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MON: Pulitzer Prize winner N. Scott Momaday has died at 89, + More

Kiowa writer N. Scott Momaday, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for his groundbreaking novel "House Made of Dawn," appears at his home in Santa Fe, N.M., on Nov. 13, 2019. Momaday died Jan. 24 at his home in Santa Fe, publisher HarperCollins announced. He had been in failing health.
Russell Contreras
Kiowa writer N. Scott Momaday, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for his groundbreaking novel "House Made of Dawn," appears at his home in Santa Fe, N.M., on Nov. 13, 2019. Momaday died Jan. 24 at his home in Santa Fe, publisher HarperCollins announced. He had been in failing health.

N. Scott Momaday, Pulitzer Prize winner and giant of Native American literature, dead at 89 - By Hillel Italie AP National Writer

N. Scott Momaday, a Pulitzer Prize-winning storyteller, poet, educator and folklorist whose debut novel "House Made of Dawn" is widely credited as the starting point for contemporary Native American literature, has died. He was 89.

Momaday died Wednesday at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, publisher HarperCollins announced. He had been in failing health.

"Scott was an extraordinary person and an extraordinary poet and writer. He was a singular voice in American literature, and it was an honor and a privilege to work with him," Momaday's editor, Jennifer Civiletto, said in a statement. "His Kiowa heritage was deeply meaningful to him and he devoted much of his life to celebrating and preserving Native American culture, especially the oral tradition."

"House Made of Dawn," published in 1968, tells of a World War II soldier who returns home and struggles to fit back in, a story as old as war itself: In this case, home is a Native community in rural New Mexico. Much of the book was based on Momaday's childhood in Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico, and on his conflicts between the ways of his ancestors and the risks and possibilities of the outside world.

"I grew up in both worlds and straddle those worlds even now," Momaday said in a 2019 PBS documentary. "It has made for confusion and a richness in my life."

Despite such works as John Joseph Mathews' 1934 release "Sundown," novels by American Indians weren't widely recognized at the time of "House Made of Dawn." A New York Times reviewer, Marshall Sprague, even contended in an otherwise favorable review that "American Indians do not write novels and poetry as a rule, or teach English in top-ranking universities, either. But we cannot be patronizing. N. Scott Momaday's book is superb in its own right."

Like Joseph Heller's "Catch-22," Momaday's novel was a World War II story that resonated with a generation protesting the Vietnam War. In 1969, Momaday became the first Native American to win the fiction Pulitzer, and his novel helped launch a generation of authors, including Leslie Marmon Silko, James Welch and Louise Erdrich. His other admirers would range from the poet Joy Harjo, the country's first Native to be named poet laureate, to the film stars Robert Redford and Jeff Bridges.

"He was a kind of literary father for a lot of us," Harjo told The Associated Press during a telephone interview Monday. "He showed how potent and powerful language and words were in shaping our very existence."

Over the following decades, he taught at Stanford, Princeton and Columbia universities, among other top-ranking schools, was a commentator for NPR, and lectured worldwide. He published more than a dozen books, from "Angle of Geese and Other Poems" to the novels "The Way to Rainy Mountain" and "The Ancient Child," and became a leading advocate for the beauty and vitality of traditional Native life.

Addressing a gathering of American Indian scholars in 1970, Momaday said, "Our very existence consists in our imagination of ourselves." He championed Natives' reverence for nature, writing that "the American Indian has a unique investment in the American landscape." He shared stories told to him by his parents and grandparents. He regarded oral culture as the wellspring of language and storytelling, and dated American culture back not to the early English settlers, but to ancient times, noting the procession of gods depicted in the rock art at Utah's Barrier Canyon.

"We do not know what they mean, but we know we are involved in their meaning," he wrote in the essay "The Native Voice in American Literature."

"They persist through time in the imagination, and we cannot doubt that they are invested with the very essence of language, the language of story and myth and primal song. They are 2,000 years old, more or less, and they remark as closely as anything can the origin of American literature."

In 2007, President George W. Bush presented Momaday with a National Medal of Arts "for his writings and his work that celebrate and preserve Native American art and oral tradition." Besides his Pulitzer, his honors included an Academy of American Poets prize and, in 2019, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

Momaday was married three times, most recently to Barbara Glenn, who died in 2008. He had four daughters, one of whom, Cael, died in 2017.

He was born Navarre Scott Mammedaty, in Lawton, Oklahoma, and was a member of the Kiowa Tribe. His mother was a writer, and his father an artist who once told his son, "I have never known an Indian child who couldn't draw," a talent Momaday demonstrably shared. His artwork, from charcoal sketches to oil paintings, were included in his books and exhibited in museums in Arizona, New Mexico and North Dakota. Audio guides to tours of the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of the American Indian featured Momaday's avuncular baritone.

After spending his teens in New Mexico, he studied political science at the University of Mexico and received a master's and Ph.D. in English from Stanford. Momaday began as a poet, his favorite art form, and the publication of "House Made of Dawn" was an unintentional result of his early reputation. Editor Fran McCullough, of what is now HarperCollins, had met Momaday at Stanford and several years later contacted him and asked whether he would like to submit a book of poems.

Momaday did not have enough for a book, and instead gave her the first chapter of "House Made of Dawn."

Much of his writing was set in the American West and Southwest, whether tributes to bears — the animals he most identified with — or a cycle of poems about the life of Billy the Kid, a childhood obsession. He saw writing as a way of bridging the present with the ancient past and summed up his quest in the poem "If I Could Ascend":

Something like a leaf lies here within me; / it wavers almost not at all, / and there is no light to see it by / that it withers upon a black field. / If it could ascend the thousand years into my mouth, / I would make a word of it at last, / and I would speak it into the silence of the sun.

In 2019, he was the subject of a PBS "American Masters" documentary in which he discussed his belief he was a reincarnation of a bear connected to the Native American origin story around Devils Tower in Wyoming. He told The Associated Press in a rare interview that the documentary allowed him to reflect on his life, saying he was humbled that writers continued to say his work has influenced them.

"I'm greatly appreciative of that, but it comes a little bit of a surprise every time I hear it," Momaday said. "I think I have been an influence. It's not something I take a lot of credit for."


Former Associated Press writer Russell Contreras contributed to this report from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Governor’s push for state housing office on hold for now - By Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico

Legislation enacting one of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s biggest priorities to address the ongoing housing shortage in New Mexico was pulled before being heard by a Senate committee Friday afternoon because the sponsor said it might not have enough support to survive.

The governor announced the plan for a statewide “Office of Housing” at the beginning of the 30-day legislative session during the State of the State speech. The office would try to coordinate an array of housing programs across state agencies and collect the data necessary to fully understand the depth of the state’s housing affordability crisis, among other things.

Sen. Michael Padilla (D-Albuquerque) told Source New Mexico on Sunday he wasn’t “100% confident” that Senate Bill 71 had enough support in the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee. The legislation was scheduled for the Friday afternoon meeting, but, sensing he didn’t have the support he needed, Padilla said he pulled the bill before it could be heard.

Padilla, the Senate majority whip, is unsure if the bill could go before the committee this week, but said it is possible. As of Sunday, it was not on the Senate committee schedule..

In a short session, Padilla said couldn’t predict whether the legislation would be heard at all. The bill is also assigned to the Senate Finance Committee, and it has to make its way through the House, as well.

Padilla also didn’t have a clear sense of why some committee members might not be in favor of the bill, he said.

“We’re burning daylight now, but it just depends on where the support is,” he said.

A new Office of Housing would be attached to the state Department of Finance and Administration. It would require $1 million in start-up costs, including the hiring of five full-time employees, and between $375,000 and $750,000 a year onward for salaries and contracts, according to a Legislative Finance Committee analysis.

The purpose of the new office would be to work with local governments and private developers to fill funding and technical needs for new housing projects, plus work with the state Mortgage Finance Authority to coordinate projects. It would also be required to develop an annual statewide housing plan.

MFA officials and the New Mexico State Auditor’s office told legislative analysts that they were concerned a new housing office would duplicate their efforts and even pose legal conflicts. For example, the MFA’s housing trust fund has 120 employees that oversee more than 40 local programs and hundreds of partnerships with private companies. In the 2023 fiscal year, it oversaw spending of nearly $600 million for affordable housing programs.

“Creating a duplicative agency may decrease administrative efficiency of resource deployment and convolute the high level of coordination among housing stakeholders that currently exists,” MFA officials told analysts.

The New Mexico State Auditor’s Office told analysts that the proposed law does not make clear which entity would take precedence if, for example, the Office of Housing sought to build affordable housing with a developer the MFA deemed too risky to loan to.

But officials with Lujan Grisham’s office and Padilla said the new housing office is necessary amid an estimated affordable housing shortage of at least 32,000 units. Nearly all states have a dedicated housing agency, officials said.

And the initiative would support existing programs as a “sister agency,” according to a handout released to the press on Jan. 26 distributed by the governor’s office detailing her proposed reforms this session.

“The Office of Housing does not eradicate or duplicate the existing, primarily project-by-project approach to housing affordability,” according to the handout.

During the 2023 legislative session, Lujan Grisham’s office pushed for legislation that would have created a statewide “Department of Housing,” which would take over the housing trust fund currently overseen by the Mortgage Finance Authority. That bill failed to pass the Legislature. The legislation this year keeps the fund in the MFA’s control.

In addition to the housing office, Lujan Grisham is asking lawmakers to spend $500 million toward creating housing and making it more affordable.

That means a $250 million appropriation to the housing trust fund, plus another $250 million into the Opportunity Enterprise Revolving Fund, which would help local governments and businesses pay for housing infrastructure and housing aimed for those who can’t afford it but also earn too much income to qualify for state or federal housing subsidies.

Oil and gas gave big to New Mexico lawmakers in 2023 - Marjorie Childress, New Mexico In-Depth

This story was first published by New Mexico In Depth. It is republished here with permission.

Large oil and gas companies gave nearly $800,000 in the past 12 months to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, partisan legislative political action committees and individual state lawmakers, according to a partial review of campaign finance reports filed by lobbyists.

That amount almost certainly will grow in coming months due to a quirk in New Mexico’s disclosure laws. Elected officials don’t have to report contributions they received in the last quarter of last year until this spring.

The amount of money the industry showers on elected officials offers a glimpse into the influence it has at the state capitol during legislative sessions.

The industry’s ability to shape legislation was on full display Thursday when a House committee substantively stripped a bill of new regulations that would have required oil and gas infrastructure to be set back more than a third of a mile from schools, health facilities, multifamily housing, occupied homes, and at least 300 feet from waterways.

The political giving reflects the industry’s outsized dominance in a state that ranks second in oil production nationally and where more than 40% of funding for New Mexico’s state budget can be tied directly to the industry.The money spread around to New Mexico’s elected officials has been well-documented, as has its power. A March 2020 report by Common Cause New Mexico and New Mexico Ethics Watch detailed the largess over the years 2017-2019, with almost $12 million funneled into political campaign coffers, and more than a million more was given by October of that year.

New Mexico In Depth also has documented the political spending and the push and pull over regulation through the years. In 2019, the first year Lujan Grisham took over as governor from Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, there was a push by environmentalists to implement greater regulations for the oil and gas industry, but in the end, the oil and gas industry had little to fear.

The industry far exceeds other industries in its political giving, and has for many years. During the 2022 election, New Mexico In Depth reported on a new round of giving, pointing out the donations in particular of the biggest player, Chevron Corporation.

Chevron continued its pattern of big spending in 2023, as did other large oil and gas companies, a review of lobbyist reports filed with the Secretary of State’s office shows. Lobbyists are required to file reports in May, October and January.

Patrick Killen, a lobbyist for Chevron USA, contributed $479,000 on behalf of the company to Lujan Grisham, several legislative political action committees and individual state lawmakers, according to May and October campaign finance reports.

Randi Valverde, a lobbyist for Marathon Oil and Permian Resources, donated $122,500 in the last quarter of 2023 to a mix of state lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans. Matthew Jaramillo, a lobbyist for Exxon Mobil, gave lawmakers $93,000. Gabrielle Gerholt, a registered lobbyist reporting just one employer – ConocoPhillips – gave contributions in 2023 totaling $90,000.

$1 million in state solar tax credits left - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News

There’s just three months left before New Mexicans can no longer claim tax credits offered by New Mexico for the purchase and installation of solar energy systems for the 2023 tax year – though, they are almost gone.

As the Albuquerque Journal reports, taxpayers can qualify for up to to 10% credit of equipment, materials and labor costs of a solar energy system installed at a business, agricultural enterprise or residence under the Solar Market Development Tax Credit.

As of Thursday, the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department had approved nearly $11 million worth of solar credits so far. The state set aside $12 million for the current tax year. That means once that limit has been reached, the applications will close.

The online solar credit application can be found on EMNRD’s website: emnrd.nm.gov.

The deadline to file state income taxes is April 18. Individual income tax returns are due to be submitted to the federal government by April 15th.

The tax credits cannot exceed $6,000.

Air quality board can get back to work for now - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News

A state district judge Thursday cleared the way for the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Air Quality Control Board to continue its work pending the outcome of a lawsuit.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Judge Fancis Mathew granted the board’s request for a preliminary injunction following the Albuquerque City Council’s decision last month to remove the board’s city-appointed members and keep it from meeting until February.

The board sued the city, alleging the council’s actions violated state law. The injunction will be in place until Judge Mathew can rule on the merits of the lawsuit. The judge said after his ruling that “the board is likely to prevail, ultimately.”

Attorney for the board Antoinette Sedillo Lopez said it will now get back to work until that final ruling.

A spokesperson for Mayor Tim Keller’s Office said the judge’s ruling is promising but the “saga is not over.”

The City Council’s actions, led by now-City Council President Dan Lewis, had blocked it from hearing a rule on environmental health equity meant to protect communities that bear the brunt of industrial pollution. Critics said it could hurt business.

Future hearings in the case are not yet scheduled.

Biden offers fresh assurances he would shut down border 'right now' if Congress sends him a deal - By Zeke Miller, Colleen Long and Meg Kinnard Associated Press

Bidding to salvage a border deal in Congress that also would unlock money for Ukraine, President Joe Biden offered fresh assurances Saturday night that he would be willing to close the U.S.-Mexico border if lawmakers would only send him a bill to sign.

Biden — also eager to disarm GOP criticism of his handling of migration at the border — said at a political event in South Carolina that he would shut down the border '"right now" if Congress passed the proposed deal. The framework hasn't been formally agreed to by Senate Democrats and Republicans and would face an uncertain future in the GOP-controlled House.

"A bipartisan bill would be good for America and help fix our broken immigration system and allow speedy access for those who deserve to be here, and Congress needs to get it done," Biden said. "It'll also give me as president, the emergency authority to shut down the border until it could get back under control. If that bill were the law today, I'd shut down the border right now and fix it quickly."

The deal being negotiated in Congress would require the U.S. to shutter the border if roughly 5,000 migrants cross illegally on any given day. Some one-day totals last year exceeded 10,000.

Former President Donald Trump has been pressuring Republicans for weeks to kill the negotiations. He's loathe to give a win to Biden on an issue that animated the Republican’s successful 2016 campaign and that he wants to use as he seeks to return to the White House. Negotiators had appeared to be closing in on a deal, but it started to fray after Trump's admonitions to conservative lawmakers grew stronger.

In a written statement on Friday evening, Biden said the deal would allow him "a new emergency authority" to close the border. He added: "And if given that authority, I would use it the day I sign the bill into law."

It was a stark claim from a Democratic president that was met with astonishment and shock from immigrant advocates who have said his policies do not reflect the progressive approach they had expected.

"Voters want to see our elected leaders do the hard work to fix our frayed immigration system," said Deirdre Schifeling, chief political and advocacy officer at the American Civil Liberties Union. "President Biden and Congress must abandon these proposals and heed voters' demands for fair and effective immigration policies that manage the border and treat people seeking safety with dignity."

But Biden is struggling across multiple fronts, dealing with an influx of asylum seekers even as he cracks down on those who cross into the U.S. illegally. Democrats are increasingly frustrated because asylum seekers are streaming into cities that lack the resources to care for them.

In a letter Saturday responding to Biden's comments, House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., insisted that Biden doesn't need congressional action to close the border and called on him to "take executive action immediately to reverse the catastrophe he has created."

Immigration remains a major concern for voters in the 2024 election. An AP-NORC poll earlier this month found that those voicing concerns about immigration climbed to 35% from 27% last year. Most Republicans, 55%, say the government needs to focus on immigration in 2024, while 22% of Democrats listed immigration as a priority. That's up from 45% and 14%, respectively, in December 2022.

Arrests for illegal border crossings from Mexico reached an all-time high in December since monthly numbers have been released.

The Border Patrol tallied 249,785 arrests on the Mexican border in December, up 31% from 191,112 in November and up 13% from 222,018 in December 2022, the previous all-time high.

Mexicans accounted for 56,236 arrests in December, while Venezuelans were second with 46,937, erasing much of the decline that followed the start of deportation flights to Venezuela in October. Arrests of Guatemalans surged, with Hondurans and Colombians rounding out the top five nationalities.