TUES: CYFD Secretary pledges support for tribal adoptions law, NMSU anti-vax prof fired, + More

Oct 12, 2021

New Mexico pledges support for tribal adoptions in state law – Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press

In her first prepared speech Tuesday the new leader of New Mexico’s child protection department pledges to restore the agency’s credibility following a series of scandals under her predecessor.

New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department secretary Barbara J. Vigil also promised to enshrine federal law prioritizing tribal members in adoptions of Native American children into the practices of her department and state law.

In an online speech to some 300 Native American child welfare advocates, the former state supreme court justice reiterated her promise to increase transparency and accountability at the agency, which handles child abuse and neglect cases, as well as foster care and adoptions.

“We must restore the credibility of CYFD,” Vigil told the audience of Native American leaders and child welfare caseworkers. She replaced former secretary Brian Blalock in August.

Blalock oversaw the department’s switch to an encrypted app that drew controversy over institutionalized use of a feature to erase messages, including those that may have been subject to record retention laws. Last month, the Legislature accused him of misleading them earlier this year with data that downplayed the severity of child mistreatment.

Vigil says New Mexico should enshrine the federal Indian Child Welfare Act into state law.

The act prioritizes tribal members in tribal adoption cases. Supporters say it honors federal treaties with tribes and prevents cultural extinction. Opponents suing on behalf of white adoptive parents say the law is racist. Supporters and opponents of the law have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the law.

New Mexico professor against vax, mask mandates fired - Las Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

A New Mexico State University professor who publicly opposed campus vaccine and mask mandates will no longer be teaching there.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports David Clements, a business college professor, posted on his social media account on the Telegram platform that he had been "terminated."

The university confirmed Monday that Clements was "no longer employed by NMSU." 

The professor, who was on track for tenure, had been suspended since August over public declarations that he would not abide by any COVID-19 vaccine or mask mandate. He also said the would urge others to do the same. 

During a meeting among administrators last week, Provost Carol Parker recommended that Clements be fired for endangering the public's safety and disrupting a learning environment. Parker said his refusal was essentially a breach of contract.

Clements argued masking and vaccine policies were illegal. He also disputed scientific opinion on the benefits of the vaccine and wearing masks.

The former New Mexico deputy district attorney's advocacy had drawn complaints from students.

While suspended, Clements also stirred controversy traveling to advocate for audits of the 2020 presidential election.

An online fundraiser for him has raised more than $280,000 so far.

Indigenous Peoples Day marked with celebrations, protests - By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press

Indigenous people across the United States marked Monday with celebrations of their heritage, education campaigns and a push for the Biden administration to make good on its word.

The federal holiday created decades ago to recognize Christopher Columbus' sighting in 1492 of what came to be known as the Americas increasingly has been rebranded as Indigenous Peoples Day.

For Michaela Pavlat, cultural interpreter at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, the day is one of celebration, reflection and recognition that Indigenous communities are fighting for land rights, for the U.S. government to uphold treaties, and for visibility and understanding.

"As long as you're on Native land and stolen land, it's Indigenous Peoples Day," said Pavlat, who is Sault Ste. Marie Band of Chippewa Indians (Anishinaabe). "We have a lot of movement and a lot of issues we're facing in our communities, and you can have that conversation every day."

EVENTS THIS YEAR

More than a dozen protesters linked arms and sat along the White House fence line Monday to call on the Biden administration to do more to combat climate change and ban fossil fuels. Others cheered and chanted in support from across the street as police blocked off the area with yellow tape and arrested the seated protesters.

The Andrew Jackson statue at the center of Lafayette Park was defaced with the words "Expect Us" — part of a rallying cry used by Indigenous people who have been fighting against fossil fuel pipelines. Jackson, a slave-owning president, forced Cherokees and many other Native Americans on deadly marches out of their southern homelands. 

"Indigenous people have been on the front lines of protecting the land, the people, and it's time for the government and these huge systems to do more," said Angel Charley, of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, who was among the protesters.

Indigenous groups also planned protests in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

At the Boston Marathon, race organizers honored 1936 and '39 winner Ellison "Tarzan" Brown and three-time runner-up Patti Catalano Dillon, a member of the Mi'kmaq tribe. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo, said she ran for missing and slain Indigenous people and their families, the victims of the boarding school era and the "promise that our voices are being heard and will have a part in an equitable and just future in this new era."

Others gathered for prayers, dances and other commemorations in cities across the U.S. 

On social media, people posted educational resources that included maps of Indigenous land, ways to support Indigenous communities, and recommendations for television shows and films that prominently feature Indigenous people, like "Reservation Dogs."

WHAT'S NEW?

President Joe Biden last week issued the first presidential proclamation of Indigenous Peoples Day, the most significant boost yet to efforts to refocus Columbus Day in recognition of the Italian explorer's brutal treatment of people who already occupied what came to be known as the Americas. 

About 20 states observe Indigenous Peoples Day by law, through proclamation or other action, along with cities and universities across the country. 

Oregon recognized Indigenous Peoples Day on Monday, months after its Legislature overwhelmingly approved a bill in support of the change from Columbus Day. 

In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers joined the leaders from tribes in the state and issued a formal apology for Wisconsin's role in Native American boarding schools era.

NOT JUST A CELEBRATION

The Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian on Monday hosted a virtual conversation about mixed Black and Indigenous identity and how the struggles of one side sometimes get overshadowed by the other. 

Joy SpearChief-Morris pointed to the Civil Rights movement and the Red Power movement, which included the Native American occupation of Alcatraz Island off the coast of San Francisco more than 50 years ago.

"Both groups supported each other, but we don't really talk about the Red Power movement," said SpearChief-Morris, who is African American and Kainai Nation (Blood Tribe) from Canada. 

The panelists noted that Afro-Indigenous identity goes back generations.

"Everything that we do is to bring about Black liberation and Indigenous sovereignty on this land and to dismantle white supremacy and settler colonialism," said Amber Starks, who is African American and a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. "And I'd like to add racial capitalism"

Kyle Mays, an assistant professor at the University of California-Los Angeles who is Black and Saginaw Anishinaabe, acknowledged the work isn't easy. 

While Indigenous Peoples Day is "cool," he said, "I don't want a day for celebration. I want justice."

___ Associated Press writers Zeke Miller in Washington, Jimmy Golen in Washington and Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin, contributed to this story. Fonseca is a member of the AP's Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/FonsecaAP 

New Mexico governor settles harassment claim for $150K - Associated Press

The final price tag for a settlement reached by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and a former campaign spokesman to settle accusations of harassment is now $150,000. 

The latest round of payments were disclosed in a mandatory campaign finance report that the Democrat's campaign filed Monday. The twice-annual report on spending and contributions shows the incumbent has raised $2.5 million since April for her reelection bid as several Republicans are vying to take back the office.

GOP state Rep. Rebecca Dow raised more than $440,500 since announcing her candidacy in early July. Her campaign said she has received contributions from more than 1,300 donors.

In the settlement involving Lujan Grisham, former campaign staffer James Hallinan had accused Lujan Grisham of dropping water on his crotch and then grabbing his crotch in the midst of a campaign staff meeting prior to the election — accusations that the governor denies. 

Lujan Grisham said earlier this year that she decided to resolve the matter because she wanted to focus her attention on the pandemic. At the time, the governor said there hadn't been any other financial settlements and nondisclosure agreements of a similar nature.

Lujan Grisham's political committee paid an additional $87,500 over the past six months to an attorney for Hallinan, who now runs a public relations and political consulting firm. The political committee reported in an April campaign spending report that it had paid $62,500 as part of the settlement.

Campaign spokeswoman Kendall Witmer said in a statement that the claims were without merit and that the settlement was reached in 2020 "due to the expense of litigating business disputes and to prevent any distraction during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic."

The settlement has drawn criticism from Republicans and is being used as campaign fodder by rivals in the gubernatorial race. Republicans on Monday accused the governor of misleading New Mexicans by "'disguising"' the settlement payments on the campaign finance reports as legal expenses, saying voters deserve a governor who insists on transparency.

The governor also h as been criticized for her handling of the pandemic. Lujan Grisham's campaign defended her record and also pointed to efforts to diversify the state's economy and spend more on education.

Witmer said the campaign isn't taking anything for granted and that it's in the strongest possible position heading into 2022. 

Bernalillo County building closed after damage from gunfire - Associated Press

The downtown Albuquerque headquarters of Bernalillo County is closed after someone fired shots at the property.

Bernalillo County officials say some upper atrium windows sustained damage from gunshots that came from the outside.

Nobody was injured.

Officials say the 800 employees who work out of the property will work remotely for the time being.

Albuquerque police are investigating.

No suspects have been identified. 

The $68 million offices, dubbed Bernalillo County @ Alvarado Square, opened only two months ago. 

Navajo Nation: No COVID-19 deaths for 8th time in 12 days - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation on Monday reported 11 more COVID-19 cases, but no additional deaths for the eighth time in the past 12 days.

Tribal health officials had reported 55 news cases and two deaths on Sunday.

The latest numbers pushed the tribe's totals to 34,458 confirmed COVID-19 cases from the virus since the pandemic began more than a year ago.

The known death toll is at 1,456.

Based on cases from Sept. 24 to Oct. 7, the Navajo Department of Health issued an advisory for 33 communities due to uncontrolled spread of COVID-19.

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

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

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

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