Wednesday, August 3, 2016

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:


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 police confrontation.

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.:

"Also 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: ]


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.

"The 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 for dead."

"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…/blood-money-lif… ]

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 of life."

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 Nation."

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 rights."

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 aggression."

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?

Is 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?

Is patriotism 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.

When 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.

I 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 also.

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.

The children 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.

Just 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.

In solidarity,

Susan and Shawn


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