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‘Albuquerque Natives Have Nation’s Worst Healthcare’: Indian Center Gets Reprieve

When concerned community members heard the Albuquerque Indian Center was to close April 1 due to loss of funding, they jumped into action.

Even before The Albuquerque Journal reported that the Albuquerque Indian Center was slotted to close on April 1 due to loss of both city and state funding, concerned community members started pulling together to raise money and save the center. For the past 14 years AIC has been a linchpin in the city's safety net providing daily hot meals, support groups, and other essential services to more than a thousand impoverished Indians every week.

When Grammy-Award nominee and former Miss Navajo Radmilla Cody got wind of the proposed closure, her organization For the People called upon performers to play a benefit concert. The result was K'é Hasin - A Gathering of Kinship for the Albuquerque Indian Center, which was held on March 25 at the South Broadway Cultural Center in partnership with the UNM LGBTQ Resource Center and The Red Nation.

Dinah Vargas

Navajo flautist Andrew Thomas and daughter.

The concert was preceded by a potluck dinner to welcome American Indian Movement founder Dennis Banks in connection with his Long March 5. Midway through the lineup that included some very intense remarks about domestic violence by Banks, and performances by artists as various as Navajo flautist Andrew Thomas, rappers Katrina & LETSJUSB, Cody herself singing traditional Navajo ballads, and the bluesy rock of the Levi Platero Band, an important announcement was made concerning the status of the center.

Executive Director Mary Garcia mounted the stage with three of AIC's board members to tell the hundred or so supporters gathered in the audience that an anonymous donor had come forth with sufficient funds to keep AIC open through the end of June. “By then,” she said, ”we expect the Navajo Nation and the New Mexico Bureau of Indian Affairs to come through with a long-term funding solution.”

Before playing some heartfelt originals as well as covers like Boney M.'s “By the Rivers of Babylon,” the 1974 Redbone hit “Come and Get Your Love,” and Bob Dylan's “All Along the Watchtower,” guitarist Levi Platero expressed relief that money had been found to extend the life of the center. From the stage he told the audience about his own family members who rely on AIC for services such as AA meetings and a post office address. “My aunt goes there often. It's one of the few places we can count on to get in touch with her.”

Alma Rosa Silve-Banuelas of UNM's LGBTQ Resource Center was thrilled at the news and told the crowd that “this is the world I want to be living in.” After the concert Silve-Banuelas explained her group's motivation. “Our relatives are struggling on the streets and are homeless. Some of them aren't accepted by their families. I've seen the devastation of living without love and support of family.”

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The Red Nation provided the following comment to ICTMN about the reprieve:

“While charity is a short-term solution we want a system where these services are guaranteed. They are indigenous rights. Native people in Albuquerque have the worst healthcare of any population in the nation. Albuquerque is an indigenous city; it's indigenous land. To endure such neglect and violence in our homelands is a disgrace; and it's a crisis. We stand with the Albuquerque Indian Center to continue to fight for the indigenous people of Albuquerque.”

Cody told ICT that this concert was the third community fundraiser that she was aware of. “It's been a month in the planning; as soon as the word was put out all the partners jumped on board. I am very pleased at how everyone has come together in kinship and hope.” She said the spirit of the concert could best be expressed in this quote from For the People:

When one of us falls, we all fall. When one of us hurts, we all feel the pain. When one of us rises, we all rise together as relatives.

The lyrical words had special resonance after hearing Banks tell the intergenerational crowd the shocking and grisly details surrounding his granddaughter Rose Downwind's murder.

“My granddaughter was strangled to death. She'd been missing and everyone was looking for her. She was being held in the basement of her former boyfriend's house. The police were at the house when she was still alive, but they didn't search the basement. He strangled her with a wire after they left. Then he went to Walmart and bought crushed styrofoam, then he bought 50 gallons of gasoline. He and two of his friends dug a shallow grave, put my granddaughter in it, covered her with styrofoam, poured gasoline and set it on fire. It's still hard for me to believe this happened to her.

“I want you to know, when someone is missing the first 24 hours is the only 24 hours you've got.

“When people heard what he had done to her they called him an animal. I told them, don't insult animals. Animals are good people. What he did, the domestic violence he committed, is sub-human.

“The prosecutors said he wants a deal. They asked the family. Not for me, there's no deal. No. No deal.”