Secluded Rez community fosters healthy lifestyles
ALAMO, N.M. — Secluded in the mountains of the Cibola National Forest is the Alamo Indian Reservation. The nearest gas station is 30 miles away, in the town of Magdalena. For the residents of Alamo, isolation is a way of life.
For this segment of the Navajo population, their status as a satellite community of the reservation usually means having to wait for the same opportunities afforded larger communities. On June 16, their wait for a new community center finally ended.
Alamo Navajo School Board Inc. celebrated the new opening of a $2.4 million facility funded through the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act funding, Indian Housing Services and the State of New Mexico.
ANSB received $884,000 in funding from the Fiscal Year 2002 NAHASDA funding, while the remaining $1.5 million in funding came from the State of New Mexico and Indian Health Service.
In the center of town, a new structure rises from the desert floor, a combination of concrete, steel and postmodern design that would have caught the eye of Frank Lloyd Wright.
The Alamo Community Wellness Center is aesthetically pleasing to the eyes, while offering an amenity of activities: weights, aerobics, basketball, tabletop games and even a rock climbing wall.
Of course, the crown jewel of the new facility is the gymnasium, complete with bleachers and a stage for community social gatherings. Before the grand opening celebration began, people toured the new facility and enjoyed refreshments in the lobby of the wellness center.
More than 100 people attended the event, including Navajo Nation Vice President Frank Dayish Jr. Serving as masters of ceremony, Manuel Guerro and Jackson Pino shared a brief history of the Alamo community.
“Thank you. This community definitely needed this kind of facility,” Pino said. “It’s a dream, a wish come true. I’ve never seen anything like this before in Alamo.”
Previously, a stone hogan served as the community wellness center.
Navajo singer/songwriter Socie Saltwater opened the program with traditional Navajo songs and an acoustic number she wrote for her grandparents. Saltwater’s stirring cover of “Proud Mary” from Ike and Tina Turner got the crowd charged up before the guest speakers took stage.
“I’m real happy you all got this new wellness center. Workout and be happy,” Saltwater told the crowd before leaving stage.
Michael Hawkes, executive director of the Navajo Alamo School Board, said the community of Alamo was rich in cultural diversity.
“This is going to be the main gathering point for the community, for all cultures to come together and be healthy,” Hawkes said.
George Willard was the architect who designed the spacious facility, while Sam Wadsworth Construction was contracted to build the center. Sam Wadsworth Construction is a Native American enterprise and a significant achievement in the eyes of Navajo Nation Vice President Frank Dayish Jr.
“I was real happy to hear that we had a Navajo contractor building this project,” Dayish said. “We have Navajo people building a Navajo community, that’s pride and ownership.
“Let’s take New Mexico and the Navajo Nation forward. Thank you to the leaders here and the Navajo Housing Authority. They’ve done an excellent job,” he added.
Also in attendance was U.S. Representative for the State of New Mexico, Don Tripp.
“I’ve seen a lot of health facilities across the state and this is the best I’ve seen,” Tripp said. “The people came together and spoke about their needs in the community.”
He recalled breaking ground in Alamo in 2004, to begin construction of the facility.
Dave Becenti, quality inspector for the NHA Grants Management Dept., said the new wellness center was a significant achievement and symbol of NAHASDA funding. However, the new facility was not the end of construction activities in Alamo, he added.
“We should have the new teacher and staff housing start construction in August,” Becenti said. We completed 11 scattered sites in Alamo last year from FY 02 funding and we’re going to start on 15 more scattered sites in Aug. for FY 06 funding.
“The Navajo Housing Authority is working with the Alamo community and we will continue to work with you,” he said.
The teacher and staff housing is funded by NAHASDA in the amount of $2.2 million for 20 new units. Becenti said ANSB is awaiting FY 06 release of funds from NHA, which should be available in Aug.
“The Alamo community needs good, quality teachers and an incentive for them to stay,” Becenti said.
Native America Calling talk show host Patty Talahongva was the keynote speaker, sharing statistics and health related information broadcast over the air through the years.
“Your community is poor, with a 60 percent unemployment rate, according to the U.S. Census 2000,” Talahongva said. “But take a look around and see all of your culture here, the language and art.
“We need to change our perspective and see that we’re rich in our Indian culture,” she added.
Healthy lifestyles mean more than just staying active, Talahongva said.
“Our native men have such a hard time going out and getting help,” she said. “It’s usually up to the wife and mother to get them into the hospital for the check up.
“Men, get out there and get your prostate checked this summer,” Talahongva encouraged.
She spoke of the relationship of holistic wellness, binding the spiritual, mental, physical and emotional health together for a balanced lifestyle.
“Right now, inhalants and meth are ravaging Indian Country. Did you know 8th – 12th grade students on meth are dying of heart attacks? Every time we do a show on meth, our phone lines light up,” Talahongva said.
Education is the answer, she said, and the self awareness that comes with a healthy lifestyle.
“What did our ancestors eat? What did they fight for,” Talahongva questioned. “They fought so we could survive. Are we surviving?”