WED: APS closes all schools following cyberattack, New Mexico reports over 6,900 new COVID cases, + More
APS closes all schools following cyberattack - By Nash Jones, KUNM News
Albuquerque Public Schools will be closed district-wide Thursday following a cyberattack.
In a statement Wednesday, district spokesperson Monica Armenta said the cyberattack damaged systems related to teaching, learning and student safety, but did not specify which.
The district has contractors working to fix the problem, according to the statement, and intends to reopen Friday.
Armenta says the district will update the APS community if the issues aren’t resolved by mid-day Thursday.
Sports and other extracurricular activities should continue as scheduled, according to Armenta, but meals will not be served.
The district says employees considered essential are still expected to come in.
This comes a week after Bernalillo County reported a ransomware attack on its computer systems, closing most county buildings to the public.
New Mexico reports over 6,900 new COVID cases, Bernalillo County sees over 2,000 - KUNM News, Associated Press
New Mexico health officials Wednesday reported 6,919 new COVID-19 cases, with over 2,000 of those in Bernalillo County. Only one other county saw a case count above 1,000 – Doña Ana County, with 1,012.
According to the state’s daily update, Wednesday’s record one-day total includes 1,000 cases that came in following a technical disruption in the feed from labs, and over 2,500 cases from a lab that just submitted results from tests conducted over the last 12 days.
The state also reported that 28 more people have died from COVID-19 in New Mexico. Nearly 570 people are hospitalized with the virus.
The latest data from the New Mexico Department of Health shows vaccinated people made up nearly 40% of the new COVID-19 cases over the last four weeks. However, state data shows about 82% of people who are hospitalized with the virus are unvaccinated.
Federal lab in New Mexico pauses vaccine mandate – Associated Press
One of the federal government's national laboratories in New Mexico is pausing a vaccine mandate that was set to go into effect this month.
Sandia National Laboratories had previously issued directives that all employees and subcontractors be fully vaccinated by mid-January. Scott Aeilts, the associate director of mission services at Sandia, told the Albuquerque Journal on Tuesday that the decision had been made to pause enforcement.
The decision comes amid an ongoing lawsuit that was filed by a handful of unvaccinated employees.
Lab officials contend the vaccination requirement was aimed at creating a safe work environment.
The latest data from the New Mexico Department of Health shows the number of reported COVID-19 cases has increased significantly due to the transmissibility of the omicron variant and that vaccinated people made up nearly 40% of new cases over the last four weeks.
Health officials also noted that most infections have been mild and they expect the omicron wave to peak in the coming weeks. Of those in the hospital, state data shows about 82% are unvaccinated and less than one-quarter of patients are on a ventilator.
President Joe Biden last year issued an order requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for federal workers and contractors. Like Biden's mandate for large private companies, the requirement for federal workers has faced numerous legal challenges, some of which are pending.
In northern New Mexico, Los Alamos National Laboratory has had a vaccine mandate in effect since October. The lab said Wednesday that all eligible employees are vaccinated, that no changes were expected in the policy and that COVID-19 testing among workers was ongoing.
According to the lab, Los Alamos' confirmed cases totaled 1,726 as of Friday, with most having recovered. About 40% of employees continue to telework.
Stream access fight shakes up New Mexico commission again - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has dismissed another member of a state panel that oversees wildlife conservation and hunting and fishing regulations as a dispute percolates over public access to streams and rivers that flow through private property.
Jeremy Vesbach was among the those on the state Game Commission who voted last year to deny several landowners permits that would have restricted access to waterways that crossed their property. He said in an interview that he believes his removal with a year remaining in his term was rooted in the stream fight.
Vesbach noted that Democrat U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and others have been outspoken against limiting access to what they say are public waters.
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who is running for reelection, has been careful to walk the line on the issue publicly. Some critics say that's due to political campaign contributions by wealthy landowners.
"New Mexicans hate it when money is just dictating what happens," Vesbach said. "It's in the court, but there are more decisions to be made and she can still step in on the right side of this and I have hope that she will."
The governor's office did not immediate respond to questions sent Wednesday about Vesbach's dismissal and where the governor stands on the issue.
Her administration had said in 2020 that it believed there was a way to find a balance "that both ensures access for sportsmen and women while also protecting private property rights."
There was another shakeup on the commission in 2019 when Lujan Grisham ousted then-commission chairwoman Joanna Prukop. She had run afoul of the governor when she and other commissioners voted to reconsider a contested rule that limited stream access.
The New Mexico Supreme Court in March is scheduled to consider a petition by a coalition of anglers, rafters and conservationists who contend that the public has the constitutional right to fish, boat or use any stream for recreation so long as they did not trespass across private land to get there.
Following the commission's August vote against restricting access, an attorney for the property owners said his clients' rights were being violated.
Advocates of private property rights have warned that if waterways are opened up, property values will decline and there will be less interest by owners to invest in conserving tracts of land along streams. Some fishing outfitters and guides have said their business will be adversely affected.
Aside from the stream access issue, Vesbach said the state Game and Fish Department is facing a staffing crisis and that its conservation officers and biologists need to be paid more to ensure they don't leave for other jobs. He noted that the officer shortage comes at time when needs are increasing as more people venture onto New Mexico's public lands.
A recent report to the Game Commission showed the department was short 22 officers in the field.
Governor polls local mayors on infrastructure priorities - By Morgan Lee Associated Press
New Mexico's Democratic governor is polling local politicians on their infrastructure priorities as the state decides how to dispense federal pandemic relief money and spend from a multibillion-dollar budget surplus.
Breaking with past routines, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has delayed annual infrastructure recommendations to hold an online summit Friday with mayors from across the state about their priorities on construction projects ranging from high-speed internet to senior centers, water systems and roadways. A separate event for county governments is scheduled in the following days.
The state still has $600 million in federal pandemic relief to assign from its $1.7 billion allotment last year, a major budget surplus and money that it borrows routinely to finance public works projects.
Friday's deliberations among politicians are a prelude to decisions on how to spend New Mexico's share of a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure package signed by President Joe Biden in November. That legislation will send billions of dollars to states and localities across the country over the next decade. Remarks are scheduled at Friday's summit from Democratic members of New Mexico's congressional delegation, according to organizers at the New Mexico Municipal League.
Martin Chavez, the former mayor of Albuquerque and appointed advisor to the governor on infrastructure, said public works projects can move to the front of the line for consideration if they already are well researched, planned or designed.
"There are a number of priorities. One, of course — that old term 'shovel ready,'" he told a panel of legislators Tuesday. "Maybe it's a project that's in design, maybe it's an expansion of the airport, that they've already designed but don't have the funds. Those projects will be given priority."
The Legislature's lead budget writers are recommending $500 million for transportation projects, including $350 million for roads. Additionally, they are calling for more than a half-billion dollars in new spending that will be paid off gradually through bonds to underwrite projects including veterans' home improvements and construction of a public safety command center, a new psychiatric hospital for children at the University of New Mexico and new facilities at the College of Engineering at New Mexico State University.
Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said local voices are critical in the assessment of infrastructure needs.
"We are committed to making sure that every dollar is spent on meaningful projects," Sackett said in an email.
New Mexico could become the destination of federal infrastructure funds set aside to boost carbon capture technologies and efforts to forge less environmentally damaging sources of electricity through the use of hydrogen.
Lujan Grisham is backing legislation to help jump-start hydrogen production from natural gas in her state, a process that generates harmful greenhouse gases but might one day be harnessed to provide environmental benefits. A bill has not yet been introduced.
Proposal to erode bail reform gaining steam - Austin Fisher, Source NM
A proposal likely to come up this month in the regular legislative session would shift the burden of proof onto people accused of crimes to prove that they are not a “threat to the community” as judges weigh whether they should wait for their hearings behind bars or at home.
As things stand, the burden is on prosecutors and police who are making the accusations.
Republican Rep. Bill Rehm on Jan. 5 pre-filed the legislation for the upcoming session.
The bill represents an effort to roll back aspects of bail reform in the state and would allow judges to incarcerate people before trial for certain offenses — without prosecutors having to demonstrate they pose a threat to public safety.
“I believe a rebuttable presumption for individuals accused of violent crimes can be a wedge in the revolving door of repeat violent offenses that have characterized the worst aspects of the crime our state continues to experience,” Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told the Albuquerque Journal last year.
But the proposal is getting pushback from public defenders and criminal justice advocates in the state.
Jonathan Ibarra said the proposal would violate the New Mexico Constitution and result in numerous people needlessly being held in jail. He has been a public defender for eight years, but before that, he was a prosecutor for about 12 years and a district court judge in Bernalillo County. He is the vice president of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
“I don’t think that people who are presumed innocent should have to prove that they should get out of jail,” he said. “Shifting the burden onto primarily poor people, primarily people of color, to somehow prove a negative, to prove that they’re not going to do something bad — I don’t know how you prove a negative.”
Jennifer Burrill, president of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said the proposal is absurd.
“I think it’s an unconstitutional burden-shifting,” she said. “If the state’s going to make the allegations, then they need to be the ones to prove it.”
Case law in New Mexico requires the state to prove that a defendant is dangerous to the community. But once many of these cases get into the trial process, prosecutors just don’t work the cases, and so the defendant needlessly sits in jail, she said.
Bail reforms reduced crime and recidivism
Proponents of rolling back bail reform have pointed to cases where someone released while awaiting trial has gone on to commit additional crimes — especially focusing on violent crimes. But in the overwhelming majority of cases, that doesn’t happen, and the harmful life impacts of imprisonment for people who have not yet been convicted of anything have to be considered, opponents argue.
The yearslong effort to get rid of the dysfunctional cash bail system in New Mexico was spearheaded by the late Charles W. Daniels, a two-term chief justice on the state Supreme Court.
In an interview in late October 2018, just two months before he retired, Daniels said the cash bail system didn’t protect public safety and resulted in many people held in jail because they didn’t have money — not because there was any evidence of threat to the community.
“This is no way to decide who gets held and who gets released, based on who can buy their way out,” he said.
Despite huge efforts by the lucrative bail bonds industry, the measure passed with more than 90% of lawmakers’ support, he said. At the ballot box, 87% of New Mexicans approved the change, which Daniels said was extraordinary for a constitutional amendment.
The constitutional amendment gave judges the power to deny release to provably high-risk defendants, he said, and provided that you can’t keep someone in jail simply because they can’t afford to pay bail, unless the court later found that some amount of security was needed to get them back to court.
Daniels said over and over, in jurisdictions across the country, that amount of security was “rarely needed.”
The amendment also took away judges’ power to determine that issue on their own without a formal motion by prosecutors, he said, who now must prove that the defendant is too dangerous to release.
It’s irresponsible to try to say with certainty that there’s a cause-and-effect relationship between bail reform and high crime rates, he said, because crime rates here and in other jurisdictions actually fell dramatically after they implemented bail reform. The same is true for recidivism rates, he said.
“Anybody who has studied this seriously knows that it’s a lie that these reforms have caused an increase in crimes, and yet you see it repeated in political elections, because it gets votes,” he said.
Daniels died less than a year later on Sept. 1, 2019.
A University of New Mexico study found that between 2017 and 2020, 95 percent of people released pre-trial did not go on to get arrested for a violent crime.
Ibarra said that pattern hasn’t changed much since then.
Ibarra, who now sits on the Supreme Court’s Ad Hoc Pretrial Detention Committee, said he thinks there has been a small uptick in the rate of people who are released and go on to pick up new charges, but that’s because cases are taking so much longer to resolve during the pandemic.
Ibarra tracks every single detention case filed in Bernalillo County, the largest court system in the state, since they started in January 2017.
In Albuquerque, he said, there have been six people who have been released pre-trial who allegedly committed homicide while they were out. But there have been nearly 6,000 cases of preventative detention filed in Albuquerque, he said.
In the best-case scenario for the state, when a judge grants a motion to hold a defendant, about 30% of them get no state conviction at all, not even a misdemeanor, according to his records.
Far too often, people sit in jail for years before they’re acquitted, he said.
“We’re too eager to punish before we prove a case,” he said.
He said the state needs a better screening process at the beginning and needs to put more resources into actually proving cases, rather than just holding people.
Ibarra agrees that this argument made by the governor and others fails to account for the violence of jail itself, and the fact that pre-trial detention actually drives further criminality.
Even just a few days in jail can completely change a person’s life, he said, because jail time can cause people to lose their jobs, homes, families and children.
“Even if jail was an OK place to be, it would still be awful, what jail does to people,” Ibarra said. “But it’s a horrible place to be, and so everything about it is inherently destabilizing for a person.”
Source New Mexico’s Editor In Chief Marisa Demarco contributed the 2018 interview with Justice Daniels to this story.
$10K reward offered in shooting of Farmington police officer - Associated Press
Authorities are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of a man sought in the Friday night shooting of a Farmington police officer.
The Farmington Police Department announced Tuesday that the U.S. Marshals Service is offering the reward for information regarding 22-year-old Elias Buck.
According to court records, Buck is charged with aggravated battery upon on a police officer in the Friday night shooting in which Officer Joseph Barreto was wounded.
Barreto was released from the hospital and is at home recovering, the police department said in a statement.
According to the police department, the shooting occurred when Barreto tried to detain Buck after seeing Buck and a female companion walking after a car in the area had been reported as possibly being involved in drunken driving.
US acknowledges shipping Idaho radioactive waste to Nevada - By Ken Ritter Associated Press
The federal government acknowledged it has been shipping mixed radioactive waste from a nuclear cleanup site in Idaho to Nevada and New Mexico for disposal.
In a statement Tuesday that followed a protest letter from U.S. Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada, the U.S. Department of Energy said 13,625 cubic meters of material has been sent from a former dump at the Idaho National Laboratory to the Nevada National Security Site.
The material was characterized as "low level waste/mixed low level waste," the department said. The amount would fill more than five Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Shipments began in 2009 and are ongoing, the department said, while noting that most of the Idaho waste was being sent to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.
Nevada and the federal government have clashed several times in the past over shipments of radioactive materials to the vast former government nuclear test site in the state.
In a Monday letter to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Titus said "the fact that dangerous materials could be sharing the roads with my constituents and visitors raise a number of questions for me about this shipment of nuclear materials."
Titus, a Democrat from Las Vegas, is a retired University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor and an expert on atomic testing and American politics. She has fought for years to prevent the federal government from building a permanent storage facility for the nation's most radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain, some 90 miles north of Las Vegas.
In her letter, Titus called for the Energy Department to disclose the amount of waste to be shipped to Nevada and its classification.
"Nevada is not America's dumping ground," she said.
The department said the Nevada state Division of Environmental Protection participates with other experts in pre-disposal documentation and review of an "extensive waste profile" of the material shipped to the Nevada National Security Site.
"All offsite wastes shipped to and disposed at the NNSS are handled safely and securely and must meet all applicable federal and state regulations as well as the rigorous NNSS Waste Acceptance Criteria," the department said in its statement Tuesday.
Nevada state Division of Environmental Protection Chief David Fogerson referred an inquiry about the shipments to Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak's office. The governor's aide, Meghin Delaney, did not immediately respond to questions.
The Energy Department said last month it was completing the removal of targeted waste buried decades ago in storage drums and boxes in unlined pits at a sprawling site that includes the Idaho National Laboratory, 50 miles west of the city of Idaho Falls.
The buried waste included plutonium-contaminated filters, graphite molds, sludges containing solvents and oxidized uranium generated during nuclear weapons production work at the Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado.
The Nevada National Security Site is a vast federal reservation nearly the size of the state of Rhode Island where the government conducted more than 1,000 above- and below-ground nuclear detonations from 1951 to 1992. It serves today as a research and training site and for U.S. studies of nuclear, chemical, biological and other weapons.
The Energy Department agreed last year to pay Nevada $65,000 to settle a dispute about five years of shipments of mischaracterized waste from the Energy Department's Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to the Nevada site. The state called the shipments "an unfortunate misstep."
An earlier dispute involved the clandestine shipment of one-half metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium from a Department of Energy facility in South Carolina. Under that settlement, the government agreed to start removing the waste from the Nevada site last year.
New Mexico education officials miss transparency deadline - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America
An initiative aimed at providing greater accountability for public spending on education missed its inaugural deadline.
The New Mexico Public Education Department acknowledged Tuesday that it missed a year-end deadline to launch a website to provide details about how much schools spend and on what.
The site went live following inquiries Monday from The Associated Press, but without financial information from most individual schools.
Lawmakers and transparency advocates decried the delay, which ran afoul of state statute.
"Yes, by missing the deadline PED is out of compliance with the law. It is no Surprise considering that the governor has had three public education (secretaries) in just two years," wrote Republican Rep. Rebecca Dow, of Truth or Consequences, in an email.
Dow was one of three lawmakers who advanced the law to create the transparency portal, allocating $3 million to fund the effort.
The deadline was the first of an annual reporting schedule mandated by a transparency law passed by the state Legislature in 2020 and signed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Lujan Grisham is running for reelection this year, and Dow is running for the Republican nomination in a bid to challenge her.
The agency had promoted the website starting in August with a countdown clock set to hit zero on Dec. 31. On Monday and Tuesday, the countdown clock on the website read "0," while a note below said the project is "on schedule and on budget."
"It's disappointing that they missed this deadline," said Shannon Kunkel, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government. "Public officials have a responsibility to get timely information out that would affect policy decisions."
The state transparency website could make it easier to see details of how much schools spend on administrative costs, like central office workers, versus classroom costs, like teacher salaries and student supplies.
Data on the website could inform policymakers who sit down next week to forge the state's education budget, likely to exceed $3 billion.
"It is imperative for parents and taxpayers to easily see and understand how school districts and charter schools are spending their dollars since this spending directly impacts their children and they may have good questions or suggestions on how best to spend this money," Fred Nathan Jr., executive director of Think New Mexico, a nonpartisan education policy group, said in a statement.
On Monday, Think New Mexico renewed support for a law that would cap growth in administrative spending in school districts, arguing classroom spending is more impactful than administrative spending.
Citing data from 2007 to 2017, the organization says administrative spending on central office staff grew 34% while spending on teacher salaries and classroom materials grew by around 4%.
After questions from the AP on Monday, the Public Education Department held a meeting with its software vendor, according to spokeswoman Judy Robinson.
The site went live before noon Tuesday, with a note that it's a work in progress.
"The portal was ready in mid-December and 'soft-launched' at that time," Robinson said.
That beta testing came at the tail end of a planned six-month window for school district superintendents and financial officers to test-drive the software. Robinson said those users flagged concerns about the site's functionality.
Other advocates pointed out that the website published on Tuesday is incomplete. It includes district spending data but lacks school-level data except for charter schools.
"The intent was always to create a site whereby any parents, principal, educator, policymaker could get online and see a budget for each school. And that's the piece that's missing from the site as it stands right now," said Amanda Aragon, executive director of NewMexicoKidsCAN, another nonpartisan education policy group.
In a statement, Robinson said the department won't begin to collect the school-level data until fiscal year 2023, which starts this summer, long after the education budget is written into law by the Legislature and approved or vetoed by the governor.
Robinson wrote that the Public Education Department "believes it is following the law and meeting the requirements of the legislation."
Virus rocking New Mexico schools again, Santa Fe goes remote - By Cedar Attanasio And Morgan Lee Associated Press / Report For America
The coronavirus is catching up with New Mexico's largest school districts once again.
On Tuesday, Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Larry Chavez announced the district will return to remote, online attendance for the four-day holiday week starting on Jan. 18.
In a text blast to parents, he attributed the precautions to the spike in coronavirus infections and the impact it is having on school district staffing. If conditions improve, in-person teaching would resume on Jan. 24.
"Additionally, we cannot continue to meet the state's contact tracing requirements given such large numbers of positive cases," Chavez said in a statement, adding that a state testing contractor "has been unable to consistently provide testing."
New Mexico's largest school district, Albuquerque Public Schools, has not announced any major closures of schools. But Tuesday it canceled an in-person job fair aimed at filling over 700 positions desperately needed in schools, citing the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.
Virtually all districts are desperate for workers, including substitute teachers and auxiliary staff like bus drivers, nurses, and cooks.
At least 10 school districts or charter schools reported pivoting to remote on Tuesday, including in Las Vegas, Cuba, Aztec, Texico, and Bloomfield, according to a self-reported tally kept by the Public Education Department.
New Mexico church official urges nuclear disarmament talks - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press
The head of one of the oldest Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States says now is the time to rejuvenate and sustain a global conversation about the need for nuclear disarmament and how to develop ways to avoid a new nuclear arms race.
Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester released a lengthy pastoral letter on the subject Tuesday, noting during a virtual news conference that Los Alamos National Laboratory — the birthplace of the atomic bomb — is preparing to ramp up production of the plutonium cores used in the nation's nuclear arsenal.
Wester called the arms race a vicious spiral.
"We can no longer deny or ignore the extremely dangerous predicament of our human family and that we are in a new nuclear arms race far more dangerous than the first," he said. "We need nuclear arms control, not an escalating nuclear arms race."
Nuclear watchdog groups welcomed the letter, which marks just the latest instance of the Catholic Church wading into the debate. In 2020, Pope Francis marked the 75th anniversary of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima by calling for peace and repeating that the mere possession of atomic weapons is immoral.
Last week, the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace welcomed a recent pledge by several countries that are members of the United Nations Security Council to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. Wester said he also was encouraged by the pledge.
Wester said the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, which covers parishes throughout northern New Mexico, has a special role to play given that two prominent federal laboratories — Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories — are located in the state. He also mentioned the U.S. government's repository of nuclear weapons at an air base in Albuquerque.
He suggested that spending more money to modernize the nation's nuclear arsenal robs from efforts to address poverty.
Federal officials spanning the Obama, Trump and now Biden administrations have argued that modernization is necessary given geo-political instability and ongoing national security concerns. Members of New Mexico's congressional delegation also have supported efforts to expand work at Los Alamos, pointing to billions of dollars in investment and new jobs that will result.
Wester said the focus should be on shifting weapons work to "life-affirming jobs" that involve environmental cleanup of Cold War-era waste, nonproliferation programs and projects that address climate change. He acknowledged that wouldn't be easy but said it's possible, pointing to changes that resulted from the technological revolution and now the transformation of the energy industry.
"It's really such an important topic. We really can't dally," Wester said.
Former Navajo president receives lifetime achievement award - By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press
Peterson Zah has never claimed to be an extraordinary Navajo, just a Navajo with extraordinary experiences.
Those who gathered Tuesday to honor the former Navajo chairman and president at a tribal casino east of Flagstaff disagreed. They said Zah has worked tirelessly to promote the Navajo culture and language, inspire youth, strengthen tribal sovereignty, provide more economic security for the tribe and ensure that Native Americans everywhere had certain religious freedoms and were included as part of federal environmental laws.
"The extraordinary experiences that you have had came about because you continually push yourself to learn, to grow and to do literally whatever it takes to promote the Navajo people and the Navajo Nation," said Zah's longtime friend, Eric Eberhard, who worked in the tribe's Department of Justice.
Zah was receiving a lifetime achievement award from the Flagstaff-based environmental group, the Grand Canyon Trust. The award acknowledged Zah's love of the land, waters and all living things — values he said he carried on from his mother's teachings.
"He is gentle. He looks you straight in the eye. He talks with his hands as much as with his voice," the group's board chairman, Jim Enote, read off the award. "The land and the culture are always with him."
Zah was the first president elected on the Navajo Nation in 1990 after the tribe restructured its government under three branches to prevent power from being concentrated in the chairman's office. He later served as the Native American liaison to the Arizona State University president, a position he held for 15 years.
Concerned about the state of politics on the Navajo Nation, Zah turned his attention to finding ways to help Navajos return to basic cultural teachings of harmony, peace and respect for themselves and others.
Zah, 84, told The Associated Press that as long as people live in peace and respect each other's differences, they can maintain beauty and make the world better for future generations. He struggled to name the thing he's most proud of.
"It's hard for me to prioritize in that order," he said after the award ceremony. "It's something I enjoy doing all my life. People have passion, we're born with that, plus a purpose in life."
Zah said it's work he couldn't have done alone and credited team efforts that always include his wife, Rosalind. He said he took seriously the responsibility to educate others to correct wrongdoings against Indigenous people.
Under Zah's leadership, the tribe established a Permanent Fund that's grown to more than $4 billion. The Navajo Nation won a court battle against Kerr McGee decades ago that found the tribe had authority to tax companies that extract minerals from the reservation. All coal, pipeline, oil and gas leases were renegotiated, which increased payments to the tribe. A portion of that money is added annually to the Permanent Fund.
Zah has fiercely advocated against Navajo lawmakers raiding the money over the years. He and his wife are still active in politics, and Navajo leaders routinely turn to Zah for advice.
Charles Wilkinson, a longtime friend and lawyer, said Zah was at one time known as the Native American Robert Kennedy "because he had charisma and he had ideas and he was getting things done." That included an effort to ensure Native Americans could use peyote as a religious sacrament.
Karletta Chief recalled Zah's work pushing to clean up the hundreds of abandoned uranium mine sites on the reservation, and ensuring that tribes were part of the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and other federal laws that are vital to her work as a hydrologist.
"All that really inspired me in my journey because I grew up in a community impacted by coal in Black Mesa," said Chief, an associate professor at the University of Arizona.
Police: Shots fired outside high school basketball game -Associated Press
Authorities in New Mexico have launched an investigation after responding to reports of shots fired outside a high school basketball game on Tuesday. No injuries were reported.
The Albuquerque Police Department said the shooting occurred at about 8:30 p.m. in the parking lot of Valley High School, north of downtown Albuquerque, where the men's varsity basketball team competed against Atrisco Heritage Academy High School.
Authorities said casings were found in the parking lot. No other details were immediately made available.
Navajo Nation: 93 more COVID-19 cases, 1st death in 4 days -Associated Press
The Navajo Nation on Tuesday reported 93 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and one death, the first in four days.
The latest numbers pushed the tribe's totals since the pandemic began to 43,241 cases with 1,594 known deaths.
Based on cases from Dec. 24-Jan. 6, the Navajo Department of Health issued an advisory for 61 communities due to the uncontrolled spread of the virus.
This week, tribal President Jonathan Nez issued an executive order mandating all employees to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination booster shot by Jan. 24.
If an employee is not fully vaccinated and doesn't get a booster shot, the employee is required to submit a negative COVID-19 test result at least once every 14 days.
The reservation covers 27,000 square miles and extends into parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.