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Blackhorse: Border Town Violence, Injustice, And the Opposition

Activist Amanda Blackhorse, Diné, talks about the Native Lives Matter movement, border town violence, and the dehumanization of Native Americans.

Violence Near the Border

A week ago, I marched with The Red Nation and allies in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico. This was a historic occasion, as Albuquerque had not seen protest like this since 1973 when indigenous people rallied to demand justice for activist Larry Casuse who died a most suspicious death.

Larry was an advocate for the very same issue, which was highlighted at the march, and rally – border town violence.

Photo courtesy The Red Nation

So it was that on October 12 more than 1,000 protestors marched the streets to demand the city and the nation recognize to indigenous struggles.

According to The Red Nation’s mission statement, the group was created in 2014, “out of desire to contribute to the widespread resurgence of strong, vocal, organized and radical indigenous struggle in Albuquerque and beyond.” The group wanted to address issues mainstream media fails to report on.

Although this was a march and rally to abolish Columbus Day and celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day, many other issues were brought to the forefront.

Moreover, the issue of border town violence was of great concern because a little more than a year ago two Diné (Navajo) men, Allison Gorman and Kee Thompson, were brutally murdered by three teenage boys in Albuquerque. The boys (18-year-old Alex Rios, 16-year-old Nathaniel Carillo, and 15-year-old Gilbert Tafoya) bludgeoned the two men to death as they slept in a vacant lot.

It was reported that the three boys used cinder blocks and fence posts to beat the two men beyond recognition. The two Diné men were without shelter (homeless as most would say) and were sleeping in an empty lot in the city. It was reported by local news station KOB4 that the youngest of the boys accepted a plea deal and will testify against the other two who plead not guilty, even though they admitted to their acts to the police.

The boys also admitted to attacking about 50 other people who were without shelter. Of the two who plead not guilty, one – Nathaniel Carillo – will go to trial on September 8, 2016.

The reason for the murders? There was none. It seemed as if it were just something to do. Murders and acts of violence like this happen quiet frequently in border towns throughout the nation, but unlike local media, the mainstream media does not report on such issues.

Albuquerque and Gallup, New Mexico, are border towns where violence against indigenous people is prevalent. In Gallup, just two hours west of Albuquerque, many of our Native relatives have fallen to violence.

Three speakers at the rally Monday were Jennifer Denetdale, Radmilla Cody, and Brandon Benallie who have worked to address border town violence and racism toward Native people. Their grassroots efforts have also pushed to the forefront the fight against unfair treatment of Natives and border town violence in the region.

Indian Mascots, Leonard Peltier, and More Injustice

In concert with that, the issue of Native mascots was brought forward. The Red Nation and the University of New Mexico asked me to speak at the university as well as at the march and rally. These talks addressed how Native mascots are the direct response of a cultural genocide and how that allows for the continued dehumanization of the indigenous people. If indigenous people are not respected has human begins it is easy to eliminate them and disrespect their existence.

Another struggle highlighted were the pleas of clemency for political prisoner Leonard Peltier. He was named the Grand Marshall days before the event. There appears to be a tremendous amount of support for Peltier in the Albuquerque region. The Co-Director of the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, Peter Clark, shared with me a picture of Lenny Foster, a Diné medicine man, who received an award on behalf of Peltier by Bolivian President Evo Morales in Bolivia.

Peltier has many celebrity supporters, including human rights activist and scholar Noam Chomsky, as well as author of “An Indigenous Peoples History of the United States” Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, a well-known indigenous scholar and indigenous rights activist.

A large crowd forms in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to protest border town violence as well as other issues. Photo courtesy The Red Nation

Much was discussed that Monday. Diné people demanded justice for Palestine; the water rights in Diné territory; resource and land extraction issues; uranium poisoning throughout the region; Protect Oak Flat; Protect Mauna Kea; and awareness on violence against the LGBTQ2 (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Two Spirit) population.

In my short time in Albuquerque, I was inspired to meet relatives who are so proud to be indigenous. According to The Red Nation, “About 55,000 thousand Native people call Albuquerque home – 35,000 of which are Diné (Navajo). Also represented in the city are 291 federally recognized Native Nations.” Participants in the march and rally represented Native people and groups who’ve struggled so much. Now it seems they have a moment to empower.

I felt the rising climate, social change, advocacy, and demands for justice. Our relatives are no longer willing to accept what is handed to them. They want to resist. They want to fight back. They want to voice their concerns. They are tired of being spoken for, trampled on, especially by a system that does not listen to their dissent, their concerns, and their cries for help. The tide is shifting and people are more and more aware. Juxtaposing Steve Biko’s saying of the oppressed mind, it appears the great threat to the oppressor is an open mind, an aware mind, and a mind which is no longer afraid. I’m sure some great advocate somewhere made that contrast already but, it was most certainly evident that day.

Indigenous Peoples Day

It was wonderful and hopeful to meet Rey Garduño, city councilman of Albuquerque, who led the proposal to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day (of course that occurred with the help of indigenous advocates like The Red Nation). Many of his fellow councilmembers signed the proclamation.

Days before the march and rally, The Red Nation and students from UNM went before the city council to address this issue – and it passed.

A woman holds a likeness of Christopher Columbus in opposition to Columbus Day, which is a federally recognized holiday.

Of course there was opposition. Councilmembers Dan Lewis, Trudy Jones, and Don Harris refused to join Garduño in his campaign to repeal Columbus Day. After the proclamation passed, Lewis apparently felt sore about the whole thing and publicly announced he would censor Garduño on October 19 at an Albuquerque City Council meeting. It was also said that Lewis refused to look at the Native community while the proclamation was being discussed on October 7. He was seen playing on his iPad the entire time, not making eye contact, and appeared very uninterested.

Perhaps Lewis should have read the proclamation and raised his concerns then.

“Dan Lewis’s attempt to censure Garduño is an attempt to censure the indigenous voice,” Nick Estes with The Red Nation said.

Community members are planning to attend this meeting to voice their concerns about Lewis.

Amanda Blackhorse. Photo courtesy Malcolm Benally.

Amanda Blackhorse, Diné, is a mother and activist. She and four other plaintiffs won a case against the Washington football team that stripped it of six of its seven trademarks. Follow her on Twitter @blackhorse_a. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona.