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WED: Vigil in Albuquerque honors people killed in Colorado Springs at Club Q, + More

People gather in Morningside Park in Albuquerque on Tuesday, Nov. 22, to mourn the lives lost in the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs.
Maddie Pukite for Source NM
People gather in Morningside Park in Albuquerque on Tuesday, Nov. 22, to mourn the lives lost in the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs.

Vigil in Albuquerque honors people killed in Colorado Springs at Club Q - By Maddie Pukite, Daily Lobo

The realities of the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs were close to home for many in Albuquerque, and people gathered in Morningside Park on Tuesday evening to grieve the lives lost in the queer bar. Several people knew people at the club on Saturday, Nov. 19, and many at the vigil frequented it themselves.

“I spent all of Sunday in a haze,” said Alex Mirabal, local organizer and burlesque performer. “It felt like a nightmare. It felt like it was unreal. I kept expecting to wake up and be like, ‘Oh, none of this actually happened.’ And then yesterday was a lot of rage … And a lot of ‘It’s time to get active again.’”

After a moment of silence at the vigil, the space was open for anyone to share songs, prayers or words. Mirabal organized the event alongside Judy Lopas, both part of the PFLAG chapter in Albuquerque, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ people and their families.

Mirabel has also headlined at Club Q herself, knows performers in Colorado Springs and had friends who performed at Club Q the day of the shooting.

While everyone Mirabal knew survived, she said she still felt the loss and pain of others, “because there were still five people who were dead. It wasn’t my personal friends, but somebody was missing,” she said. “And that was awful.”

She said she felt the need to be able to grieve with others in her community.

“I knew I needed to be with other queer people. Because straight people love us, and they care about us. But they don’t always know what it feels like firsthand… ,” she said. “So it’s important for us to be together because we understand each other. It’s important to be together because we’re all hurting.”

Bars have long been a heart of the LGBTQ community, a place to take refuge and be authentically yourself without fear of judgment. For many gathered in the park in the cold as the sun went down, Club Q was one of those places. Many said it felt like home, including D’Lite Deleon, the reigning monarch of the Imperial Sovereign Court of New Mexico who had just taken a trip to Club Q.

“My husband and I, we were there with our family last week, and for those of you that didn’t know that, they treated you like that,” Deleon said. “You are always welcome to be with them. They never shy away from you. They always accepted you and welcomed you no matter who you were, what you were doing, what you’re wearing. They were amazing people, and we all know it.”

The gathering to honor those killed at Club Q was held in the same park where every June during Albuquerque’s Pride events, there’s a vigil for LGBTQ people who’ve died. Kuveni Scanlan remembered the heartache of having more names to write each year.

“On this concrete, we write the names of the people that we lost. And every single year, I have a new name to write. Every single year, my list gets longer. And the period of time between the two dates that are right under the name get shorter,” Scanlan said. “I’m sick and tired of 35-year-olds being queer elders.”

The shooting in Colorado happened just before midnight on the eve of the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, a commemoration of hundreds of people killed each year globally.

Tuesday’s vigil for many was also an act of continued queer resistance, a struggle that many emphasized did not end when gay marriage was legalized.

For Miss New Mexico Pride Sativa Rico Stratton, who has many friends who go to Club Q regularly, the shooting was also deeply personal.

“It’s not going to end with Club Q. So we need to make sure that we are out in the community, and we are helping and guiding each other, and that we are supporting our youth, and we are chanting,” Stratton said. “We are teaching them that the fight will never be over. It may get easier, but it’s not going away.”

After deaths like these, Mirabal said the violence does change what runs through her head while performing. She thinks about how to try and keep others and herself safe in such a scenario.

That’s why, she said, it is important to move forward with love: to keep each other safe.

New Mexico Investment Council commits record $100M in fund - Associated Press

New Mexico's State Investment Council is pledging $100 million to a tech-focused nonprofit, the council's biggest commitment on record to a single venture fund.

The council gave unanimous approval of the investment Tuesday into America's Frontier Fund, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

America's Frontier Fund, or AFF, is the "first investment platform committed to reinvigorating our nation's innovation and manufacturing prowess in critical frontier technology sectors," according to its website. It combines private and public resources. The technology sectors the fund sees as potentially transformative include microelectronics, artificial intelligence, and new energy.

The money will come from the council's private equity program, which channels funds from New Mexico's Severance Tax Permanent Fund toward venture firms that support local startups.

In a presentation to the council, Gilman Louie, AFF's CEO, said the firm plans to construct a "venture studio" in Albuquerque that could be a national headquarters for satellite studios in and outside of New Mexico. The studio would offer support to major research institutions focused on technology as well as fuel new startups.

AFF's investors, scientists, technologists and policy leaders will scout research into technology that can be brought to consumers through new companies, AFF CEO Gilman Louie told the SIC on Tuesday morning. The Land of Enchantment could be an alternate Silicon Valley, Louie said.

"(Our vision) is to transform New Mexico into a global leader for frontier technology innovation, making New Mexico the center of a vibrant network of venture studios across the U.S.," Louie told the council. " … We believe New Mexico should be a global leader in frontier tech because New Mexico is at the center of many of America's new scientific research discoveries."

Harold Lavender, a council member who leads its investment committee, said AFF and its hands-on leaders stood out.

"I believe it's entirely possible that several viable, investible and potentially very successful companies can emerge from this initiative every year," Lavender told the Journal. "Those are companies that will employ New Mexicans and that will stay here in the state."

Some of the high-profile backers of AFF include ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, former U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and other executives from federal agencies.

Police: Revenge prompted deadly New Mexico campus shooting - Associated Press

Court records show a plot to enact revenge for a fight during a football game last month resulted in a shootout between students from rival universities in New Mexico that left one person dead and a basketball player injured.

A pair of University of New Mexico students face charges of aggravated battery and conspiracy in connection with the plan to lure the New Mexico State University player to campus while he was in town for a game. A criminal complaint filed by state police details what led up to the early Saturday shooting on the Albuquerque campus.

The shooting happened hours before the scheduled tipoff of a basketball game between the rival schools, which was later postponed. University of New Mexico Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez said Tuesday that the game will not be rescheduled and that the matchup scheduled for Dec. 3 in Las Cruces has been canceled.

"As much as we love to see our men's basketball teams compete — the Lobos and Aggies — we felt at this time there needed to be a pause," he said during a news conference. "The event recently occurred. There's still a lot of anxiety and concerns in the community, and we want to make sure those take precedence."

UNM student Brandon Travis, 19, was shot to death near a dorm around 3 a.m. on Saturday. The NMSU player, 21-year-old Mike Peake, was shot in the leg during the altercation.

According to court documents, Travis and three fellow students plotted to get back at Peake for his role in a brawl that broke out in the stands during a football game between the two schools in Las Cruces in October. A video of that fight that has circulated on social media showed a number of people throwing punches.

The criminal complaint states that Peake left the team's hotel room early Saturday to meet with one of the students, a 17-year-old girl with whom he had been texting. A friend of Travis, the teen girl is facing charges in juvenile court.

Peake told an investigator he was talking with the girl outside a dorm when three people walked up behind them, including Travis, who pointed a gun to his face. Peake said one man then struck him with a bat.

According to the complaint, Peake said he pushed Travis and that Travis shot at him as he ran away. Peake told investigators that he pulled a gun out of his pocket and fired.

Peake has not been charged with a crime.

Jonathan Smith, 19, one of the students with Travis, told investigators that Peake fired at Travis as he was running away and that Travis fired back. Smith is facing charges of aggravated battery, conspiracy and tampering with evidence for throwing away his cell phone and clothing.

Eric Hannum, Smith's attorney, described his client as a young man with no criminal history who comes from a good family. He said Smith was devastated about the death of his friend and the shooting of Peake. The sophomore was scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday.

The shooting came six days after a former University of Virginia football player allegedly killed three Cavaliers football players and wounded two other students on the Charlottesville campus before being arrested.

The rivalry between New Mexico State and the University of New Mexico is heated and has seen consistent conflict throughout the years.

University officials said that cancelling the game in Albuquerque will likely cost UNM's athletic department nearly $500,000.

As for restoring the rivalry, Nuñez said it will take work as well as an understanding of what happened last weekend.

"Some of these (issues) are a lot more passionate and heated and we've gotten to the point where we really need to take a look and make sure we have everything we need," he said, referring to law enforcement resources. "But this is a bigger question. This is us sitting down together at the table — NMSU and UNM — and making sure it's going to be the same response at their venue as it is at ours."

New map shows damage status of 50+ acequias in the northern NM burn scar - Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico 

Many historic irrigation canals are still damaged in the 530-square-mile swath of charred land the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire after the acequias were scorched by the largest fire in state history, ensuing floods forced debris and silt into the waterways.

Acequias are vital for agriculture and ranching in the area. Getting them cleared and flowing smoothly again is crucial to bringing life back to the region.

Members of the New Mexico Acequia Association are marking headgates and walking each mile of the network, painstakingly creating field reports and a map of the 84 known irrigation channels in the burn scar.

After the acequias were scorched by the largest fire in state history, ensuing floods forced debris and silt into the waterways.

Acequias are vital for agriculture and ranching in the area. Getting them cleared and flowing smoothly again is crucial to bringing life back to the region.

Despite their importance, local acequias have had difficulty accessing state and federal funding. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recently began accepting applications from the agency’s Public Assistance Program. But that program is reserved for public entities, and acequias had to convince the agency that they qualified.

The acequias also have not gotten much help from the state, according to mayordomos and association leaders, saying state agencies have given them the runaround on simple service requests.

As of Nov. 15, out of 84 acequias the association identified and marked, 52 have now been assessed.

Damage was confirmed in 20 acequias and reported in another 16. Ten more are likely damaged. That leaves just six that are probably OK, or that have been confirmed to be unharmed.

And the condition of the rest is still unknown.

See an updated map of the acequias in the burn scar.

New Mexico residents raise environmental justice concerns - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

On the southern edge of New Mexico's largest city is a Hispanic neighborhood that used to be made up of a patchwork of family farms and quiet streets, but industrial development has closed in over the decades, bringing with it pollution.

Neighbors point to regular plumes of smoke and the smell of chemicals wafting through the neighborhood at night, saying contamination has disproportionately affected the area when compared with more affluent neighborhoods in the Albuquerque area.

Now residents have come up with a proposal as they fight for environmental justice, and members of the Mountain View Neighborhood Association, supporters of the nearby Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge and others gathered Monday afternoon to roll it out and to request that Albuquerque and Bernalillo County regulators hold a hearing to consider the measure.

Modeled after regulations in New Jersey and Minnesota, the proposal calls for the region's air quality board to consider a series of health, environmental and equity indicators before approving new permits. It also would establish a path for regular reviews to ensure compliance for businesses that are granted permits in already overburdened areas.

Eric Jantz, an attorney with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, said the fight has been going on for generations.

"This piece of regulation represents a critical shift, a fundamental shift in how environmental health is viewed in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County," he said, noting that pressure is growing in New Mexico and elsewhere for regulators to weigh human health as a determining factor for whether industry gets to do business in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Mountain View already is home to auto salvage yards and Albuquerque's sewage treatment plant. Residents also have been fighting plans for a new asphalt plant.

The issue of environmental justice has been resonating at the state and federal level as some politicians push for tighter regulations. President Joe Biden took office with an ambitious plan to help disadvantaged communities, but activists have been frustrated with the pace of progress.

In New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's administration has adopted tougher emissions standards for oil and gas development, and the state Environment Department just announced the creation of an environmental crimes task force.

The governor is fresh off a trip to Egypt for the United Nations' climate conference, where she touted her environmental policies. Still, some environmentalists say the Democratic-led Legislature needs to do more to protect communities that have been overrun by industrial development.

Jantz said the proposal introduced by Mountain View residents could make New Mexico's population center a hub for innovation as companies would be required to find creative ways to do business without harming public health or the environment.

The city of Albuquerque's Environmental Health Department said Tuesday in a statement that its air quality program is committed to environmental justice and that officials look forward to reviewing the measure and working with the community.

Mountain View resident Magdalena Avila has been collecting data about instances of known contamination in her neighborhood and elsewhere in Albuquerque's South Valley.

"There's a long, long history," she said. "And it's just essential that we develop community-based policy initiatives and this is what this is — it's coming up from the community in terms of what we need."

Gov. Lujan Grisham to hold inauguration on New Year's Day - Associated Press

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will kick off her second term with the new year.

A website launched by her administration devoted to inaugural festivities announced a governor's inaugural ball slated for Jan. 1.

The site includes a countdown clock until inauguration day.

Retired state Rep. Deborah Armstrong and Victor Reyes, the governor's legislative director, have also been announced as the ball's co-chairs.

Lujan Grisham won reelection earlier this month.

She defeated Republican Mark Ronchetti on pledges to safeguard access to abortion and sustain public spending on social safety-net programs.

New Mexico has alternated between Democratic and Republican governors since the early 1980s. An incumbent governor last lost reelection in 1994.

New Mexico's top finance official to retire - Associated Press

Deborah Romero, the head of New Mexico's Department of Finance and Administration, will retire in December, marking the end of a career in state government that has spanned nearly 50 years.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's office announced Romero's upcoming retirement on Tuesday.

Romero has worked for nine different gubernatorial administrations and participated in over 40 legislative sessions. As cabinet secretary, she played a key role in the drafting of state budgets and oversaw the distribution of $1.8 billion in federal funds that included millions of dollars for emergency rental assistance amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Romero also created the state's system for tracking capital outlay funds that are used for local projects.

"There is no question that her decades of work on matters of state finance have left an indelible and undeniably positive mark," Lujan Grisham said in a statement.

Romero said public service is a family tradition and that the last few years of her career have been the most exciting and rewarding.

"I am blessed to be part of an administration that has accomplished so much during a worldwide pandemic, extraordinary fires and flooding, and the challenges of rebuilding a stable and functioning government," she said. "I began as a student intern, and now, to finish as a cabinet secretary is a dream come true."

The governor's office said a national search will be conducted to find Romero's successor.

Bison's relocation to Native lands revives a spiritual bond - By Bobby Ross Jr. Associated Press

Ryan Mackey quietly sang a sacred Cherokee verse as he pulled a handful of tobacco out of a zip-close bag. Reaching over a barbed wire fence, he scattered the leaves onto the pasture where a growing herd of bison — popularly known as American buffalo — grazed in northeastern Oklahoma.

The offering represented a reverent act of thanksgiving, the 45-year-old explained, and a desire to forge a divine connection with the animals, his ancestors and the Creator.

"When tobacco is used in the right way, it's almost like a contract is made between you and the spirit — the spirit of our Creator, the spirit of these bison," Mackey said as a strong wind rumbled across the grassy field. "Everything, they say, has a spiritual aspect. Just like this wind, we can feel it in our hands, but we can't see it."

Decades after the last bison vanished from their tribal lands, the Cherokee Nation is part of a nationwide resurgence of Indigenous people seeking to reconnect with the humpbacked, shaggy-haired animals that occupy a crucial place in centuries-old tradition and belief.

Since 1992 the federally chartered InterTribal Buffalo Council has helped relocate surplus bison from locations such as Badlands National Park in South Dakota, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona to 82 member tribes in 20 states.

"Collectively those tribes manage over 20,000 buffalo on tribal lands," said Troy Heinert, a Rosebud Sioux Tribe member who serves as executive director of the InterTribal Buffalo Council, based in Rapid City, South Dakota. "Our goal and mission is to restore buffalo back to Indian country for that cultural and spiritual connection that Indigenous people have with the buffalo."

Centuries ago, an estimated 30 million to 60 million bison roamed the vast Great Plains of North America, from Canada to Texas. But by 1900, European settlers had driven the species to near extinction, hunting them en masse for their prized skins and often leaving the carcasses to rot on the prairie.

"It's important to recognize the history that Native people had with buffalo and how buffalo were nearly decimated. … Now with the resurgence of the buffalo, often led by Native nations, we're seeing that spiritual and cultural awakening as well that comes with it," said Heinert, who is a South Dakota state senator.

Historically, Indigenous people hunted and used every part of the bison: for food, clothing, shelter, tools and ceremonial purposes. They did not regard the bison as a mere commodity, however, but rather as beings closely linked to people.

"Many tribes viewed them as a relative," Heinert said. "You'll find that in the ceremonies and language and songs."

Rosalyn LaPier, an Indigenous writer and scholar who grew up on the Blackfeet Nation's reservation in Montana, said there are different mythological origin stories for bison among the various peoples of the Great Plains.

"Depending on what Indigenous group you're talking to, the bison originated in the supernatural realm and ended up on Earth for humans to use," said LaPier, an environmental historian and ethnobotanist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. "And there's usually some sort of story of how humans were taught to hunt bison and kill bison and harvest them."

Her Blackfeet tribe, for example, believes there are three realms: the sky world, the below world — that is, Earth — and the underwater world. Tribal lore, LaPier says, holds that the Blackfeet were vegetarians until an orphaned bison slipped out of the underwater world in human form and was taken in by two caring humans. As a result, the underwater bison's divine leader allowed more to come to Earth to be hunted and eaten.

In Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation, one of the largest Native American tribes with 437,000 registered members, had a few bison on its land in the 1970s. But they disappeared.

It wasn't until 40 years later that the tribe's contemporary herd was begun, when a large cattle trailer — driven by Heinert — arrived in fall 2014 with 38 bison from Badlands National Park. It was greeted by emotional songs and prayers from tribe's people.

"I can still remember the dew that was on the grass and the songs of the birds that were in the trees. ... I could feel the hope and the pride in the Cherokee people that day," Heinert said.

Since then, births and additional bison transplants from various locations have boosted the population to about 215. The herd roams a 500-acre (2-square kilometer) pasture in Bull Hollow, an unincorporated area of Delaware County about 70 miles (113 kilometers) northeast of Tulsa, near the small town of Kenwood.

For now, the Cherokee are not harvesting the animals, whose bulls can weigh up to 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms) and stand 6 feet tall (nearly 2 meters), as leaders focus on growing the herd. But bison, a lean protein, could serve in the future as a food source for Cherokee schools and nutrition centers, said Bryan Warner, the tribe's deputy principal chief.

"Our hope is really not just for food sovereignty's sake but to really reconnect our citizens back in a spiritual way," said Warner, a member of a United Methodist church.

That reconnection in turn leads to discussions about other fauna, he added, from rabbits and turtles to quail and doves.

"All these different animals — it puts you more in tune with nature," he said as bison sauntered through a nearby pond. "And then essentially it puts you more in tune with yourself, because we all come from the same dirt that these animals are formed from — from our Creator."

Originally from the southeastern United States, the Cherokee were forced to relocate to present-day Oklahoma in 1838 after gold was discovered in their ancestral lands. The 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometer) removal, known as the Trail of Tears, claimed nearly 4,000 lives through sickness and harsh travel conditions.

While bison are more associated with Great Plains tribes than those with roots on the East Coast, the newly arrived Cherokee had connections with a slightly smaller subspecies, according to Mackey. The animals on the tribe's lands today are not direct descendants, he explained, but close cousins with which the tribe is able to have a spiritual bond.

"We don't speak the same language as the bison," Mackey said. "But when you sit with them and spend time with them, relationships can be built on … other means than just language alone: sharing experiences, sharing that same space and just having a feeling of respect. Your body language changes when you have respect for someone or something."

Mackey grew up with Pentecostal roots on his father's side and Baptist on his mother's. He still occasionally attends church, but finds more meaning in Cherokee ceremonial practices.

"Even if (tribal members) are raised in church or in synagogue or wherever they choose to worship, their elders are Cherokee elders," he said. "And this idea of relationship and respect and guardianship — with the land, with the Earth, with all those things that reside on it — it's passed down. It still pervades our identity as Cherokee people."

That's why he believes the bison's return to Cherokee lands is so important.

"The bison aren't just meat," he said. "They represent abundance and health and strength."