WINDOW ROCK – The pending closure of Na’Nihzoozhi Center, Inc., has prompted a second meeting between the Navajo Nation Council’s Naa’biki’yati’ Committee and city officials of Gallup, N.M.
Gallup Mayor Jackie McKinney invited the Naa’biki’yati’ Committee to meet with the city council and city officials in a “closed session” before the city council holds its regular meeting in Gallup on July 9.
McKinney’s invitation to the committee came after a brief report from McKinney and Na’Nizhoozhi Center, Inc., representatives about the pending closure of NCI because of a lack of operational funding.
NCI, which is the largest detoxification facility in New Mexico, was established about 20 years ago and funded through a joint agreement between Gallup, the Navajo Nation, Zuni Pueblo and McKinley County.
The Naa’biki’yati’ Committee, which consists of representatives from each of the Council’s four standing committees, voted 14 in favor and 0 opposed on the NCI report from McKinney and NCI Clinical Director Kevin Foley.
Committee member Edmund Yazzie, who is the Law and Order Committee chairperson, reminded the Naa’biki’yati’ Committee that they asked for a meeting with officials from Gallup, McKinley County and New Mexico state after they heard a report from NCI Director Jay Azua to the Naa’biki’yati’ Committee on May 16.
On May 16, the Naa’biki’yati’ Committee deliberated for about two hours on the verbal and written report by Azua, who asked the tribe for emergency funding of $300,000 to keep NCI open through the end of June and for $1.4 million in basic operational funding to keep it open until June 2014.
Yazzie, who sponsored the report on NCI by McKinney, said that he hoped that at the end of the day that the Naa’biki’yati’ Committee would call for the drafting of legislation to provide emergency funding to NCI.
“Alcoholism impacts all races, not just Navajos,” he noted. “I know we could point fingers, especially at those consuming alcohol. But if NCI closes then Gallup will be forced to re-open its drunk tank.”
Yazzie, who served as a McKinley County sheriff deputy for 17 years before being elected to the Navajo Nation Council, recalled Gallup’s drunk tank.
He described it as a one huge holding cell that was divided into two sections, one for males and the other for females. Each section had one toilet.
Individuals were held for eight hours, released, arrested for public intoxication, and returned to the drunk tank, Yazzie said
“Do we want to see a drunk tank opened?” he asked his fellow colleagues.
McKinney’s report to the Naa’biki’yati’ Committee on July 2 was very brief.
He reported that he assumed that the letter of invitation from the tribe to meet on July 2 was for a private discussion between city, county and state officials.
Naa’biki’yati’ Committee member Russell Begaye, who serves on the Law and Order Committee, asked McKinney to provide documents regarding the amount of city, county and state taxes on liquor that NCI has received over the years during the July 9 meeting.
“A lot of our people buy liquor in Gallup,” Begaye said. “So is that tax being used to support rehabilitation at NCI?”
Committee member Leonard Tsosie, who serves on the Resources and Development Committee, said that the tribal, city, county and state leaders need to move the discussion of NCI beyond its money issue and go to the “core” of the problem.
“Gallup must own up to having more than its share of liquor licenses for a population its size,” Tsosie said.
He recalled his years as a former NM state representative and receiving reports of Gallup businesses easily transferring their liquor licenses among themselves.
Tsosie strongly suggested the re-establishment of the Gallup Indian Center as another solution to curb the liquor problems in Gallup that impact the city, county, state, Zuni Pueblo and Navajo Nation.
“Gallup needs a warm Indian center,” he said. “I know you guys love our money and give very little back. But there’s got to be that neighborliness. Gallup uses liquor as an attraction. You see on the billboards and in ads all around the city.”
Tsosie also criticized the Navajo government’s health and social services directors, who are President Ben Shelly’s political appointees, for failing “to step up to the plate.”