajo primary will move on to the November general election. More than 122,000 Navajos are registered to vote, and the tribe generally sees around a 50% turnout for the primaries. Polls are open Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mountain time.

Nez's term has been dominated by response to the coronavirus pandemic in which he enacted some of the strictest measures in the U.S. to help slow the virus. The tribe at one point had one of the highest infection rates in the country. A mask mandate on the reservation remains in place.

Nez recently approved legislation to spend more than $1 billion in federal pandemic relief funding to improve water, sanitation, housing and communications infrastructure where many residents live without basic necessities. It came after months of wrangling between the tribe's executive and legislative branches about what should be prioritized.

“Continuity is very important, I’m sure to our Navajo people, because the learning curve is going to be high,” Nez told The Associated Press. “We offer in our administration, that continuity, no on-the-job training. We are just going to continue to move forward and implement these projects.”

Sells, a law student at Arizona State University, said she's struggling with experience over change. Whoever wins, she wants to be assured they will find ways to bring the younger generation back to the reservation.

“They want people to come home, but the pay doesn't always match the skillset,” said Sells, who votes in Teec Nos Pos. “And on top of that, there's no housing, really.”

Branch is among six candidates hoping to become the first woman to become Navajo Nation president. Only one woman, Lynda Lovejoy, has made it past the tribe's primary even as some Navajos warned that a woman as president portends an ominous future for the tribe. That notion isn't as prevalent now, at least not publicly.

Branch has been critical of what she says was the Navajo Nation's slow response to the pandemic under Nez's administration. She co-founded a relief fund, raising millions of dollars to provide food, water and other supplies to Navajo and Hopi families.

“There's a lot of resources that get to Window Rock, there's a lot of money that gets to Window Rock and it doesn't make it to the people,” she said at a recent rally in Kayenta.

The other women in the race are: educator Dolly Mason; scholar Leslie Tsosie; Chinle Chapter President Rosanna Jumbo-Fitch; Frankie Davis, who has advocated for extracting natural resources; former New Mexico state legislator Sandra Jeff, and Emily Ellison, who says she will push the federal government to give the Navajo Nation title to its land if elected.

All the candidates speak Navajo but to varying degrees.

Nygren sees himself as a young, energetic diplomat set on running the government more efficiently and partnering with tribal lawmakers on initiatives. He said the Navajo Nation's internal regulations have stalled economic development, and the tribe hasn't honed in on tourism as a major revenue source.

“If you come in very hard-headed and ‘my way or the highway,’ the Navajo Nation Council will put you in check just as quick as you can in,” said Nygren who has a background in construction management.

Jones said he already knows what the problems are with the tribal government as an attorney who has sued over elections, the Navajo preference in employment law and other things. He's staking his platform on supporting small business like vendors at flea markets, janitorial services, waste management companies and contractors.

“Once the Navajo-owned businesses get on their feet, they're going to start hiring Navajo people," he said. “That means the Navajo dollar is going to stay around.”

Dayish is one of the only veteran politicians in the group and has work experience in the housing, mining, aeronautical, and health care industries. He ran for president in 2006 but came in third behind Lovejoy. He has set a goal to boost the number of homes with electricity and running water, high school and college graduates and the tribal budget by 5 percentage points.

“At least we have a target,” he said. “Obviously we want to go 100%, but based on all of the regulations, all the funding limitations, that's what we would be confronted with.”

The other candidates are: Greg Bigman, chairman of the Diné College Board of Regents; Ts’ah Bii Kin Chapter manager Earl Sombrero; and Dineh Benally and Kevin Cody, both of whom sought the tribal presidency in 2018.

States hope for revenue boost with Mega Millions craze- Kimberlee Kruesi, James Pollard and Gabe Stern, Associated Press

A bump in college scholarships for New Mexico students. A new bike trail nestled in the western slope of Colorado. More homeless shelters in Arizona.

When lottery sales soar, players holding the golden ticket aren’t the only ones who win. Across the U.S., state lottery systems use that money to boost education, tourism, transportation and much more. Now that the giant Mega Millions lottery jackpot has ballooned to more than $1 billion, state officials are hoping increased national interest will result in more funding for their own causes.

However, critics of these lottery-funded programs note that lower-income players foot the bill for benefits they won’t proportionately reap.

In South Carolina, lottery officials said 43 cents of every dollar spent directly support the state’s education lottery account. The General Assembly then uses that money largely to fund scholarships. But the vast majority of South Carolina’s proceeds go toward merit-based scholarships rather than need-based scholarships.

In New Mexico, some legislators and advocacy groups have criticized the lottery as a regressive source of income.

“The people that play it are disproportionately low-income,” said Fred Nathan, of the nonpartisan policy group Think New Mexico. He successfully lobbied for the state’s 30% minimum contribution of lottery revenues for college scholarships, but said concerns remain about the share of lottery scholarships that go to children of affluent and middle-income families.

Mega Millions is played in 45 states as well as Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands. No one has matched the game's six selected numbers since April. T he next drawing will be at 11 p.m. Friday in Atlanta.

On Friday, the historic jackpot attracted Bryan Byrd, 36, to buy a ticket at a gas station in Columbia, South Carolina. Byrd said he usually only plays when the pot gets this big.

His first move if he takes home the prize?

“Probably put my two weeks' notice in,” said Byrd. “Hopefully I’m a winner.”

The game is coordinated by state lotteries, which pull in revenue not only from Mega Millions but also from scratch tickets, Powerball and other authorized games. The revenue is then used to help pay out prizes, retailers, state funds and overhead costs.

The Michigan Lottery is on track to make its third consecutive annual contribution of $1 billion to the state’s school aid fund, according to player relations manager Jacob Harris, who said jackpots like this one help that cause. In Michigan, Harris said 28 cents for each dollar collected goes toward the fund.

In Georgia, ever since the jackpot started growing in April, the state has collected nearly $22 million for college scholarships and pre-K programs, lottery officials say.

Oregon has recently posted some of its largest daily sales numbers for the Mega Millions draw, according to spokesperson Chuck Baumann. The $1.4 million and $1.2 million collected Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, were good for the state’s eighth- and 10th-highest single-day sales.

“Whether it’s Powerball or Mega Millions, when the jackpots get big and people play, that’s good for the state of Oregon, and those folks that receive lottery dollars,” Baumann said. Voters over the years have approved measures sending lottery proceeds to education, parks and veterans’ services funds.

On a typical Tuesday draw in Texas, statewide sales will hover around $1 million for Mega Millions tickets. Last Tuesday, they sold $20 million, according to Gary Grief, the executive director of the Texas Lottery Commission.

He expects the record sales to continue. A typical Friday nets about $5 million in sales. He expects this Friday to crack $80 million.

“As we’re winding down to the end of our fiscal year, we were running neck and neck with last year’s record sales pace,” Grief said of the state’s lottery revenue. That accounted for $1.97 billion to the state's Foundational School Fund and $23.4 million toward Veterans' Assistance. “This will push us past that.”

Ticket sales are skyrocketing in New York. In the week ending July 23, Mega Millions sales totaled over $26 million, according to a New York State Gaming Commission report. That’s more than double the over $12 million collected the previous week.

In Ohio, where lottery funding goes toward education, lottery sales have mainly stayed consistent, yet jackpot sales often fluctuate more than other lotteries, said Danielle Frizzi-Babb, Ohio Lottery’s communications director. The Mega Millions jackpots are difficult to predict — and this jackpot, topping $1 billion, has resulted in a sales jump that is difficult to see far in advance.

“When we get to that kind of number, the sales really, really, really ramp up,” Frizzi-Babb said. “And that’s just not something that you can plan for. But we’re excited when it happens.”

California had amassed over $224 million in sales as of Thursday afternoon for the Mega Millions sequence. The estimated amount for education was $89.6 million, according to Carolyn Becker, a California State Lottery spokesperson.

In fiscal year 2021, California generated about $1.8 billion across all games for public education — though Becker described these funds as “supplemental” given the number of school systems in the country’s most populous state.

“Even though it pales in comparison to a school budget, we hear from school teachers, administrators, et cetera, that every dollar helps,” Becker said, adding that the funds have gone toward teacher salaries, computers and band and gym equipment.

Over in Tennessee, recent Mega Millions sales tickets have resulted in more than $263 million that will be set aside for scholarships, grants and after-school programs.

The Tennessee Education Lottery called the ever-expanding prize a “welcome development” as they’ve seen more first-time players buy tickets hoping to score the prize.

Yet that hope comes as Americans are experiencing the highest inflation in decades, leaving many with fewer dollars to throw on entertainment. Some states are already experiencing dips in sales with their lotteries.

Iowa Lottery CEO Matt Strawn told board members in late June that higher gas and grocery costs were likely to blame for the dip in scratch off sales, while also noting that inflation had also caused an 82% hike in their staff’s fuel budget. A spokesperson for the lottery said they believed an increase in Mega Millions sales will offset the decreased sales.

And even in a projected record revenue year in Texas, the returns from the lottery — which help fund education and veterans assistance — are somewhat dampened due to its weakened purchasing power.

“The money that we turn over to (the Texas Education Agency), it’s going to purchase something somewhat less than what it purchased a year ago,” said Grief.

Feds: $401M will add high-speed internet to rural US places, including New Mexico – Ken Ritter, Associated Press

The federal government is pledging $401 million in grants and loans to expand the reach and improve the speed of internet for rural residents, tribes and businesses in remote parts of 11 states from Alaska to Arkansas.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters Wednesday, ahead of the Thursday announcement, that farmers, store owners, schoolchildren and people seeking telehealth medical checkups will benefit from the ReConnect and Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan and Loan Guarantee programs.

“Connectivity is critical to economic success in rural America,” Vilsack said in a statement tallying the number of people who could be helped at about 31,000 in states also including Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota and Texas.

The statement said the Department of Agriculture plans more spending on high-speed internet in coming weeks as part of a $65 billion Biden administration plan to expand affordable, high-speed internet to all communities in the U.S.

U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto joined Vilsack and Mitch Landrieu, White House infrastructure coordinator, to point to the effect the grants and loans are expected to have in the northern Nevada community of Lovelock, home to fewer than 2,000 people, and the Lovelock Indian Colony.

“There is a need for this connectivity on so many levels,” Cortez Masto said, “whether it brings telehealth, telemedicine, e-learning, workforce development. A connection is so important for so many Nevadans.”

Internet provider Uprise LLC will receive more than $27 million to connect almost 4,900 people, 130 businesses, 22 farms and seven public schools in Lovelock and surrounding Pershing County, officials said.

Masto, a Democrat seeking reelection in November, said federal funds will offer eligible Nevada residents a $30-per-month discount on their internet bill discount and up to $100 toward a computer.

Elsewhere, Midvale Telephone Co. will get $10.6 million to bring high-speed fiber-optic internet to people, businesses and farms in four central Idaho counties — Elmore, Blaine, Custer and Boise — and five southeast Arizona counties: Gila, Graham, Pinal, Cochise and Pima.

The Arkansas Telephone Co. will receive $12 million to connect almost 1,000 people, 10 businesses and 145 farms to high-speed internet in Searcy and Van Buren counties, with low-cost with voice and voice/data starter packages.

Alaska Power & Telephone, Unicom Inc. and Cordova Telephone Cooperative, combined, are slated to receive almost $55.4 million in to connect almost 3,300 people, 118 businesses and seven schools in remote areas by fiber-optic network.

In New Mexico, Continental Divide Electric Cooperative and ENMP Telephone Cooperative are due to receive a combined $18 million in grants to install affordable fiber networks, and Penasco Valley Telephone Cooperative will get a nearly $29 million loan to connect “socially vulnerable communities” in Chaves, Eddy, Lincoln and Otero counties.

Vilsack said the programs will particularly help residents in what he called “persistent poverty counties,” where he said most have access to broadband, but about one in three don’t have high-speed networks needed for telemedicine and distance learning.

He said the goal was “to do what is necessary to make sure every rural resident, regardless of ZIP code has access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet.”

Highway double take: Albuquerque sign spelled without 'R’ – Associated Press

It made drivers on Route 66 and Interstate 40 in New Mexico do double takes.

A newly upgraded state Department of Transportation sign erected last week that pointed drivers toward Albuquerque misspelled the city's name, losing the “R.”

People called and emailed the department to point out the mistake on the sign visible to drivers on the parallel highways, said Kimberly Gallegos, a department spokesperson.

A corrected sign went up this week, she said.

“I do not recall this happening before,” Gallegos said. “But I honestly think this was just a simple mistake.”

Albuquerque used to have another “R” in its name. According to the city’s website, colonists were granted permission in 1706 by King Philip of Spain to establish a new community on the banks of the Rio Grande.

The colony’s governor, Francisco Cuervo y Valdés, wrote a letter to Spain's Duke of Alburquerque to report that it had been named La Villa de Alburquerque in his honor.

The first “R” was dropped later, leaving Albuquerque with its current spelling, the city website said.

Group calls for ouster of senator from committees — ABQ Journal, KUNM News

More than 20 advocacy groups are calling for state legislative leaders to bar a senator under investigation of sexual harassment from interim committee meetings.

According to a report from the Albuquerque Journal, the group wrote an open letter in which they say Democratic state Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto is in a position to influence bills brought to him by lobbyists who have accused him of inappropriate behavior.

Earlier this year, lobbyists Marianna Anaya filed a complaint against Ivey-Soto, after which a coalition of advocacy groups accused him of a pattern of abusive and inappropriate behavior against women.

Ivey-Soto said yesterday he has not mistreated anyone during interim committee meetings, and that he shouldn’t be punished for something until he’s proven guilty.

2 dead, 10 injured in SUV rollover near US-Mexico border — Associated Press

Two people died and 10 were injured Wednesday when the SUV they were in rolled over in southeastern New Mexico about eight miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, officials said.

A thirteenth person also was in the Chevrolet Tahoe but it was unclear whether that person was injured, said Sunland Park Fire Chief Daniel Medrano. His agency responded to the crash, which occurred around 4:45 a.m. about 13 miles (21 kilometers) northwest of El Paso, Texas.

New Mexico State Police confirmed the two fatalities but did not respond to repeated requests for comment on whether law enforcement officers were pursuing the SUV when the rollover happened. Medrano said two of the people who were hurt suffered critical injuries and that all of the injured were taken to hospitals.

Federal officials in a statement said U.S. Border Patrol agents provided assistance at the crash scene, but declined to specify what type of help or whether agents were involved in a pursuit.

The Mexican Consulate in El Paso said in a statement that nine of the injured people were Mexican and that it is providing assistance to them.

While authorities did not identify the people in the SUV as immigrants, the stretch of border in southeastern New Mexico where the crash happened is among the spots where migrants regularly are smuggled across from Mexico in SUVs.

Nearly a month ago in the nearby New Mexico community of Santa Teresa, 15 immigrants were found crammed inside an SUV after a caller told the Border Patrol that the vehicle was picking up people on a state highway.

Last year, the driver of an SUV packed with smuggled migrants was struck by tractor-trailer shortly after driving through a hole in the border fence about 125 miles (200 kilometers) east of San Diego. The crash killed 13 of 25 people crammed into the SUV that was built to hold a maximum of eight. All the dead were from Mexico and Guatemala.

Wounded Knee artifacts highlight slow pace of repatriations – Philip Marcelo, Associated Press

One by one, items purportedly taken from Native Americans massacred at Wounded Knee Creek emerged from the dark, cluttered display cases where they’ve sat for more than a century in a museum in rural Massachusetts.

Moccasins, necklaces, clothing, ceremonial pipes, tools and other objects were carefully laid out on white backgrounds as a photographer dutifully snapped pictures under bright studio lights.

It was a key step in returning scores of items displayed at the Founders Museum in Barre to tribes in South Dakota that have sought them since the 1990s.

“This is real personal,” said Leola One Feather, of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, as she observed the process as part of a two-person tribal delegation last week. “It may be sad for them to lose these items, but it’s even sadder for us because we’ve been looking for them for so long.”

Recent efforts to repatriate human remains and other culturally significant items such as those at the Founders Museum represent significant and solemn moments for tribes. But they also underscore the slow pace and the monumental task at hand.

Some 870,000 Native American artifacts — including nearly 110,000 human remains — that should be returned to tribes under federal law are still in the possession of colleges, museums and other institutions across the country, according to an Associated Press review of data maintained by the National Park Service.

The University of California, Berkeley tops the list, followed closely by the Ohio History Connection, the state’s historical society. State museums and universities in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Alabama, Illinois and Kansas as well as Harvard University round out the other top institutions.

And that’s not even counting items held by private institutions such as the Founders Museum, which maintains it does not receive federal funds and therefore doesn’t fall under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, the 1990 law governing the return of tribal objects by institutions receiving federal money.

“They’ve had more than three decades,” says Shannon O’Loughlin, chief executive of the Association on American Indian Affairs, a national group that assists tribes with repatriations. “The time for talk is over. Enough reports and studying. It’s time to repatriate.”

Museum officials say they’ve stepped up efforts with added funding and staff, but continue to struggle with identifying artifacts collected during archaeology's early years. They also say federal regulations governing repatriations remain time-consuming and cumbersome.

Dan Mogulof, an assistant vice chancellor at UC Berkeley, says the university is committed to repatriating the entire 123,000 artifacts in question "in the coming years at a pace that works for tribes.”

In January, the university repatriated the remains of at least 20 victims of the Indian Island Massacre of 1860 to the Wiyot Tribe in Humboldt County, California. But its Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology still holds more than 9,000 sets of ancestral remains, mainly from Bay-area tribes.

“We acknowledge the great harm and pain we have caused Native American people,” Mogulof said. “Our work will not be complete until all of the ancestors are home.”

At the Ohio History Connection, officials are working to create an inter-tribal burial ground to help bury ancestral remains for tribes forced to move from Ohio as the nation expanded, says Alex Wesaw, the organization’s director of American Indian relations.

The institution took similar steps in 2016 when it established a cemetery in northeast Ohio for the Delaware tribes of Oklahoma to re-bury nearly 90 ancestors who had been stored for centuries in museums in Pennsylvania.

Complicating matters, some of its more than 7,000 ancestral remains and 110,000 objects are thousands of years old, making it difficult to determine which modern-day tribe or tribes they should be returned to, Wesaw said.

At the Founders Museum, some 70 miles (112 kilometers) west of Boston, among the challenges has been determining what’s truly from the Wounded Knee Massacre, says Ann Meilus, the museum's board president.

Some tribe members maintain as many as 200 items are from massacre victims, but Meilus said museum officials believe its less than a dozen, based on discussions with a tribe member more than a decade ago.

The collection was donated by Barre native Frank Root, a 19th century traveling showman who claimed he’d acquired the objects from a man tasked with digging mass graves following the massacre.

Among the macabre collection was a lock of hair reportedly cut from the scalp of Chief Spotted Elk, which the museum returned to one of the Lakota Sioux leader’s descendants in 1999. It also includes a “ghost shirt,” a sacred garment that some tribe members tragically believed could make them bulletproof.

“He sort of exaggerated things,” Meilus said of Root. “In reality, we’re not sure if any of the items were from Wounded Knee.”

More than 200 men, women, children and elderly people were killed on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1890 in one of the country’s worst massacres of Native Americans. The killings marked a seminal moment in the frontier battles the U.S. Army waged against tribes.

The U.S. Department of Interior recently proposed changes to the federal repatriation process that lay out more precise deadlines, clearer definitions and heftier penalties for noncompliance.

Tribe leaders say those steps are long overdue, but don’t address other fundamental problems, such as inadequate federal funding for tribes to do repatriation work.

Many tribes also still object to requirements that they explain the cultural significance of an item sought for repatriation, including how they’re used in tribal ceremonies, says Brian Vallo, a former governor of the Pueblo of Acoma in New Mexico who was involved in the 2020 repatriation of 20 ancestors from the National Museum of Finland and their re-burial at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.

“That knowledge is only for us,” he said. “It’s not ever shared."

Stacy Laravie, the historic preservation officer for the Ponca Tribe in Nebraska, is optimistic museum leaders are sincere in seeking to rectify the past, in the wake of the national reckoning on racism that’s reverberated through the country in recent years.

Last month, she traveled with a tribal delegation to Harvard to receive the tomahawk of her ancestor, the Native American civil rights leader Chief Standing Bear. She’s also working with the university’s Peabody Museum to potentially repatriate other items significant to her tribe.

“We’re playing catch up from decades of things getting thrown under the rug,” Laravie said. “But I do believe their hearts are in the right place.”

Back at the Founders Museum, Jeffrey Not Help Him, an Oglala Sioux member whose family survived the Wounded Knee Massacre, hopes the items could return home this fall, as the museum has suggested.

“We look forward to putting them in a good place,” Not Help Him said. “A place of honor.”

Residents say ABQ’s Coronado Park provides what a shelter can’t — Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico

News of the Coronado Park closure filtered through to residents quickly enough. The day after Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s announcement, many were already thinking through their options.

But no option seems great, several people said in interviews with Source New Mexico. The Westside Emergency Housing Center is crowded and feels like jail because it used to be one; some residents are already on wait lists for housing vouchers; and, for others, Coronado Park has provided a stable home base near services they need.

Rader Garner said he’s lived in the park for nine years.

“I don’t want to get some kind of COVID disease up there (at the shelter),” he said, “or stabbed up there. I’m safe right here in this park.”

People acknowledged there can be violence in the park, but it’s a common result of fending for yourself in the streets of Albuquerque. And being in the park puts them near services with some stability. Nearly all interviewed said they’d jump at the chance to have a home of their own, but they didn’t know how that might happen.

Keller this week announced the closure of Coronado Park, where a long-standing collection of tents expanded over the pandemic. The mayor cited crime, including several homicides in recent years, as reason to close the park. But he said the city is still working on a plan for the closure of the park and then for how it will be used in the future.

Options so far include reopening it as a city-sanctioned encampment or turning it over to the city’s fire department. Between 75 and 120 people usually stay at the park.

Garner said violence at the park is a reality of the desperate conditions he and his neighbors are in, and it often results from theft. Park residents take it upon themselves to retrieve what’s been stolen, he said.

“We’ve got to take care of our own, because cops don’t always show up around here,” he said. “When you come here and you try to steal other people’s things, we’re gonna beat you up. If you’re in somebody else’s house, he’s gonna come out and shoot you. So why can’t we do the same?”

But he also said the mayor’s explanation about crime seems misplaced, given how little it seems the mayor cares about the fate of people in the park. Crime feels like an excuse to close the park, he said.

“We’re stable here,” he said.

hem to evict everyone from the parks with what seems like no plan,” she said. “I worry about the impact on the people that are in the park, as well as where individuals might go when they’re destabilized and the impact that that has on everyone.”

In addition to the Coronado Park closure, Keller said his administration is prioritizing clearing parks and sidewalks when people complain about people in tents. Encampments at parks where children gather for school programs will no longer be allowed, Keller said, and he has directed city employees to prioritize responding to calls about people on sidewalks, saying they pose a safety risk and inhibit rights of those with disabilities.

The closure is just the latest indignity for some in the park who have dealt with so much, said Chris Dixon, who is staying there at least until he starts school at the University of New Mexico this fall. He plans to study archeology.

Dixon said he doesn’t feel unsafe at the park, his home since March.

“As long as you don’t make no waves, you don’t get any backlash,” he said.

While here, he’s survived with pay from odd jobs as a handyman, but worked before the pandemic as an archeological technician for a company doing cultural surveying ahead of the Gallup-Navajo Nation Water Supply Project, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Dixon said the biggest hurdle for housing and stability for his neighbors is lack of mental health care. People need that care, he said, before they can begin to search for housing.

Dixon decided to leave his home near Gallup during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, which took his mother and brother, he said. He wanted to get free of the virus, which is most infectious indoors.

To him and some of his neighbors, he said, life in the park is a type of freedom.

“I’ve been locked up,” he said, referring to the shelter. “It doesn’t feel right. Being free is better.”

Feds: $401M will add high-speed internet to rural US places — Ken Ritter, Associated Press

The federal government is pledging $401 million in grants and loans to expand the reach and improve the speed of internet for rural residents, tribes and businesses in remote parts of 11 states from Alaska to Arkansas.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters Wednesday, ahead of the Thursday announcement, that farmers, store owners, schoolchildren and people seeking telehealth medical checkups will benefit from the ReConnect and Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan and Loan Guarantee programs.

"Connectivity is critical to economic success in rural America," Vilsack said in a statement tallying the number of people who could be helped at about 31,000 in states also including Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota and Texas.

The statement said the Department of Agriculture plans more spending on high-speed internet in coming weeks as part of a $65 billion Biden administration plan to expand affordable, high-speed internet to all communities in the U.S.

U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto joined Vilsack and Mitch Landrieu, White House infrastructure coordinator, to point to the effect the grants and loans are expected to have in the northern Nevada community of Lovelock, home to fewer than 2,000 people, and the Lovelock Indian Colony.

"There is a need for this connectivity on so many levels," Cortez Masto said, "whether it brings telehealth, telemedicine, e-learning, workforce development. A connection is so important for so many Nevadans."

Internet provider Uprise LLC will receive more than $27 million to connect almost 4,900 people, 130 businesses, 22 farms and seven public schools in Lovelock and surrounding Pershing County, officials said.

Cortez Masto, a Democrat seeking reelection in November, said federal funds will offer eligible Nevada residents a $30-per-month discount on their internet bill discount and up to $100 toward a computer.

Elsewhere, Midvale Telephone Co. will get $10.6 million to bring high-speed fiber-optic internet to people, businesses and farms in four central Idaho counties — Elmore, Blaine, Custer and Boise — and five southeast Arizona counties: Gila, Graham, Pinal, Cochise and Pima.

The Arkansas Telephone Co. will receive $12 million to connect almost 1,000 people, 10 businesses and 145 farms to high-speed internet in Searcy and Van Buren counties, with low-cost with voice and voice/data starter packages.

Alaska Power & Telephone, Unicom Inc. and Cordova Telephone Cooperative, combined, are slated to receive almost $55.4 million in to connect almost 3,300 people, 118 businesses and seven schools in remote areas by fiber-optic network.

In New Mexico, Continental Divide Electric Cooperative and ENMP Telephone Cooperative are due to receive a combined $18 million in grants to install affordable fiber networks, and Penasco Valley Telephone Cooperative will get a nearly $29 million loan to connect "socially vulnerable communities" in Chaves, Eddy, Lincoln and Otero counties.

Vilsack said the programs will particularly help residents in what he called "persistent poverty counties," where he said most have access to broadband, but about one in three don't have high-speed networks needed for telemedicine and distance learning.

He said the goal was "to do what is necessary to make sure every rural resident, regardless of ZIP code has access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet."

____

This story corrects the full name reference Cortez Masto in the 8th paragraph.

Highway double take: Albuquerque sign spelled without 'R' Associated press

It made drivers on Route 66 and Interstate 40 in New Mexico do double takes.

A newly upgraded state Department of Transportation sign erected last week that pointed drivers toward Albuquerque misspelled the city's name, losing the "R."

People called and emailed the department to point out the mistake on the sign visible to drivers on the parallel highways, said Kimberly Gallegos, a department spokesperson.

A corrected sign went up this week, she said.

"I do not recall this happening before," Gallegos said. "But I honestly think this was just a simple mistake."

Albuquerque used to have another "R" in its name. According to the city's website, colonists were granted permission in 1706 by King Philip of Spain to establish a new community on the banks of the Rio Grande.

The colony's governor, Francisco Cuervo y Valdés, wrote a letter to Spain's Duke of Alburquerque to report that it had been named La Villa de Alburquerque in his honor.

The first "R" was dropped later, leaving Albuquerque with its current spelling, the city website said.