ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
The Navajo Nation will ask the FBI to investigate the slaying of two Navajo men in Albuquerque to determine whether they were racially motivated and will work with the city to help address the problems of homeless Native Americans in Albuquerque.
President Ben Shelly made the comment about seeking an FBI investigation before a lunch gathering of about 75 people Thursday at the Albuquerque Indian Center.
Thursday morning, Shelly and representatives of the Navajo Social Services Department, the Human Rights Commission, Behavioral Health Services and law enforcement met with Mayor Richard J. Berry and Albuquerque city counterparts in a closed-door meeting prompted by the killing of Allison Gorman, 44, of Shiprock and Kee Thompson, 45 or 46, of Church Rock.
Three teens have been arrested and accused of beating the men to death with a cinder block and a pipe in a field near 60th Street and Central Avenue last weekend.
“We talked about how we can prevent this from happening again by working together, and the mayor and I agreed to create a task force,” Shelly said. Berry, he said, was expected to travel to Window Rock, the Navajo capital, soon for further discussions.
Berry told the Journal on Thursday afternoon that all attending the meeting “shared their sadness and anger” over the killings, and that he wanted the tribal representatives to convey his condolences to the families of the victims.
“We have a common goal to understand that being homeless is a perilous thing,” and particularly so for Native Americans, Berry said.
The Navajo Nation is also working with border towns, particularly Farmington, Gallup and Flagstaff, to address the problems of Native American homelessness and assaults on Native people, he said.
Shelly said he and Berry support the efforts of state Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, to reintroduce legislation that would add the homeless to the existing categories of people protected from so-called hate crimes.
Data compiled by Berry’s administration in 2012 show that the chronically and most medically vulnerable homeless remain homeless on average for 7.5 years, while urban Native American homeless are homeless for 9.5 years; the chronically homeless are hospitalized 1.6 times annually, on average, while urban Native American homeless are hospitalized 2.2 times annually; and 65 percent of the chronically homeless reported being attacked, while 71 percent of urban Native American homeless reported attacks.
“They struggle more than the homeless population as a whole,” Berry said, and consequently his “call to action” is to affect a “collective impact to address the need in our community.” He also said he will invite the pueblos “to enter into the dialogue.”
Berry pointed to the Albuquerque Heading Home program, which has helped break the cycle of chronic homelessness by providing housing and support services for more than 350 people. That program, he said, could be a model for a similar program for homeless urban Native Americans.
Speaking to the gathering at the Albuquerque Indian Center, Shelly acknowledged the role that alcohol plays in Native American homelessness. The Navajo reservation does not allow the sale of alcohol, he said, “but the border towns are wide-open, and when our people come to the city they also have easier access to alcohol.”
Native Americans generally do not come to Albuquerque to drink. Rather, they come here looking for work, he said. “They keep trying and when they can’t get a job, they get depressed, lose hope, and cope by using alcohol and trying to forget their problems.”
Shelly admonished the children present to “stay in school and get an education,” and he related something of his own past – growing up with alcoholic parents who moved to different cities around the country looking for work, sleeping in arroyos, eating pigeons, combing through garbage cans and putting cardboard in his shoes to cover holes in the soles.
“If I survived it; I know you can,” he told the children. “Stay in school, no matter how hard it is.”