Dinah Vargas
For the People benefit concert organizer Radmilla Cody performing traditional Navajo ballads.

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

Frances Madeson

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.

Navajo flautist Andrew Thomas and daughter. (Dinah Vargas)

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.”

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.”

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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
This is my home state and it sickens me that so many people can be so neglected by the State government. My personal feelings are that it's due to our Republican governor. It's no secret that Republicans are always complaining about, "freeloaders taking their hard earned cash," and I'm almost positive that's the case here. Hopefully the problem will be alleviated after the next election. It's unfathomable that a state with such a large Native population can simply ignore so many people! I hope the ICTMN staff follows up on this. I would like to donate to the center if and when donations are accepted.

Kenneth Ruthardt's picture
Kenneth Ruthardt
Submitted by Kenneth Ruthardt on
I heard the Albuquerque Indian Center (AIC) is facing a financial crisis and might close leaving a lot of vulnerable Natives without a vital resource. Then I learned the Native community reached out to AIC and asked to review their financial statement and AIC declined. The Internal Revenue Service requires a non-profit to provide a 990 (tax return) upon request. My interest was piqued and I went to guidestar.org and reviewed their most recent 990s. Then I was angry. In 2014 the Albuquerque Indian Center's revenue was about $400,000 and just $16,000 went to program services. However, $7,900 was spent on travel, $81,000 for office expenses, $147,000 for accounting fees (yes, $147,000 for accounting fees) and executive director Mary Garcia's $74,000 salary. Hard to imagine but the 2013 990 is worse. This is disgusting! If any Natives are on the Board of Directors, you have no honor and I am ashamed of you. People are profiting off homeless Natives. The Albuquerque Indian Center Board of Directors and Mary Garcia must be held accountable for this misconduct and violation of trust.

smartphoenixnavajo's picture
Submitted by smartphoenixnavajo on
The days of blaming the various governments are well over. In the Albuquerque area alone there must be half a dozen casinos alone. Its high time indians stepped up and started funding their own. You and I both know, the governments will and cannot keep funding such endeavors. One huge problem is overtime something is started, indians have to emulate the white system and create a huge system to spend the funds. I imagine for every dollar given or gotten, less than half actually gets to the patients. Indians will and need to step up and take care of their own, our land lords in washington are tired of us.

tmsyr11's picture
Submitted by tmsyr11 on
Of the twenty eight (27) indian casinos in the State of NM close to half are in the Rio Grande valley. ALBQ is at the hub (in the valley). Everybody goes to ALBQ (especially Pueblo, and Navajo). My question obviously is what are the Tribal Indian Casinos doing and can' t they collectively make the contributions to keep the Center open? This is supposedly a finest hour in Baraq Obama (Federal) contributions to Indian health programs and services. Did urban Indian centers make the cut (get a contribution)? Obviously the biggest users of services are Navajo Tribal members. What has the Navajo Government and/or its New Mexico Casinos done in making a contribution? On a side note, its very difficult to use Indian Health care services anymore, i.e. ALBQ, as their resources are limited and if your 16 minutes, you get pushed out and away. A big reason, many of the Pueblo Nations in New Mexico are taking their share, their cut away and puttign their US Federal dollars in their own Tribal-operated/managed health-medical services. So in the end, the pie is smaller and tribes as Navajo, and Plains, and others are left to fend for themselves. So it isn't as easy as to simply blame Republicans or the Governor or specific people. I do recall some of the biggest advocates for native/indian care were Republicans, i.e. Domenici, Lujan as well as Schiff, as well as Democratic officials, i.e. Bingmen, that were able to partner and keep fundings intact. Services are limited and Nava….i mean native people need some-place to go. http://www.abqindiancenter.com Please "donate to the center" as donations are accepted.

tmsyr11's picture
Submitted by tmsyr11 on
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. >>>>>>>>> This is stretch…yes….but it brings to perspective what those MILLIONs of US dollars that are being used-funded in taking in foreign-international refugees (Middle East) and housing and feeding illegal aliens (Central Americas). The sacrifice are those legit Americans - native and non-native alike - suffering on account that Muslim-Islamic nations, peoples (Sheite Sunni) cannot come together and ease the plight of 'their' peoples. Mexican nationales do not want to take the iniatiative in briding the gap of rich-class and poor-class (no Middle class). i only wish the phrase "when one of us falls…." holds true, but those Tribal Govts and Tribal Casinos (Pueblos) along the Rio Grande can change support the effort. "can you spare a dime, buddy, for somebody down on his luck?"

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
To tmsyr11 Thanks for providing the URL to the center. I'll make a donation today.