All Aboard the Opt Out Bus - Welcome to Gallup, NM - "Most Patriotic Small Town in America"
by Susan and Shawn DuFresne 8.02.16
originally published on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1756501411259399&id=1614927555416786
Before I begin this post, I wish to acknowledge our white privilege. We
wouldn't likely be making this journey in our lives without it. We may
not have each grown up with 100's of books in our homes. We may or may
not have both achieved college education. We may not own our own home or
live in an area with clean air and clean water. We may not have been
able to enjoy the good health that comes with living far away from toxic
environmental hazards. We may not enjoy the freedom of not having to
give our white 21 year old son "the talk" - or feel fairly safe as he
adventured out of state on a road trip himself with friends while we are
away. Nor would we likely have enjoyed a journey this far without
What we do both know is the experience of
generational alcoholism in our families. And it is with that personal
understanding that I write this with, not judgment, but rather empathy.
That said, this morning we left the Alta Truck Stop in New Mexico with
plans to stop at a more local cafe for huevos rancheros and some New
Mexico chile heat.
We found many of the local businesses closed,
replaced with large truck stop chains and casinos. We finally achieved
success at La Casita, a Grants, NM 30 year icon. The waitress told us
they survived through consistently providing good food turned around
fast for a 30 minute lunch crowd.
While enjoying our breakfast a
gentleman of the local Navajo approached to sell necklaces he said he
had made by hand. I typically don't wear necklaces as they tend to
bother my neck...sensory issues. I explained, thanked him, apologized,
smiled, and he asked if that was our bus. "What's the story?", he asked.
We told him about the Opt Out Bus Coast to Coast Free Books for Kids
Tour and asked him if he knew of anyplace we could find a number of
children to give books. He recommended we go to Twin Lakes Elementary
in Gallup, NM if we really wanted to make a difference. He said some
schools have started already. We thanked him and began to do some
research on the community and the school.
As we left the
restaurant, three teachers told Shawn they had been reading the bus and
agreed with ending the high stakes tests. One teacher said he didn't
administer them. They thanked us for our activism.
While we were
hesitant to give free books to kids in Gallup, we made certain we
listened to the members of the community and followed their advice along
the way. We believe this is important as sometimes giving is the wrong
thing to do. As activists we always respect the wishes of those we are
trying to support.
Here's what we found out about Twin Lakes Elementary:
• As of 2014 they were ranked 398/491 elementary schools in NM.
• They are 100% non-white, with Native American and Asian children only.
• They are 97.6% Free and Reduced Lunch.
• Some teachers were offered signing bonuses and lodging in hopes to attract/keep them there.
We made our decision to try to give away books at this school and I
began to research the community while observing as we drove.
• Poverty was visible. And it wasn't only recent poverty. It was the
kind of pervasive poverty that has been there for years. This was
generational poverty - the kind created at the very inception of our
"Indian Reservations". A Reservation community in New Mexico looks much
like those in Washington, North Dakota, and Oklahoma.
• We had
been informed that the most toxic environmental industry threats are
located near the most oppressed peoples. Sure enough, here was Westland
Refinery and the oil bomb trains. Gallons and gallons of precious water
in this high desert country are required in the refining process -
leaving pools of waste "water" in its wake.
• Casinos seemed to
be the other big industry. Atlantic City depressed the economy in
approximately a 500 square mile radius, while promising the exact
opposite. Secondary industry such as hotels, food, etc. fold when the
casinos fail, wiping out entire communities. I did not research the
impact on Gallup yet.
Current Info via NM Gov.:
known as the Indian Capital of the World, modern Gallup features a
diverse culture with a significant portion (43%) of the local population
being Native American. The predominant local tribes are Navajo, Hopi,
and Zuni. Gallup is home to many of the finest tribal artists in the
U.S., practicing their talents in jewelry, weaving, pottery, painting,
sculpture, and other artistic endeavors." [ source: http://www.gallupnm.gov/index.aspx?NID=113 ]
The signs driving into Gallup, NM say: Welcome to Gallup - "Most Patriotic Small Town in America".
What does that mean, I wondered?
In 2015 a hearing with the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission about Gallup was held.
"While the hearing focused on law enforcement, much of the testimony by
Navajo citizens, city officials, and law enforcement concerned a
larger, historical problem—the city's liquor industry. With 39 liquor
licenses, Gallup has about 19 alcohol-selling establishments per 10,000
people, much higher than most major cities.
These numbers, many
argued, are cause for concern, given high rates of Native poverty,
violence, alcoholism, homelessness, and unnatural deaths.
liquor industry has a stranglehold on this city," Mervin Tilden, a
homeless Navajo man and advocate for homeless issues, testified, "and
that stranglehold is killing our people."
"This city has made money
on the death of our people. This is blood money," he said. "Native
Americans are exploited for every penny possible, and then we are left
"We are undesired and unwanted, except for our money,"
Dr. Jennifer Denetdale, a NNHRC commissioner and Associate Professor of
American Studies at UNM, echoed. She also reminded the audience Gallup
is located in the ancestral territory of the Diné Nation, "We are not
the aliens of Gallup." -
[source: The Blood Money - Life or Death in Gallup, NM
The "most patriotic small town in America" has another name:
"Gallup, New Mexico is notorious and deadly for Native people. Ranked
as the most "dangerous city" in New Mexico by a recent FBI report,
violent, unnatural deaths for Native people has become an everyday fact
And then there is the poverty - and the profit reaped largely on the backs of Native Americans...
"Gallup is also the county seat for McKinley County, the poorest county
in New Mexico, and borders the Navajo Nation and the Pueblo of Zuni.
The small city thrives on Navajo-generated business, and is a convenient
26-mile drive from Window Rock, Arizona, the capital of the Navajo
The article goes on to discuss the lack of justice in
the community and the lack of compassion - or even interest in solving
the unexplained deaths of over 40 Native Americans between 2014 and
2015. Their names and brief information about each person was discussed
at the meeting and is listed in the article.
Evidence of apathy by the
white power structure was discussed:
"I'm a little disappointed,"
Elida Hale, a Navajo resident of Gallup, said, noting the empty seats
in the auditorium. Liquor store and bar owners had not shown up to the
meeting, neither did New Mexico State Police or McKinley County
Sheriff’s department. "Where are they?" she demanded."
But as a
white person advocating for justice for Black Lives Matter, I had
recently read the statistics of Native Americans being murdered by
police as the only population being murdered at a higher rate than
blacks. This is no coincidence, considering white America's ugly
history of Native American genocide and black enslavement. Today, these
murders are deeply embedded in structural racism. The NNHRC discusses
these issues in Gallup, and other communities nearby in NM.
"Steve Darden, NNHRC Chair and former city of Flagstaff judge, too, was
disappointed. He referenced the NNHRC's mission to inform Navajo
citizens on their rights, as well as gather testimony and evidence on
alleged human and civil rights abuses. NNHRC, he said, often "had to
purchase high-priced ads in local newspapers to tell people about their
Darden also referenced the culture of violence
permeating border towns, and specifically how the Albuquerque Police
Department officers appeared to be "internally rewarded for the abuse of
our [Navajo] people," in regards to previous testimony and reports
gathered at a similar Albuquerque hearing and a damning April 2014
Department of Justice report on the department's "culture of
That culture of aggression extends to more than
Albuquerque, and to the entire state of New Mexico and United States.
According to one report, Natives are the most likely to be killed by
police officers than any group in the nation. Comprising only .8 percent
of the U.S. population, Natives account for 1.9 percent of all police
killings. That is about three times the rate for whites and just above
the rate of killings by police of African Americans. New Mexico,
according to the same report, ranks number one in deaths by police of
any state in the U.S.
But Gallup is unique, when it comes to law enforcement and the city's liquor industry.
Testifying before the NNHRC, Gallup Police Department Deputy Chief
Allen John said the Gallup Police Department (GPD) receive two calls for
every call Albuquerque police receive. In 2013, GPD received about
22,000 calls, he said, a number higher than some major cities like
Chicago. In 2014, Allen expected that number to have increased by 30 to
40 percent. He estimated that 95 percent of calls were alcohol related."
The article goes on to discuss the injustice in how each of these cases
is handled and how laws are set up to create revenue off the mental
illness caused by generational poverty and generational alcoholism. In
addition the "culture of aggression" and I would add - the culture of
apathy - create a climate that has made Gallup what it is today... "The
Most Patriotic City in America".
So how do we define patriotism?
Is patriotism the culture of aggression?
Is patriotism the culture of apathy towards generational poverty?
Is patriotism the culture of apathy towards the unexplained deaths of many Native Americans?
Is patriotism the culture of apathy towards generational mental illness
and alcoholism caused by genocide and cultural assimilation?
patriotism the culture of apathy of insisting on culturally biased
testing, used to sort, rank, and cull children in schools of such abject
poverty, without any attempt to solve the problem of poverty?
Is patriotism the culture of apathy that allows legislators to strip
schools of funding for nurses, counselors, librarians, libraries, school
psychologists, the arts, sports, field trips, and all the things that
give children joy in learning in schools?
Is patriotism the
culture of apathy to fund schools inequitably for centuries and never
once make any real attempt to solve that problem?
the culture of apathy that allows law enforcement to not even show up at
a hearing to make an attempt to show concern for so many unexplained
Native American deaths?
Is patriotism the culture of apathy that
allows the power structure of Gallup and other cities to profit from the
over-issuance of alcohol permits when they know it leads to a cycle of
generational poverty, alcoholism, and death?
Is patriotism the
culture of apathy to place toxic environmental hazardous industries and
socially, morally, and economically bankrupting industries nearest
people of color?
Is patriotism the culture of apathy that allows
all of us Americans to allow the murder of Native Americans, blacks,
and browns without the consequence of any justice whatsoever?
If so, yes - then Gallup ranks as "Most Patriotic Small Town in America".
Free Books - Not Guns, Not Alcohol, Not Gambling
Our white history includes passing the gun, alcohol, and gambling to Native Americans.
Today Shawn and I went to Twin Falls Elementary. We saw cars parked at
the school, but no kids. Two Native American men approached us as I got
out of the bus to explain why we were there. They smiled and explained
the school has not yet opened, but we may be able to find children at
the Larry Brian Mitchell Recreation Center. They said we were doing a
good thing, thanked us, and we were off to the rec center.
we arrived there were no kids yet, but the director said about 10 kids
would be coming in an hour and more may be at the building behind him.
He showed me the area where the young children would come, get something
to eat, and engage in recreation in the gym. He was very happy we'd
come. He promised to give the books to the kids and said some middle
school and high school kids come to play basketball as well.
went out to the bus and chose about 20 books, brought them in to him,
and we said our thank-yous. He said he knew the kids would greatly
appreciate their books. He told me lots of kids would be at the pool
Next we went to the other building behind the center and saw kids playing outside. I checked inside - but no kids.
We got the books out of the bus and the 3 kids each chose a book. We
were right next to "The Playground of Your Dreams" created by "We the
People" in Gallup. I saw a man slumped over - "sleeping" in the back of
the car next to the bus, the door open. I saw a family with a young boy
at the picnic table. I walked over and asked "Would any kids like free
books?" This little boy raised his hand so enthusiastically and smiled! I
invited him over with his family's approving nod.
each picked a book or two. The little boy told me his name was Cordell
and he was going into kindergarten. I told him I was a kindergarten
teacher and wished he was going to be in my class. The older three told
us more kids would be at the apartment buildings behind us.
as we are we're about to leave Cordell came running back and said he had
forgotten to get a book for his sister. I asked him how old she was and
he said 16. We picked out an age appropriate book for her and he posed
for another picture, grinning from ear to ear.
Next we followed
the three older children to the apartment complex. They skipped and ran
ahead of us and began going from house to house to tell kids about the
free book bus coming. More kids came out to the bus and picked out
books, some of them saying "they thought the ice cream bus was here". I
don't think they'd ever seen a bus that gave away books before! A
couple of the older kids said they did not want to book, but when Shawn
offered to let them write on the bus they jumped right on it.
They all said thank you, we packed up the books that were left and headed in an attempt to find kids at the pool.
What we found on the way was a huge youth detention center, another police station, and the county courthouse.
The pool was inside a building and there wasn't really any way to have the kids get books as they were in the pool swimming.
We left wondering if we had made any difference at all? I know that by
writing this a few of you will read it and share it and awareness will
spread. Some of you may even engage in similar work because of reading
this, we hope. Some of you may work to change the justice system. Some
of you may consider working to redefine what patriotism really means.
We left Gallup hoping one day we can return and do more. For today, we
will have to settle with bringing these children a few books and in
return we received their temporary happiness. Do they live happy lives?
Do they feel hope? Will they succumb to alcoholism?
We are now
on our way to Prescott, AZ where our daughter works with youth within
the juvenile system trying to make a difference in their lives.
Susan and Shawn