ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A 20-year-old city panel that has been dormant for the past two years was reconstituted Monday when Mayor Richard Berry introduced five new members of the city’s Commission on Indian Affairs.
Although first established as a city commission in 1997, it hasn’t been active since 2014, Berry told about 15 people at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
But a recommendation by the Native American Homelessness Task Force – an ad hoc 18-member group formed by city and tribal leaders in the wake of the July 19, 2014, murders of two homeless Navajo men by a trio of teenagers – has led to a reactivation of the commission, Berry said.
“That rocked our community and it really … pointed to the need to do more” to address the needs of homeless Native Americans living in the city, Berry said.
That summer night, Allison Gorman, 44, of Shiprock, and Kee Thompson, 46, from Church Rock, had been drinking in a vacant field near 60th Street and west Central Avenue when three young Hispanic men beat them to death using bricks, cinder blocks and a metal fence post. All three of the assailants, aged 15, 16 and 18 at the time, were arrested and handed sentences ranging from 20 to 67½ years.
The gruesome homicides triggered a protest march and caused then-Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly to meet with Berry to discuss strategies for helping the city’s homeless population, particularly homeless Native Americans. The formation of the Native American Homelessness Task Force was an outgrowth of that meeting.
“We have important work to do, and we’re going to make sure this reconstituted commission gets that work done,” Berry said Monday, noting that the city is home to more than 50,000 urban Native Americans.
Appointed to the commission for four-year terms are:
⋄ Attorney Ronald Solimon, a specialist in community and economic development at his home pueblo of Laguna as well as the city of Albuquerque. Solimon will chair the commission.
⋄ William F. Riding In, homeless outreach coordinator for First Nations Community Healthsource.
⋄ Laurie Weahkee, executive director of the Native American Voters Alliance and the alliances’ education project. Weahkee also serves on the New Mexico State Advisory Commission for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
⋄ Michael Canfield, president and CEO of the All Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
⋄ Lloyd Lee, Ph.D., associate professor of Native American Studies at the University of New Mexico, and president of the Board for the American Indian Studies Association.
“Let me express our appreciation for this opportunity … for being asked to serve in these positions,” Solimon said.
He said the commission is meeting with city departments to “become better acquainted with how services are provided to the Native American community here in the city.”