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WED: ABQ recognizes boarding school trauma, progressive mayors vs conservative Dem challengers +more

Susan Montoya Bryan
Associated Press

Albuquerque resolution recognizes boarding school trauma – Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The Albuquerque City Council has adopted a resolution that acknowledges ongoing generational trauma caused by U.S. Indigenous boarding school policies and formalizes a commitment to work with Indigenous communities toward reconciliation and healing.

Councilors voted in favor of the measure during a meeting on Monday. Mayor Tim Keller is expected to sign the resolution on Indigenous People’s Day.

The city has been researching the history of a public park where students of the former Albuquerque Indian School were believed to have been buried more than a century ago. Ground-penetrating radar will be used to study the site and another meeting was planned later this week to talk about how to keep moving forward.

“It really is kind of a first step for us as a city to move forward toward healing and also to be inclusive of all of our communities in Albuquerque and to understand some of the pain that people have lived with over the years of not knowing,” Council President Cynthia Borrego said during the virtual meeting.

Indigenous activists became concerned earlier this year when a plaque memorializing the students from the former school vanished. They established a makeshift memorial of flowers and other offerings and demanded an investigation.

Nationally, the U.S. Interior Department is in the middle of its own investigation. The agency announced last week that it would begin tribal consultations as the next step of its review of the boarding school legacy. The feedback will help lay the foundation for future work to protect potential burial sites and other sensitive information.

"Tribal consultations are at the core of this long and painful process to address the inter-generational trauma of Indian boarding schools and to shed light on the truth in a way that honors those we have lost and those that continue to suffer trauma,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.

In Albuquerque, orange flags have been placed at the city park to signify the importance of the site as more permanent plans are worked out. Orange is the color used to symbolize the movement that is bringing more awareness to the troubled legacy of the boarding school system that sought to assimilate Indigenous youth into white society over many decades.

The Albuquerque Indian School was started in 1881 by the Presbyterian Church and came under federal control a few years later. The school closed in the 1980s, and the property was put into trust for New Mexico’s 19 pueblos. The buildings eventually were torn down, and a tribal development corporation worked to make it a commercial hub.

The park is several blocks away. Only part of it is believed to contain human remains, and city officials said survey work done decades ago during a road construction project are the only maps they have that detail the boundaries of the former school's cemetery.

Dawn Begay, the city's tribal affairs coordinator, said during Monday's meeting that research into the site so far has determined that Navajo, Apache and pueblo students plus students from tribes in Arizona were probably buried at the site. She noted that many records were lost over the years and one of the effort's goals is to identify the students and their tribal affiliations.

Man who obtained $234K in fraudulent tax refunds sentenced – Associated Press

A Florida man has been sentenced to over four years in federal prison for filing hundreds of fake tax returns in several states, including Oregon, federal prosecutors said.

Damian Barrett of Homestead, Florida, filed 745 fake tax returns in 19 different states from 2015 to 2018, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

Barrett, 40, owned two Florida-based tax preparation companies, Max Tax Experts LLC and Winngate Tax Services LLC, according to court documents. He used the first company to submit tax returns for legitimate clients and the second company to submit fraudulent income tax returns.

Barrett sought nearly $900,000 in fraudulent tax refunds and received over $234,000 — $130,000 of which came from the Oregon Department of Revenue. He had filed 348 tax returns with the state requesting more than $322,000 in refunds.

He also intentionally excluded more than $21,000 in income from his personal income tax return in 2016 and didn't file a personal income tax return in 2017.

In 2020, a federal grand jury in Portland indicted Barrett on mail fraud and laundering. He was later charged with mail fraud, filing a false tax return and aggravated identity theft. He pleaded guilty to all three charges.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Simon sentenced Barrett to 54 months in prison followed by three years of probation, according to prosecutors.

Simon also ordered Barrett to pay more than $234,000 in restitution to 11 states, including the taxing authorities in Arizona, Connecticut, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, and South Carolina, and more than $74,000 to the Internal Revenue Service, prosecutors said.

Guided tour offers rare look at Great House at Aztec Ruins – Noel Lyn Smith, Farmington Daily Times

Retired archaeologist Jeff Wharton used maps to explain the size of Aztec North, an unexcavated great house at Aztec Ruins National Monument, during a guided tour of a part of the park normally closed to the public.

“We’re standing at right about here. Where my fingertip is. We’re on the high point of this mound,” said Wharton, who retired from the National Park Service after serving 16 years at Aztec Ruins.

Twenty-five people were given rare access on Sept. 25 to Aztec North, which is normally off limits to visitors because of its fragile archaeological resources, park officials explained in a news release.

The guided tour was held in conjunction with National Public Lands Day, the Farmington Daily Times reported.

Various changes have been made to the park’s boundaries since the area was declared a national monument in 1923. It now encompasses about 318 acres (1.29 square kilometers) and consists of Aztec West, Aztec North and Aztec East, another unexcavated great house.

Aztec West is the fully excavated structure that visitors see when touring the park.

This was the first guided tour offered at the park since the coronavirus pandemic caused park officials to revise services, a park ranger explained.

“This part of the monument is relatively new,” Wharton said about Aztec North which sits along the terrace north of the Animas River.

He explained that Aztec North predates the main ruins group and likely was built no earlier than 1070, based on analysis of surface ceramics, then abandoned by the 1140s.

The great house is likely one story that consists of cobble and adobe walls, which does not look the same as Aztec West, and likely held between 100 to 110 rooms.

It is unknown how many inhabitants were at Aztec North, Wharton said in response to a question.

“Room counts don’t necessarily equate to population counts,” he said.

Visible to the group on the surface were cobble alignments that outline the great house or mark rooms, pottery shards and a rubble mound and kiva depression.

“You need to watch your steps on these cobble slopes. They’re kind of tricky,” Wharton said as the group walked south to the edge of the river terrace.

Down below in a short distance south is Aztec West and the community of Aztec.

The view could have been a reason why the people built Aztec North but, as time passed, they moved closer to the Animas River before leaving the area, Wharton said.

Mary Savage moved to Aztec from Carson City, Nevada, about a month ago but was unaware that Aztec Ruins is a national monument until she signed up for the tour.

“I have a vested interest in archaeology. I’ve been interested in it even since I was a student four decades ago,” Savage said adding that as an undergraduate at Indiana University, she worked at prehistoric mound sites in the state.

During the tour, Savage asked Wharton questions about Aztec North, including methods used for data collecting and about the people who once lived there.

“I wanted to come today just to see the evolution of how this place was created. Because this is a pretty advanced civilization that created this masonry,” she said.

When a participant asked if the park service will ever fully excavate the site, Wharton said no.

The park service has a preserve in place philosophy, he said, “so excavation is not going to happen.”

He added that in summer 2016 a graduate student in archaeology named Michelle Turner did limited excavation at Aztec North.

“It was an interesting excavation because she was able to identify some cobble footers for the standing wall and that was pretty much about it,” he said. “She only had two test trenches here and over there and a couple on the other side of the wall. But that’s as close to excavation that this site is going to get.”

Arnold Dinet Yazzie registered for the tour to further his understanding of the park.

“I’ve visited the west ruins probably six, eight times but I was curious about this one up here. That’s the reason why I came,” Yazzie said.

His interest in archaeology began when he took archaeology and anthropology classes at Fort Lewis College in the late 1960s.

“It was very informative and enlightening to me,” he said about the tour.

Progressive mayors seek reelection in Albuquerque, Santa Fe - By Morgan Lee And Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Progressive mayors are seeking reelection in New Mexico's largest city and its fast-growing state capital as voting begins Tuesday, contending with challenges from Hispanic candidates from the more conservative wing of the Democratic Party.

The Nov. 2 election is a preamble to statewide and congressional contests in 2022, where Democrats hope to extend their hold on all statewide offices including governor and super-majorities in the state House and Senate, and reclaim a congressional swing seat. Voting begins Tuesday by mail and at county clerks' offices, with early voting at additional locations to start on Oct. 16.

In Santa Fe, publishing entrepreneur and Mayor Alan Webber is using the campaign trail to promote a guaranteed minimum income program for parents attending community college. He vows to eliminate local childhood hunger and attend to climate change as an existential threat.

Challenger and fellow-Democrat JoAnne Vigil Coppler — a city councilor and Latina native daughter of Santa Fe with a long resume in public administration — says Webber has overreached at the expense of fundamental city services and recreation facilities, such as a popular public swimming pool that broke down during the pandemic.

In Albuquerque, first-term Mayor Tim Keller is facing opposition from the more conservative ranks of his own party over concerns about his ability to contain crime in the city. His challengers include two-term Democratic county Sheriff Manny Gonzales, who backed a move by then-President Donald Trump to send in new federal law enforcement agents to Albuquerque.

Albuquerque-based political science professor Lonna Atkeson said the two mayoral races illustrate tensions within the Democratic Party. The discord could derail two highly educated white male incumbents — both with ties to Harvard Business School — in a heavily Democratic and Hispanic state with enduring currents of cultural conservatism.

"There's a lot of potential for wedges, and there is a huge gap right now between the progressive wing of the party and the more conservative wing of the party," Atkeson said. "You see that in both mayoral races, where someone is saying, 'You know, we need to focus on services as opposed to all of this gigantic stuff that is not related to our local government.'"

The ballots are nonpartisan, allowing multiple candidates from the same party.

Among Republicans, conservative radio station owner and talk show host Eddy Aragon is running for the top job in Albuquerque, describing a city afflicted by economic insecurity, drug addiction and mental health issues.

In Santa Fe, Republican environmental engineer Alexis Martinez Johnson is running for mayor as a political outsider, after losing a bid for Congress last year. Registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans more than 4-to-1 in the Santa Fe area.

Santa Fe's mayoral contest is overshadowed by simmering conflicts over historical monuments, with election challengers lambasting the city's response as inadequate when a tumultuous crowd toppled a downtown monument representing Union soldiers who died fighting Indigenous tribes and Confederate soldiers.

The monument, which had an inscription that referred to Indigenous peoples as "savages," was a point of civic pride among local fraternal orders and reviled by many Native Americans for glorifying military campaigns against their ancestors.

Webber has helped funnel federal pandemic aid toward grants for private businesses. He also has painted his election opponents as untrustworthy for resisting a pandemic ordinance in 2020 that required face masks to reinforce state policy. 

Vigil Coppler says she supports masks but found the city ordinance clumsy and ineffective. Johnson defied the ordinance last year and was fined.

Keller in Albuquerque hopes to extend a political winning streak that vaulted him from the Legislature to statewide office as New Mexico's public auditor before winning the mayor job in 2017. 

Concerns about crime in the city came to a head this summer when Albuquerque marked a grim milestone — a record number of homicides with more likely to be added to the tally before the year's end.

Keller has tried to defend his record, saying his administration is coming up with plans and programs that focus on root causes, such as addiction and poverty. 

In a nod to his progressive leanings, Keller also believes the Albuquerque Police Department is adequately funded and that more money needs to be funneled toward prevention programs and behavioral health services. More than 45% of Albuquerque's general fund budget already is dedicated to public safety.

Homelessness and affordable housing also have been issues in New Mexico's largest city, where the mayor conceded during a recent debate that the number of people living on the street has more than doubled during his first term in office. He blames the pandemic.

New Mexico governor thanks oil and gas, cheers hydrogen plan - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

New Mexico's Democratic governor is seeking legislation to help jump-start hydrogen production from natural gas in her state, a process that generates harmful greenhouse gases but could one day be harnessed to provide environmental benefits.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham outlined the effort briefly at a convention of oil executives Monday in a speech that acknowledged the state's reliance on industry tax revenue while pledging to enforce pro-environment regulations.

It's the latest tightrope walk for the governor who has promised action on climate change while also working to shield the state's oil and gas producers from a federal drilling moratorium on public lands issued by fellow Democrat President Joe Biden.

Lujan Grisham's first message to the executives was to put on their masks, citing her own emergency regulations issued weeks ago in response to the surge of the delta variant of the coronavirus.

She paused while some 300 attendees complied, before launching into a 20-minute speech thanking oil and gas producers for their contributions to the economy and tax revenues that form the backbone of state education funding.

She pledged to kick-start the hydrogen fuel industry in New Mexico with legislation in February.

"We are working on that as we speak," Lujan Grisham said, adding that it's part of an effort to turn New Mexico into a hydrogen fuel "hub."

The bill could include taxes and incentives for energy producers to produce hydrogen, legal frameworks to facilitate production and storage, refueling corridors for truck traffic and training programs for workers in the industry.

"The Hydrogen Hub Act will continue (to) help us reach our ambitious climate goal of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 45% by 2030 — and boost our economy in the process," said New Mexico Environment Department spokeswoman Kaitlyn O'Brien.

Like electric car batteries, hydrogen fuel cells emit no carbon dioxide when used. But electric cars, like the growing number of hydrogen vehicles including forklifts, are only as "green" as the energy used to power them.

Most energy used to produce hydrogen currently comes from natural gas, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, and directly contributes to the pollution that causes. But supporters of the technology, including Biden, see it as a pathway to reducing carbon emissions as it becomes more environmentally safe. 

New Mexico's first large-scale hydrogen project describes itself as "blue" — harnessing natural gas to divide water to create hydrogen. A recent study by Cornell and Stanford found the process generates 20% more carbon emissions than burning natural gas or coal for heat.

In what could have been an applause line for an industry with few friends in the White House, Lujan Grisham said she's advocating for them at the highest level.

"We continue to have conversations with the Biden administration to make sure that they understand the critical importance of this industry in our state," the governor said.

But like most of the speech, it was met with a silent buzz of ceiling lights and an occasional cough.

In March, Lujan Grisham wrote Biden asking to exempt New Mexico from an executive order halting gas and oil production on federal land. She argued the move would push hydrocarbon mining to Texas, which shares a border above ground and the oil-rich Permian Basin beneath it.

But Lujan Grisham describes herself as a "stakeholder" of the industry, not necessarily a friend.

She pledged to restrict methane emissions at drilling sites and continue enforcing regulations requiring reduced use of freshwater and thorough cleanups of environmental spills.

The speech made no mention of an oil spill currently coating the coast of California, or the record fires made worse this summer by global warming.

Producers say methane rules will cost billions.

The governor will have to walk another tightrope in February when pro-environment legislators from the state's growing progressive wing will have a chance to weigh in on the hydrogen legislation, and New Mexico Oil and Gas representatives will too.

For many environmentalists, the governor's methane rules and support for hydrogen don't go far enough, fast enough, to curb global warming. Student protesters have started to picket the governor's events and office.

A handful of student climate activists blocked hotel doors after the governor left Monday's event. They sang and held a sign that read "Whose side are you on?"

Back in the convention hall, most of the oil and gas executives took off their masks immediately after the governor left.

This story has been corrected to reflect that the governor's regulation of methane production sites covers drilling sites.

Las Cruces settles suit claiming 'rough ride' after arrest - Las Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

The Las Cruces Police Department has settled a lawsuit by a man who claimed he was seriously injured during an arrest by a former officer. 

The Las Cruces Sun-News reported Monday that records show the City of Las Cruces quietly settled with Warren McCowan for $180,000 in March but admitted no wrong doing. 

In turn, McCowan filed a motion to dismiss the suit with prejudice.

In the suit, McCowan said Officer Mark Morales arrested him in August 2015 for driving while intoxicated. En route to the jail, Morales allegedly placed McCowan in the back seat but did not secure him with a seatbelt. The officer then deliberately drove at a high speed and jerked his vehicle so that McCowan would bounce around.

According to McCowan, he was slammed around "like a ping pong ball." He also said he suffered a torn shoulder when officers yanked him up from the floor. The shoulder injury later required surgery.

McCowan's attorney says Morales had no body camera and cameras at the jail weren't working that day.

Morales resigned from the police department in August 2019. He had been on administrative leave for an unrelated matter.

Chaves County escapee caught in Roswell home after standoff – Associated Press

A man who escaped Sunday night from the Chaves County jail is back in custody after being captured in a Roswell house following an hours-long standoff late Monday with officers from several agencies, authorities said.

Daniel Cobos, 37, was found in a room under a blanket after a SWAT team deployed gas canisters and entered the home, officials said.

According to online court records, Cobos awaits trial in several cases on charges that include attempted armed robbery and resisting arrest.

Cobos escaped from the jail after entering an unlocked bathroom, crawled through the ceiling and slipped through a gap in a fence, officials said.

Chaves County Sheriff Mike Herrington posted on the agency's social media that 37-year-old Daniel Cobos escaped late Sunday night from Chaves County Detention Center.

The Roswell Daily Record reports Cobos is serving time on charges of failure to appear on a felony charge; possession of controlled substances; and resisting, evading or obstructing an officer.

Navajo Nation reports no COVID-19 deaths for 5th day in row - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation on Monday reported 29 more COVID-19 cases, but no additional deaths for the fifth consecutive day.

The latest numbers pushed the tribe's totals to 34,172 confirmed COVID-19 cases from the virus since the pandemic began more than a year ago. The known death toll remains at 1,447.

Based on cases from Sept. 10-23, the Navajo Department of Health had issued an advisory for 40 communities due to an uncontrolled spread of COVID-19. 

The tribe's reservation is the country's largest at 27,000 square miles and it covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Navajo officials are urging people to get vaccinated, wear masks while in public and minimize their travel. 

Officials said all Navajo Nation executive branch employees had to be fully vaccinated against the virus by the end of September or submit to regular testing.

The new rules apply to full, part-time and temporary employees, including those working for tribal enterprises like utilities, shopping centers and casinos. 

Any worker who did not show proof of vaccination by the deadline must be tested every two weeks or face discipline.