FRI: Haaland wants racist names removed, Cannabis bust on pueblo highlights legal divide, + More
Interior secretary seeks to rid US of derogatory place names - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Friday formally declared "squaw" a derogatory term and said she is taking steps to remove it from federal government use and to replace other derogatory place names.
Haaland is ordering a federal panel tasked with naming geographic places to implement procedures to eliminate what she called racist terms from federal use. The decision provides momentum to a movement that has included the dismantling of other historical markers and monuments considered offensive across the country.
"Our nation's lands and waters should be places to celebrate the outdoors and our shared cultural heritage — not to perpetuate the legacies of oppression," Haaland said in a statement. "Today's actions will accelerate an important process to reconcile derogatory place names and mark a significant step in honoring the ancestors who have stewarded our lands since time immemorial."
The first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency, Haaland is from Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico.
The U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed Charles F. "Chuck" Sams III as head of the National Park Service, making him the first Native American to hold that position. Haaland previously said Sams, who is Cayuse and Walla Walla, of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon, would be an asset as the administration works to make national parks more accessible to everyone.
The Native American Rights Fund applauded Haaland's move to address derogatory place names, saying action by the federal government is long overdue.
"Names that still use derogatory terms are an embarrassing legacy of this country's colonialist and racist past," said John Echohawk, the group's executive director. "It is well past time for us, as a nation, to move forward, beyond these derogatory terms, and show Native people — and all people — equal respect."
Environmentalists also praised the action, saying it marked a step toward reconciliation.
Under Haaland's order, a federal task force will find replacement names for geographic features on federal lands bearing the term "squaw," which has been used as a slur, particularly for Indigenous women. A database maintained by the Board on Geographic Names shows there are more than 650 federal sites with names that contain the term.
The task force will be made up of representatives from federal land management agencies and experts with the Interior Department. Tribal consultation and public feedback will be part of the process.
The process for changing U.S. place names can take years, and federal officials said there are currently hundreds of proposed name changes pending before the board.
Haaland also called for the creation of an advisory committee to solicit, review and recommend changes to other derogatory geographic and federal place names. That panel will be made up of tribal representatives and civil rights, anthropology and history experts.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Board on Geographic Names took action to eliminate the use of derogatory terms for Black and Japanese people.
The board also voted in 2008 to change the name of a prominent Phoenix mountain from Squaw Peak to Piestewa Peak to honor Army Spc. Lori Piestewa, the first Native American woman to die in combat while serving in the U.S. military.
In California, the Squaw Valley Ski Resort changed its name to Palisades Tahoe earlier this year. The resort is in Olympic Valley, which was known as Squaw Valley until it hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics. Tribes in the region had been asking the resort for a name change for decades.
Colorado's advisory naming panel also has recommended renaming Squaw Mountain near Denver in honor of a Native American woman who acted as a translator for tribes and white settlers in the 19th century. Northern Cheyenne tribal members also filed an application with the federal naming board in October to change the mountain's name.
There is also legislation pending in Congress to address derogatory names on geographic features on public lands. States from Oregon to Maine have passed laws prohibiting the use of the word "squaw" in place names.
New Mexico sees TV tech as one fix to K-12 internet divide - By Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press / Report For America
Internet problems continue to slow down many students in the U.S. state of New Mexico, but a pilot project using TV signals to transmit computer files may help.
On Thursday, state public education officials distributed devices to eight families in the city of Taos that allow schools to send them digital files via television. The boxes the size of a deck of cards allow digital television receivers to connect with computers using technology called datacasting.
Many rural areas of New Mexico are too far from internet infrastructure like fiber cables and cell towers but do get TV reception.
In October, local broadcasting affiliates of New Mexico PBS finished testing the technology to make sure they could set aside bandwidth not taken up by TV show broadcasts and dedicate it to broadcast downloadable digital files.
The pilot program in Taos relies on a broadcast from northern New Mexico PBS affiliate KNME, while two others are planning to roll out pilot programs in the cities of Silver City and Portales.
Remote learning during the pandemic highlighted the digital divide for New Mexico students, many of whom had to learn using paper packets while their peers could participate in virtual lessons via video chat.
Even with schools back to offering in-person classes, internet inequality persists after class when students do homework, and for students being quarantined due to virus concerns.
Even where families are in internet coverage areas, it's not always enough for the entire household.
"It's very slow and I have a lot of students," said Ofelia Muñoz, a mother of four in Ranchos de Taos who has a monthly subscription to a cable internet service. "It's bad when they have to do homework."
One of her children is a university student, who takes most of his classes online, and won't be connected through the TV broadcast. But if his younger siblings can access a virtual library of school materials through the new device, it will lower the overall burden on their bandwidth.
"It's easier when they can work at the same time," she said.
New Mexico isn't the first state to experiment with datacasting. Some schools in South Carolina were using it last year.
There are limitations to the technology that won't allow it to replace the internet. For one, the datacasting is currently one-way and won't allow students to send data back to schools. That means no video chats with teachers or access to email.
"Until fiber optic cables bring broadband internet to every corner of New Mexico, we're going to need a patchwork of solutions, and it sure looks like datacasting could be one," New Mexico Education secretary Kurt Steinhaus said.
Earlier this week, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grishamn named an adviser for the newly formed state office of broadband. A deputy representing the adviser at the meeting said that in an optimistic scenario getting all New Mexico residents access to high-speed internet would take three years.
The pandemic left education officials around the world scrambling to make remote learning possible, often in areas with limited or no internet access. Some nations — including Mexico and Thailand — broadcast lessons on public television channels but they didn't set up ways to transmit files.
UNICEF has said globally about 131 million children have missed out on three-quarters of their in-person instruction since March 2020, and nearly 77 million of them have missed almost all of it.
Cannabis bust on Indigenous land highlights legal divide - By Morgan Lee Associated Press
A federal raid on a household marijuana garden on tribal land in northern New Mexico is sowing uncertainty and resentment about U.S. drug enforcement priorities on Native American reservations, as more states roll out legal marketplaces for recreational pot sales.
In late September, Bureau of Indian Affairs officers confiscated nine cannabis plants from a home garden at Picuris Pueblo that was tended by Charles Farden, a local resident since childhood who is not Native American. The 54-year-old is enrolled in the state's medical marijuana program to ease post-traumatic stress and anxiety.
Farden said he was startled to be placed in handcuffs as federal officers seized mature plants laden with buds — an estimated yearlong personal supply.
New Mexico first approved the drug's medical use in 2007, while Picuris Pueblo decriminalized medical pot for members in 2015. A new state law in June broadly legalized marijuana for adults and authorized up to a dozen home-grown plants per household for personal use — with no weight limit.
"I was just open with the officer, straightforward. When he asked what I was growing, I said, 'My vegetables, my medical cannabis,' " Farden said of the Sept. 29 encounter. "And he was like, 'That can be a problem.' "
The raid has cast a shadow over cannabis as an economic development opportunity for Indigenous communities, as tribal governments at Picuris Pueblo and at least one other reservation pursue agreements with New Mexico that would allow them to open marijuana businesses. The state is home to 23 federally recognized Native American communities. It's aiming to launch retail pot sales by April.
More than two-thirds of states have legalized marijuana in some form, including four that approved recreational pot in the 2020 election and four more by legislation this year. The U.S. government has avoided cracking down on them, even though the drug remains illegal under federal law to possess, use or sell.
The September raid has some scrutinizing its approach on tribal lands like Picuris Pueblo, where the Bureau of Indian Affairs provides policing to enforce federal and tribal laws in an arrangement common in Indian Country. Other tribes operate their own police forces under contract with the BIA.
In a recent letter to Picuris Pueblo tribal Gov. Craig Quanchello obtained by The Associated Press, a BIA special agent in charge said the agency won't tell its officers to stand down in Indian Country — and that marijuana possession and growing remains a federal crime, despite changes in state and tribal law.
"Prior notification of law enforcement operations is generally not appropriate," the letter states. "The BIA Office of Justice Services is obligated to enforce federal law and does not instruct its officers to disregard violations of federal law in Indian Country."
Officials with the BIA and its parent agency, the Interior Department, declined to comment and did not respond to the AP's requests for details of the raid and its implications. Farden has not been charged and does not know if there will be further consequences.
President Joe Biden this week ordered several Cabinet departments to work together to combat human trafficking and crime on Native American lands, where violent crime rates are more than double the national average.
He did not specifically address marijuana, though he has said he supports decriminalizing the drug and expunging past pot use convictions. He has not embraced federally legalizing marijuana.
Portland-based criminal defense attorney Leland Berger, who last year advised the Oglala Sioux Tribe after it passed a cannabis ordinance, notes that Justice Department priorities for marijuana in Indian Country were outlined in writing under President Barack Obama then overturned under President Donald Trump, with little written public guidance since.
"It's remarkable for me to hear that the BIA is enforcing the federal Controlled Substances Act on tribal land where the tribe has enacted an ordinance that protects the activity," he said.
Across the U.S., tribal enterprises have taken a variety of approaches as they straddle state and federal law and jurisdictional issues to gain a foothold in the cannabis industry.
In Washington, the Suquamish Tribe forged a pioneering role under a 2015 compact with the state to open a retail marijuana outlet across Puget Sound from Seattle on the Port Madison reservation. It sells cannabis from dozens of independent producers.
Several Nevada tribes operate their own enforcement division to help ensure compliance with state- and tribal-authorized marijuana programs, including a registry for home-grown medical marijuana. Taxes collected at tribal dispensaries stay with tribes and go toward community improvement programs.
In South Dakota, the Oglala Sioux in early 2020 became the only tribe to set up a cannabis market without similar state regulations, endorsing medical and recreational use in a referendum at the Pine Ridge Reservation. Months later, a statewide vote legalized marijuana in South Dakota, with a challenge from Republican Gov. Kristi Noem's administration now pending at the state Supreme Court.
The U.S. government recognizes an "inherent and inalienable" right to self-governance by Native American tribes. But federal law enforcement agencies still selectively intervene to enforce cannabis prohibition, Berger said.
"The tribes are sovereign nations, and they have treaties with the United States, and in some cases there is concurrent jurisdiction. ... It's sort of this hybrid," he said.
In late 2020, a combination of state, federal and tribal law enforcement cooperated in a raid on sprawling marijuana farms with makeshift greenhouses in northwestern New Mexico with the consent of the Navajo Nation president. Authorities seized more than 200,000 plants. At the time, New Mexico limited marijuana cultivation to 1,750 plants per licensed medical cannabis producer.
At Picuris Pueblo, Quanchello said the cannabis industry holds economic promise for tribal lands that are too remote to support a full-blown casino. Picuris operates a smoke shop out of a roadside trailer and is close to opening a gas station with a sandwich shop and mini-grocery.
"We're farmers by nature. It's something we can do here and be good at it," Quanchello said. "We don't want to miss it."
He described the BIA raid as an affront to Picuris Pueblo, with echoes of federal enforcement in 2018 that uprooted about 35 cannabis plants grown by the tribe in a foray into medical marijuana.
State lawmakers in 2019 adopted uniform regulations for medical marijuana on tribal and nontribal land.
In legalizing recreational marijuana this year, New Mexico's Democratic-led Legislature and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham emphasized the need to create jobs, shore up state revenue and address concerns about harm inflicted on racial and ethnic minorities by drug criminalization.
Judith Dworkin, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based attorney specializing in Native American law, said tribal cannabis enterprises confront less risk of interference from federal law enforcement where states have robust legal markets for pot.
"It's a lot easier for a tribe to take a position that they want to do something similar" to the state, she said. "It's still a risk."
Quanchello said he sees federal enforcement of cannabis laws at Picuris Pueblo as unpredictable and discriminatory.
"We as a tribe can end up investing a million dollars into a project, thinking it's OK. And because of a rogue officer or somebody that doesn't believe something is right, it could be stopped," he said.
No reprieve for New Mexico hospitals amid wave of patients -Associated Press
Officials with two of New Mexico's largest hospitals said Thursday they have yet to see a reprieve from the latest wave of patients needing care despite enacting crisis standards of care that allow them to focus solely on patients who need immediate medical attention.
Officials with Presbyterian Healthcare Services and University of New Mexico Hospital said during a briefing that patient volumes remain high, with about one-fifth of hospital beds being taken up by COVID-19 patients while the majority are being treated for other illnesses.
The officials also stressed that they have not denied or rationed care over the past week.
They also acknowledged that healthcare staffing shortages were an issue in New Mexico long before the pandemic.
Dr. Jason Mitchell, Presbyterian's chief medical officer, said he believed the crush on the health care system could be stopped if more people get vaccinated and get booster shots. He pointed to New Mexico's slow pace of vaccination and changes in behavior that have resulted in more people gathering and dismissing public health practices.
"It's kind of like watching a car wreck in slow motion and you can see the path," he said, after being asked about the possibility of hospitals having to ration care. "I don't know if it's two months off, three months off or four months off but we definitely can't stay on the same trajectory."
State data shows that nearly 74% of New Mexicans are considered fully vaccinated right now, but state officials are expected to change that definition in the coming weeks to include booster shots. The hospital officials during the briefing also stressed the importance of boosters for those vaccinated early on.
The New Mexico Health Department on Thursday reported that confirmed COVID-19 infections in New Mexico have now topped 300,000, with almost 4% of those cases coming over the last week. High rates of spread have been reported statewide and health officials have blamed part of the increase on waning immunity from early vaccinations.
Dr. Rohini McKee, UNM Hospital's chief quality and safety officer, said it has yet to be determined what a thorough and effective immunization schedule for COVID-19 will be but that lessons are being learned as experts around the globe work to curb spread.
New Mexico State Police searching for boy in a custody case - KOAT-TV, Associated Press
New Mexico State Police say they are searching for a 10-year-old Albuquerque boy believed to be with his mother who no longer has custody of him.
They say Nicolai Kuznetsov was last seen on Nov. 5th and is believed to be with Jacqueline Haymon. Albuquerque TV station KOAT reports that Haymon allegedly didn't want him to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
According to court documents, the boy's parents had joint custody.
But a District Court judge yesterday issued an emergency order which granted the boy's biological father custody due to the grave concern of the well-being and safety of the child, leading to an Amber Alert being issued.
State Police also say a bench warrant has been issued for Haymon's arrest.
New Mexico governor: Full vaccination means boosters too - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press
Going a step beyond federal guidance, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Wednesday that she believes being fully vaccinated means three shots and she pushed for all adults in her state who are eligible to get their boosters.
She made the comments during a virtual pandemic briefing, citing the increasing number of COVID-19 infections among residents who received their vaccinations more than six months ago.
Some cities and states already allow all adults to get boosters of Pfizer's vaccine, but it is not yet official U.S. policy. In the last week, California, New Mexico, Arkansas, West Virginia and Colorado expanded the shots to all adults. New York City made a similar move.
State health officials have been concerned about waning immunity and the role it has played in the recent increase in cases. The latest state data shows nearly 29% of infections confirmed over the last four weeks were among the vaccinated. Still, unvaccinated people make up higher percentages of those who are hospitalized or die from the virus.
The Democratic governor, who is running for reelection, blamed the unvaccinated for the ongoing pandemic but later acknowledged that the vaccinated can also contract and spread the virus. She said those who do often have only mild symptoms and don't end up in the hospital.
"We know vaccinations are the most effective tool to both blunting the spread of the virus and to protecting ourself and our families," she said. "So we are analyzing what we can do to create those incentives — and potentially mandates — for making sure that people are fully vaccinated, which means three vaccines."
Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said discussions are underway about changing the definition of what it means to be fully vaccinated and that he expects a new public health order to be rolled out in the coming weeks.
That will mean some policy changes for hospitals and state agencies since Lujan Grisham already has mandated vaccinations for health care workers, educators, other school personnel and all state workers.
Some employers, such as Los Alamos National Laboratory, also imposed mandates in recent months for workers to be "fully vaccinated."
Officials said it's still too early to say whether COVID-19 vaccinations will be required for school children. They're expecting more data on children to be available by the summer that could help in the decision-making process.
Scrase said many health care workers already were in line when boosters were announced so he's confident that the rate of uptake among that group will be high. He also noted that those workers who got vaccinated at the last minute to keep their jobs would have at least another six months to consider getting boosters — or two months if they received the Johnson & Johnson shot.
Nearly 74% of New Mexico adults are considered fully vaccinated under the current definition. Data released during the briefing showed more than 292,000 booster doses have been administered in the state since Aug. 1. Officials said that puts New Mexico's administration of boosters ahead of the national average.
The U.S. recommends boosters for people who initially received their second Pfizer or Moderna shots at least six months ago if they're 65 or older or are at high risk of COVID-19 because of health problems or their job or living conditions. Boosters are also recommended for people who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago.
Officials said Lujan Grisham made the decision this week to make boosters accessible to all adults because the state is considered "high risk" given the rates of spread being reported statewide. In two counties — De Baca and San Juan — more than 22% of tests during the past two weeks were positive.
State officials also vowed not to let up with testing, saying it's a valuable tool that helps with tracking the virus.
Navajo Nation reports 99 more COVID-19 cases, 3 more deaths -Associated Press
The Navajo Nation on Thursday reported 99 more confirmed cases of COVID-19 and three additional coronavirus-related deaths.
The latest numbers pushed the tribe's total to 38,616 cases since the pandemic started and 1,518 known deaths.
"We need more of our Navajo people to get fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and to get their booster shot prior to the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday," tribal President Jonathan Nez said in a statement. "In the past, the data has shown that we've experienced increases in new infections following major holidays where many families gather."
Nez has urged residents of the vast reservation to be careful when traveling to neighboring cities and states where safety measures aren't always as strict.
The tribe has maintained a mask mandate through most of the pandemic.
The reservation covers 27,000 square miles (70,000 square kilometers) and extends into parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
Court grants Legislature powers on pandemic relief spending - By Morgan Lee Associated Press
New Mexico's Supreme Court on Wednesday delivered a major rebuke to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, ruling that the Legislature deserves a leading role in how the state government spends more than $1 billion in federal pandemic aid.
The high court sided unanimously with a bipartisan team of lawmakers who said that it was wrong for Lujan-Grisham to make decisions about how to spend the aid — without input from the Legislature.
Democratic state Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque teamed up with Republican Senate minority leader Gregory Baca of Belen to initiate the constitutional clash over executive and legislative powers.
Candelaria told justices that the stakes were too high amid the coronavirus pandemic and economic turmoil to allow just one person — the governor — to determine how New Mexico spends about $1.6 billion in federal aid. He asked the court to err on the side of accountability by ensuring legislative oversight.
"These funds can be appropriated in either a transparent, public and legislative appropriations process ... or they can be appropriated in a closed-door process in which only the governor may determine unilaterally how to appropriate these funds without the need for, or the inconvenience, of public debate, committee hearings or bargaining majorities in the House and Senate," Candelaria said.
Chief Justice Michael Vigil delivered a shortly worded order that froze pandemic relief funds until legislative appropriations are made. The governor retains veto power on spending legislation.
Justices plan later to provide a written opinion, which could influence the decision-making process for future federal aid.
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat running for reelection in 2022, has used the relief funds to replenish the state unemployment insurance trust, underwrite millions of dollars in sweepstakes prizes for people who got vaccinated, prop up agriculture wages amid a shortage of chile pickers and provide incentives for the unemployed to return to work. Decisions still are pending on a little over $1 billion in federal relief for New Mexico.
In written court briefings, Lujan Grisham said a state Supreme Court decision nearly 50 years ago upheld the governor's discretion over federal funding at universities and should hold true broadly regarding federal pandemic relief funds.
Two hours of discussions at the court Wednesday touched on principles of grade-school civics about the three branches of state government and esoteric public accounting terminology.
In her questioning, Justice Shannon Bacon highlighted that the state was given broad discretion over how to spend the federal pandemic relief funds, unlike any federal grant tailored toward a specific agency or program.
"This money from the feds didn't say, 'Dear Governor Lujan Grisham, here is your money.' It says here is the state's money, and I think that's an important distinction," she said.
An additional four long-serving Democratic senators joined in the effort to rein in the governor's spending powers.
Critics of the governor have said she was overstepped her constitutional authority, blocking the Legislature's representation of diverse views on how to spend the pandemic relief money.
The Legislature convenes for a special session in December on political redistricting and again in January to draft a state budget.
At a news conference Wednesday, the governor expressed disappointment in the court's decision.
Lawsuit: Baldwin had no reason to fire in 'Rust' shooting - By Andrew Dalton Ap Entertainment Writer
A lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges that Alec Baldwin recklessly fired a gun when it wasn't called for in the script when he shot and killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza on the New Mexico set of the film "Rust."
"There was nothing in the script about the gun being discharged by DEFENDANT BALDWIN or by any other person," the lawsuit from script supervisor Mamie Mitchell says.
The lawsuit is the second to stem from the shooting, with many more expected.
Like last week's from head of lighting Serge Svetnoy, it was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court and names many defendants including Baldwin, who was both star and a producer; David Halls, the assistant director who handed Baldwin the gun; and Hannah Gutierrez Reed, who was in charge of weapons on the set.
Mitchell's lawsuit focuses mainly on Baldwin's actions. It said she was standing next to Hutchins and within 4 feet (1.22 meters) of the actor, and was stunned when he fired the gun inside the tiny church on Bonanza Creek Ranch on Oct. 21.
According to discussions before the scene was filmed, it called for three tight shots of Baldwin: One on his eyes, one on a blood stain on his shoulder, and one on his torso as he pulled the gun from a holster, the lawsuit says.
There was no call for Baldwin to point the gun toward Hutchins and Souza, nor to fire it, the lawsuit says.
And it alleges Baldwin violated protocol by not checking the gun more carefully.
"Mr. Baldwin chose to play Russian roulette when he fired a gun without checking it, and without having the armorer do so in his presence," Mitchell's attorney Gloria Allred said at a news conference.
A veteran script supervisor who has worked on nearly 100 productions, Mitchell was on a set for the first time since the pandemic began. She was the first to call 911 after the shooting, the lawsuit says.
She suffered "serious physical trauma and shock and injury to her nervous system," the lawsuit says, without giving details.
Mitchell is seeking both compensation and punitive damages in amounts to be determined later.
Lawyers and other representatives for the defendants had no immediate comment.
Baldwin said on video Oct. 30 that the shooting was a "one-in-a-trillion event" saying, "We were a very, very well-oiled crew shooting a film together and then this horrible event happened."
Mitchell's lawsuit alleges that the armorer on the production, Gutierrez Reed, had minimal experience, and she was hired as one of several cost-cutting measures that proved dangerous.
It says she violated protocol by allowing guns and ammunition to be unattended during a lunch break.
Gutierrez Reed told authorities she does not know how a live round ended up in the gun. Her lawyer Jason Bowles said in a statement last week that "we are convinced this was sabotage and Hannah is being framed. We believe that the scene was tampered with as well before the police arrived."
Santa Fe-area District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said last week that investigators have encountered no proof of sabotage.