Border Town Violence Takes a Toll on Native People


When some people hear the term, border town violence, they think of places where Indians go and get drunk, and then are arrested for public intoxication and often beaten by the arresting officers. But that’s not at all what border town violence is, according to Hope Alvarado, a former homeless woman, and Kodee Artis, a Navajo resident of Gallup, one of the most famous border towns in the country.

What is Bordertown Violence?

Hope Alvarado (Photo courtesy of Hope Alvarado)

“I define border town violence as violence on indigenous people’s way of life whether through physical, psychological, mental violence as well as economic disenfranchisement and exploitation”¦in towns that border their indigenous communities and have a mixed indigenous and settler population,” said Alvarado, 21, a University of New Mexico student in Albuquerque.

Kodee Artis (Photo courtesy of Kodee Artis)

“Border town violence is sociological, economic, psychological, and physiological, to say the least,” said Artis, 23, a resident of Gallup and 2017 UNM graduate. “It takes a toll on people by just existing in such toxic environments.”

One of The Worst

“Gallup, New Mexico is notorious and deadly for Native people,” according to Lakota scholar Nick Estes in an article posted on Indian Country Today in April, 2017.

“Ranked as the most ‘dangerous city’ in New Mexico by a 2014 FBI report, violent, unnatural deaths for Native people has become an everyday fact of life.”

The Death of Larry Casuse

Gallup, located approximately 140 miles west of Albuquerque, bills itself as the “Most Patriotic Small Town in America.” Most of its residents are Navajo people from the bordering reservation.

Most deaths that occur in Gallup are that of homeless Native people who died from exposure, or getting hit by a car while crossing the street, Estes stated in the article.

Gallup is notorious for being the death place of Native activist Larry Casuse. On March 1, 1973, Casuse and Robert Nakaidinae kidnapped Gallup mayor Emmett Garcia and took him into Stearn’s Sporting Goods at gunpoint in protest of the excess number of liquor licenses the city had per capita.

Garcia got away and police opened fire. Larry Casuse was later confirmed dead by an officer. He was a University of New Mexico student, only 19 years old. Police posed with his body for pictures.

From Gallup to Winslow

More recently, on March 22, 2016, a 27-year-old Navajo woman, Loreal Tsingine, was gunned down in Winslow, Ariz. after police stopped her in the street because she fit the description of a shoplifting suspect they’d been searching for. She refused to cooperate, and it resulted in the officer, Austin Shipley, fatally shooting her.

“It’s tragic. Justice was not served when the Navajo Nation did not pursue suing the Arizona State Police,” said Artis. “It is also a reality which Native women face in communities around or in border towns.”

“I feel like the death of Loreal Tsingine was murder. It was colonial institutions and structures ability to seize and destroy indigenous bodies and communities” said Alvarado. “Loreal Tsingine’s murder was symbolic to the type of treatment Native people receive from the police in border towns.”

Dangerous Places

Border towns are dangerous for Native people. In Gallup, Community Service Aides drive around town looking for drunk Native people to pick up and haul to the detox center, according to Estes.

“CSA officers are the ones who use discretion to determine if an individual is intoxicated, without administering a field sobriety test or breathalyzer,” stated Estes in the article. “Once in protective custody, they are taken to the detox center where a breathalyzer is administered, and are held for 12 hours or until completely sober.”

Kodee Artis sees these things every day. As a Navajo man, he has to always watch his back.

“Everyday living in a border town is violent,” he said. “When you see people walking the streets, the imagery is violent. It takes a psychological toll on anyone who sees the material conditions that we’re put into. Our resistance to merely exist is also met violently by the state.”

Artis is referring to the racist murals around town, and all the homeless Native people he sees while walking around.

Homeless in a Bordertown

Alvarado speaks of border town violence with passion and power. This is because she was once one of those Native people who are homeless in a border town.

“I have experienced border town violence here in Albuquerque, where I have been treated as someone undeserving of kindness and respect. As someone who chronically experienced being unsheltered,” she said.

“The type of treatment I faced on the streets is unimaginable and dehumanizing to the degree of complete numbness and survival.”

While living on the streets, Alvarado suffered a great detail of disgrace. Albuquerque borders the reservations of Isleta, Sandia, and Santa Ana pueblos.

” I wasn’t an addict or alcoholic, so I didn’t have the means to purchase or do those things, but I experienced things when trying to get into shelters, and I was always hungry. My shoes had holes in them. I didn’t have clothing or jackets, or even feminine products,” she said.

“Regular people treated me like crap when they found out I was homeless, and people would say I was all these negative things out of spite because they stereotyped me, and I was almost sex trafficked and sexually assaulted while I was homeless.”

People are suffering in border towns, and face extremities just being there, said both Alvarado and Artis. For them, it’s a regular occurrence.

While she is no longer experiencing homeless, Hope still faces the horrid abuse most Native people living in border towns get.

These violent occurrences continue happening on a daily basis, according to Artis, who bears witness to it.

Will it ever end, they wonder?

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