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Healthy Nations Initiative

Northwest New Mexico Fighting Back

About the Program

In 1990, Northwest New Mexico Fighting Back, Inc. (NWNMFB) was created as an independent non-profit corporation with a mission to reduce the demand for alcohol and other drugs in San Juan, McKinley and Cibola Counties, through community organizing and mobilization, public awareness and technical assistance. Through Community Organization and Mobilization, resources are provided to build and expand on the communities existing knowledge, skills and resources by working together to create and implement local solutions for alcohol and other drug problems within the community. Public Awareness is used to educate the public by raising awareness about alcohol and drug issues and highlighting the impact on the local community. Technical Assistance builds upon community organizing and public education by providing the answer to communities next logical question, "Now what?". NWNMFB helps communities provide that answer for themselves. The change the community desires is the change NWNMFB will assist in making. Technical assistance includes: training community participants in the progression of steps necessary to make change, facilitating forums and community meetings to discuss relevant issues, research on social indicators and current laws relative to a specific community concern and solution.

NWNMFB has completed a five year funding cycle under the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Fighting Back Initiative, a project devoted to reducing the demand for alcohol and other drugs. Over the past five years, NWNMFB has successfully engaged all Tribes, Municipalities, and Alcohol and Drug Service Providers in San Juan, McKinley and Cibola Counties in Northwest New Mexico in its efforts to reduce the demand for alcohol and other drugs. These Counties are home to the Zuni, Acoma, and Laguna Pueblos and the Navajo Nation; easily the largest concentration and localized population of Native Americans in the United States. Under the Fighting Back Initiative, Northwest New Mexico has engaged citizens in the communities to come together and create local strategies to reduce alcohol abuse. The results are a significant reduction in alcohol-related social indicators - a positive response from the community towards the intervention and prevention of alcohol and other drug abuse.

In July 1997, Northwest New Mexico was awarded a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation under the Healthy Nations Initiative. Under this three year implementation grant, Northwest New Mexico will continue to expand its relationship with the Native American communities in the three-county region by focusing on the established goals of the Healthy Nations Initiative:

  • Goal 1: To implement a public awareness campaign designed to generate broad-based tribal and community support for efforts to reduce the demand for tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs.
  • Goal 2: To implement a multifaceted community-wide prevention effort targeted especially for children and adolescents that could include:
    • (a) prevention programs in the schools, as well as in the community
    • (b) development of recreation and cultural activities promoting self-esteem; and
    • (c) prevention training for teachers, health care workers, and others.
  • Goal 3: To implement special programs to promote early identification and treatment of substance abuse among youth and other high-risk tribal members, such as pregnant women.
  • Goal 4: To develop a range of accessible options for substance abuse treatment and relapse prevention, as well as outreach to families of people with substance abuse problems.

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Host Community/Organization

The Northwest New Mexico Fighting Back, Inc. (NWNMFB) is an independent, non-profit corporation which works to reduce the demand for alcohol and other drugs through community organization and mobilization, public awareness and technical assistance Established in 1990 to implement the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation - Fighting Back Initiative in Northwest New Mexico, NWNMFB has worked with all Tribes, Municipalities, and Alcohol and Drug Service Providers to engage citizens within the communities to come together and create local strategies to reduce alcohol abuse. NWNMFB is governed by a Board of Directors, know as the Regional Council, with representatives from various community coalitions across the region. The Regional Council establish priorities and policy during their monthly meetings and is supported by various committees. Four officers are elected by the Regional Council: President, Vice-President, Secretary, and Treasurer. The officers, in turn, comprise the Executive Committee, which provide direction for staff on immediate policy needs and serve as the communication link for the Executive Director to the body of the Regional Council.

The "community" represented by this proposal is the northwest corner of New Mexico, comprising San Juan, McKinley and Cibola Counties. The geographic makeup of the region are immense, covering 15,144 square miles, and are at least 100 miles end to end. This is an area larger than Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut combined. The population is about 190,000 people, or 11% of New Mexico's total population. There is a population density of between 4 and 14 persons per square mile, or a lot of empty space. 908 square miles of this 15,144 is private land, the rest is State, Federal, Indian Trust or Indian Allotment. A bulk of the population is located in the metropolitan areas in each of the three counties: Farmington has about 44,000 people in San Juan County, Gallup has about 19,000 people in McKinley County and Grants has about 11,000 in Cibola County. The region is populated by six linguistically and culturally diverse groups. There are four Native American Nations (Zuni, Laguna, Acoma and Navajo) as well as a large Anglo and Hispanic population. The ethnic background of the population is: Native American 49%, White 29%, Hispanic 15%, and the remaining 7% are of other ethnicity's. Additionally, there are 68,482 youth in Northwest New Mexico under the age of 18. Of those, 27.3% are Anglo, 16.6% are Hispanic, 57.1% are Native American, the remainder comprise all other categories. The Native American youth of the region make up 66% of the Native American Youth in New Mexico. In Cibola county alone there are seven different law enforcement entities with seven different jurisdictions. Unemployment in the non-reservation areas is between seven and nine percent with unemployment estimates as high as seventy-five percent on the reservations. Living conditions range from very middle class, two cars and white picket fence, to third world, no electricity, phone or indoor plumbing. 40.7% of all youth under 18 live in poverty in the region. This is not one or two isolated pockets of people. Of 18,000 family dwellings on the Navajo Nation within the three counties, 47% of them do not have complete indoor plumbing, 50% earn less than $10,000.00 per year, and the per capita income is $3,700.00. The region's economy is based on extractive industries, government, tourism, Native American crafts and retail trade. Mining of uranium, natural gas and petroleum have long been the cornerstone of the region's economy. With reduction in demand for uranium and petroleum the region has faced an economic disaster in the last fifteen years.

Northwest New Mexico also leads the United States in alcohol related problems. Current data indicates that the underage alcohol problem in Northwest New Mexico is far greater than is captured in school-wide surveys. Further statistics seem to indicate that the underage drinking problem in Northwest New Mexico reaches deep into the lives of Northwest New Mexico Youth. It is likely that alcohol use is the single greatest factor in almost all youth difficulties including the teenage death rate, suicide and homicide rates, the teenage pregnancy rate, and the school drop-out rate.

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Strategy 1: Public Awareness Campaign

Shiprock has led in the creation of local initiatives that will go beyond this funding period with grassroots leadership. The Joey Harry Memorial Run and the Red Ribbon Multi-cultural Relay Run are two community projects that involve hundreds of people and span a number of communities in the Shiprock area, plus more importantly, will continue beyond this grant period.

Shiprock has an annual community Northern Navajo Fair. For the fair’s youth participants, the coalition has had people dressing in animal costumes to engage them in dialogue and give prevention material and information on the various coalition activities, like the runs and health fairs. Volunteers are also recruited at this time for the year’s projects. The Shiprock coalition has successfully continued it’s work beyond the project period and has obtained support from a non-profit based out of Farmington for operational support. Also, NCI has retained the services of the Shiprock Coordinator as the Community Support Coordinator for NCI’s clients in the Shiprock area. The coalition will be continuing these activities after the grant period.

Counselor’s most noteworthy achievement during this grant was closure of three liquor establishments on the rural area of the community. Two were closed as the result of enforcement action that occurred from public complaints generated through community action, the third closed after community members made constant personal appeals to the new owner about the adverse effects of alcohol sales upon families in the area. The remaining bar in the area has been cited by state liquor control for sale practices, as well as by the state environmental health for illegal dumping, which resulted in a 30-day suspension. During the 30-day period there were no pedestrian fatalities on the highway. Currently three law enforcement agencies are conducting coordinated patrols around the area of the bar to discourage DWI and public intoxication.

Counselor chose to engage community people through Navajo cultural activities. In the Navajo culture there are winter games that include singing and competition, called Shoe Games, which have an abundance of traditional teaching and stories.
Counselor’s Coordinator has been elected the Chapter (community) President. Local leaders and community advocates persuaded Mr. Sage to pursue a political office as direct result of his work in organizing opposition to local liquor establishments and projects to improve the community’s quality of life. He takes office in January 2001 to continue advocating for the community’s needs in an official capacity within tribal government. Mr. Sage was also hired by NCI as the Community Support Coordinator for the Counselor area; he is very active in post-grant activities with Fighting Back.

Crownpoint has been successful in establishing several provider networks for community prevention, youth prevention, health promotion, youth sports, and substance abuse services that includes domestic violence by mobilizing providers and consumers in the Crownpoint area. This provider-consumer coalition has begun to explore ways to limit the availability of alcohol in their rural region.
Crownpoint has developed an on-going inter-agency task force that will provide information related to healthy approaches and methods, the A-Team concept will continue functioning. Crownpoint’s coalition continues to meet and advocate on behalf of that community. Recent initiatives include stronger coordination through the local domestic violence agency and participation in countywide coordination planning.

Acoma established the Community Action Team (CAT) as a forum for tribal providers to interact with each other and collaborate services. The CAT formed after community members advocated to tribal government the need to provide cooperation with community members and leaders. One important activity was a campaign to have Wal-mart (located in Grants, NM) limit access to alcohol by persons abusing the substance. Acoma’s Community Action Team (CAT) included a broad mix of providers and community people interested in creating a healthy nation for Acoma Pueblo. The CAT actively collaborated on a number of projects during the course of the year. Acoma Pueblo has folded the Healthy Nations concept into the Drug Elimination Program, from which the Community Action Team is supported and functioning. The former AcomaCoordinator has been hired by NCI to coordinate community support activities for NCI in McKinley County.
Laguna took community mobilization initiatives to the young people of the tribe by establishing the Community Action Team (CAT), which continues to function after the project site phased out. The CAT mobilized youth to become more involved in tribal efforts towards establishing the Boys and Girls Club, youth forums, and youth employment program management. The Laguna CAT also included a broad mix of providers and community people interested in creating a healthy nation for Laguna Pueblo. They actively collaborated on a number of projects during the course of the year, as described in many sections of this report. Laguna’s Community Action Team has also provided the focus from which the Healthy Nations philosophy has been sustained in that community.

The Tohatchi community has effectively mobilized to develop community campaigns aimed at youth needs and concerns. Four private, non-profit groups have formed in this isolated community; Boys and Girls Club, the Police Athletic League, the Youth Center, and Little League, and all are still functioning a year after this project site ended its participation in the grant. Tohatchi has created three private, non-profits from which the Healthy Nations philosophy continues to be sustained; Tohatchi Boys and Girls Club, Tohatchi Youth Center, and the Tohatchi Police Athletic League.

Na’nizhoozhi Center’s website featured this project in it’s pages and provided a link to the NPO website. The content was developed from this project’s reports and organizational structure. This project was able to establish a strong presence on the web by becoming registered on, which is an Internet group that provides links that are based on program emphasis and priorities.

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Strategy 2: Community-Wide Prevention

Shiprock initiated effective youth campaigns during the Northern Navajo Tribal Fair, the second largest Native American fall fair in the United States, during which a number of the collaborating agencies set up booths and displays for families and young people to visit and learn. High school aged youth were major participants in the community anti-substance abuse runs and rallies that occurred twice per year.
Counselor coalition’s network included the local elementary school and the off-reservation high school, located 40 miles south of Counselor. As with all target sites, youth established strong involvement in the community rallies and relay runs that were developed along with the numerous workshops and community events.
Crownpoint’s special focus was development of the Strategic Alliance Against Substance Abuse (SAASA), a community coalition, to meet the needs of youth in the community. Local parades, workshops, Gathering of Native Americans (GONA), youth sports leagues, and community events were on-going and expected to continue beyond this grant period.

Acoma developed the Community Action Team as the primary mechanism to fulfill this task for this project. The CAT included youth from the community and coordinated implementation of youth activities like pow-wows, the Gathering of Native Americans, youth sports tournaments, roadblocks to disseminate information, sober school events, and community meetings. Laguna’s Community Action Team established the Youth Council with the Pueblo Governor’s Office to assist the pueblo in designing youth programs that are appropriate. Tohatchi hired summer workers with resources from NCI and Navajo youth employment funds to assist in program design and implementation of the local programs developed.
All project staff have been trained as GONA facilitators and are very experienced in GONA workshop design and implementation. Through the course of this project, the project staff assisted each other in conducting GONA workshops and trained other community people in the GONA process. Our purpose was to not be dependent upon national or state GONA facilitators and we accomplished this task fully. Such that, in the last two years of this project, staff demonstrated GONA workshops in state conferences with excellent feedback.

  • Shiprock conducted at least two GONA per year. At the onset of this project national trainers were brought in to facilitate the workshops, by year two local trainers and project staff were facilitating all the workshops.
  • Counselor had one GONA per year and used project staff and trainers from NCI and other agencies.
  • Crownpoint averaged two GONA’s per year and largely had local facilitators conducting the workshops, project staff and local providers also contributed.
  • Acoma averaged three GONA’s per year and put a heavy emphasis on youth participation. One GONA included young people from Isleta Pueblo, which is located south of Albuquerque, NM.
  • Laguna had one GONA per year during its project period and afterwards some community people were involved in the Acoma GONA’s.
  • Tohatchi had one GONA per year at that site and, like Acoma, the GONA team sought a lot of involvement from community youth.

Laguna had the opportunity to engage the Department of Justice’s Weed and Seed facilitators to design a community specific approach to establishing dialogue in the Laguna community. The community’s leaders and groups followed up on the dialogue through the Community Action Team (CAT) effort.

Shiprock’s highlight has to be the signing of the intergovernmental agreement that creates the Navajo Nation-Farmington Substance Abuse Task Force. This historic agreement includes the Navajo Nation, San Juan County, the City of Farmington, and has a dozen private providers as co-signers also. Shiprock is the largest Navajo community in San Juan County and this project was very active in facilitating the agreement between the governments involved.

Counselor mobilized to change the availability of alcohol within the far eastern borders of the Navajo Nation and did this quite effectively. At the beginning of this project, there were four liquor retailers in the rural area. Today there is one. Two closed down as the result of alcohol sale violations and the third closed down voluntarily, after local community members appealed to the owners. The remaining liquor store is under constant community and law enforcement surveillance to ensure sales are not made to minors or intoxicated persons.

Crownpoint community mobilization efforts have resulted in creation of the Crownpoint Prevention Coalition, which has begun planning for a Boys and Girls Club and youth center. The coalition has participants from the Gallup area and has met with the Office of the Navajo Nation President for support and dialogue.
Acoma’s Community Action Team (CAAT) mobilization approach has resulted in a large number of youth campaigns for seat belt use, impaired driving, alcohol-free community events, family violence, and youth participation in these projects.
Laguna also took the Community Action Team (CAT) concept and enhanced youth participation in government programs for youth: summer employment recruitment and hiring, participation in village decision-making, mentoring, and community service projects.

Tohatchi’s mobilization work resulted in development of youth sports camps and organizations to implement youth activities, summer wilderness camps, and identification of resources from groups outside of Tohatchi for support of these programs.

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Strategy 3: Early Identification, Intervention and Referral

Shiprock’s Coordinator specialized in technical assistance to that community group and this has been the model from which other communities are exploring interagency collaboration that includes community members. She will be doing a workshop at the upcoming Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of American (CADCA) Leadership Forum, in Washington, DC, to describe ways to minimize coalition conflict.

Counselor community groups eventually included groups from neighboring Navajo communities. This occurred as the result of the successful efforts of Sam Sage, Counselor Coordinator, who presented on his work in rural New Mexico at the 1999 CADCA Leadership Forum in Washington, DC.

Crownpoint’s Lisa King also excelled in this area of the project and, as mentioned previously, her work is continuing through the Crownpoint Prevention Coalition after the end of this project in Crownpoint. The coalition has maintained its meeting schedule and the participants have expanded to include non-Crownpoint groups.

Acoma and Dennis Lorenzo, the Coordinator, accomplished this objective through the CAT and the strong support of the Drug Elimination Program. After this project finished its work, the CAT is leading in development of the board of directors for the Boys and Girls Club for Acoma. Board members will include behavioral health and law enforcement representatives, as well as non-provider persons.

Laguna, through the CAT, and the guidance of Bonnie Vallo, established the Weed and Seed Program that has been noted as a model by the Department of Justice for other Native American communities to begin development of this initiative.
Tohatchi, with the strong assistance of Levon Benally, has been provided the expertise to design and implement three non-profits in a very rural region. Within the borders of the Navajo Nation, this type of initiative and growth of private enterprise is unheard of and strongly needed. This community’s work has strongly influenced the other project sites and Native American communities in New Mexico.

Shiprock compiled various community data from law enforcement, education, and health providers during this project period. Then during the community forums, that data was provided to participants for analysis and planning.

Counselor kept track of alcohol-related traffic incidents, family violence, and prevalence of alcoholism at community events as the way to document outcome. For example, during a three-month period, when there were NO alcohol sales in that area, there were no traffic fatalities that were alcohol-related, and the incidence of family disputes dropped as well. Law enforcement representatives were profoundly impacted by this outcome and became more involved in community efforts to limit the availability of alcohol in the Counselor area.

Crownpoint and Tohatchi Coordinators assisted in the documentation of outcomes for McKinley County within which both communities lie. The result of this collaboration is that this project provided three significant outcome reports for the county. In year one, this project collaborated with the State of New Mexico Epidemiology Division to conduct a household survey in substance abuse prevalence and needs assessment. We sponsored the resolutions for Navajo, Apache, and Zuni IRB approval to conduct the survey and obtained community approval from Churchrock, Crownpoint, Shiprock, and Counselor. The report is due out December 2000 for use by the Zuni, Navajo tribes and other agencies.
During year two, we sponsored the two-day “Gallup Remembers Forum” that had 150 participants, Zuni, Navajo, City of Gallup, McKinley County, and state leaders also participated. On day two of the forum, the participants developed a set of strategic plans for the county’s communities and agencies to address. This led to the summit in year three.

During year three, in the last month of this project, we co-sponsored the Navajo Nation Behavioral Health Summit in Farmington, New Mexico. There were 480 registered participants from Arizona and New Mexico during the two-day forum, with the focus on development of strategic plans to be used in creation of a regional behavioral health authority by the Navajo Nation. Special emphasis was given to youth participation and a scholarship system was set up to accomplish this, as well as elders. Presenters included Dr. Phil May, Dr. Steven Kunitz, Bernie Ellis, Dr. Karen Saylors, Jayne Talk-Sanchez, and Dr. Eduardo Duran. They presented latest documentation and recommendations on prevention, treatment, and public policy. From this summit, a number of local initiatives have been created on the Navajo Nation. One of which is the inter-governmental task force for San Juan County, which includes northern Navajo (Shiprock). Current plans are for regional level summits that include non-Navajo border town communities and there are on-going meetings with the Navajo Office of the President to implement the strategic plans developed at the forum. This forum is the highlight of our work during the project period and certainly would not have occurred without foundation support.
Laguna, through the support of the Department of Justice’s Weed and Seed Program, had a forum during this the project period. From which evolved a process for the community leadership to begin coordination of data collection and reporting of that data to tribal leaders and community members. This project had published in year one the “Taking the Long View” report by Bernie Ellis, M.A., for dissemination and use by our partner agencies and governments. About 1,000 copies of that report have been provided to local, state, regional, and national groups for their use. The two tribes directly and indirectly effected by this project (Navajo and Zuni) had copies and presentations provided to the tribal councils and some of the lead provider agencies.

This project has taken the lead in providing to tribal leaders and communities the results of the Native American Prevention Summit of 1999, held in Albuquerque, which contained within it a number of recommendations, drafted by the 250 participants, for NM tribes to consider in their substance abuse prevention efforts. About 300 copies of this important report were distributed within 9 months.
About 300 copies of the report from the Gallup Remembers Forum in 1998 were also provided to tribal communities and leaders in the region. A task we have endeavored to accomplish was creation of joint efforts in our project area, because one government or agency clearly cannot address the breadth of substance abuse problems. We have maintained that inter-governmental collaboration is very important.

The partnership with Na’nizhoozhi Center was instrumental accomplishing our objectives. NCI’s expertise in evaluation, reporting, and its networks with the treatment community across the region greatly enhanced our ability to strategize ways to improve the health and well being of residents in the target communities. We believe this most strongly evidenced by the most significant activity we led in, the Navajo Nation Behavioral Health Summit. Navajo leadership is moving towards creation of regional behavioral authority that includes other governments and enhances the private sector’s activities towards reduction of substance abuse problems in the region. Our work in local communities has been intentionally towards influencing tribal service system design and resource utilization, because the problems associated with alcoholism do adversely affect ALL Navajos.

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Strategy 4: Substance Abuse Treatment
and Relapse Prevention

This project led in completion of the NM Household survey in our area. Field interviewers who randomly selected visited homes to conduct the interviews conducted the household survey. This cooperative activity included the Navajo Nation, the State of New Mexico, McKinley and San Juan Counties, NCI, this project, and local community leaders.

The Navajo Nation-San Juan County Substance Abuse Task Force is an example of new cooperation between not only local providers but also governments. The task force is currently reviewing processes for incorporation into a private entity to assume regional behavioral health planning and implementation responsibilities for that County. This model has been identified as the approach to be used by the Navajo Nation to begin communications with other border town communities and counties that are within the Navajo Nation borders. Project staff were asked to support this Navajo endeavor by providing technical assistance to the governments involved in bringing to the table the various providers in the county.

In the target communities, this project was able to lead in creation of new governing bodies, the Community Action Teams (CAT), and various coalitions. In Counselor, the faith community coalition was instrumental in changing community norms that allowed for rampant alcohol sales by an inordinate number of retailers. The provider coalitions in Crownpoint and Shiprock have maintained momentum beyond the project period and at this writing are still meeting and developing plans for their communities.

During the NM Native American Prevention Summit this project was highlighted as a model prevention program for the other 22 NM tribes to consider replication of. We had a booth and conducted couple of workshops that highlighted the GONA workshops and coalition-building.

Counselor community is currently meeting with representatives from their neighboring border town, (Cuba, NM) to strategize ways to develop a detoxification program for residents of that remote region.

Crownpoint’s coalition is currently planning for implementation of a Boys and Girls Club for the youth and families. The domestic violence agency in Crownpoint, Family Harmony, is looking to expand its services through the joint work of the coalition.

Acoma’s Community Action Team has begun to explore access to its border towns, (Grants, NM) treatment services and to discuss ways to improve on the treatment continuum of care for county residents.

Laguna has continued making progress through its Weed and Seed designation by the department of Justice in 1998, a year after they ceased being a formal project site. The former Coordinator for Laguna, Ms. Bonnie Vallo, was asked by a Weed and Seed project in Albuquerque to assist in its development this year.

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Northwest New Mexico Fighting Back
Healthy Nations Program

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Colorado School of Public Health

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