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Tribal leaders tackle health care, education

SANTA FE – The annual Tribal Leadership Summit in New Mexico this week is focusing on the pandemic and post-pandemic recovery, state and local leaders said.

Indian Affairs Secretary Lynn Trujillo

“This pandemic has separated us, in many ways, physically from each other. From our families. From our communities. From our traditions and gatherings. But despite this physical separation, we’re closer than ever,” said Indian Affairs Secretary Lynn Trujillo.

The weeklong summit is a chance for tribal leaders to catch up with one another and get direct access to state executive officials ahead of the annual legislative session in January. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is also considering convening another special session in the coming weeks.

The pandemic has hit tribal areas particularly hard, leading to disproportionately high infections and deaths.

Even in areas that have avoided the brunt of the virus, including Acoma Pueblo, education and health care have suffered as schools and hospitals are pivoting to online services.

Acoma Pueblo Gov. Brian Vallo

“Over the past year, the Pueblo of Acoma has partnered with the state, the National Guard, and several agencies including the Indian Affairs Department to deliver food, water, and supplies to Acoma residents,” said Acoma Pueblo Gov. Brian Vallo, praising the work of Lujan Grisham.

“And while we were able to keep the number of cases relatively low during the initial term of the pandemic, we are experiencing a surge, and are very concerned about the forecasted increases in cases during the winter months,” he said.

The pueblo is facing potential cutbacks in health care services provided by the Indian Health Service.

Last week, the school programs of the only two Acoma children that had been allowed to attend school in person were halted, citing virus spread concerns.

All tribes are struggling with their students’ online learning, especially in rural areas with poor or nonexistent internet service.

“My hopes at a time the pandemic hit us (were) dependent on the districts, or the schools, (that they) could at least get themselves prepared,” said San Felipe Pueblo Gov. Anthony Ortiz. “It’s not what I was hoping for.”

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