News & Update

The Rich Cultural Identity of Native Americans in ABQ

From local government officials to philanthropic stakeholders to Living Cities staff, this story is one in a series that demonstrates the impact Living Cities has across the U.S. — connecting individuals and highlighting successful initiatives.

Dawn Begay

Native American Affairs Coordinator for the City of Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque is home to the 7th largest urban native population in the U.S., with more than 400 tribal nations represented within and around the city. Indigenous populations, however, are some of our most vulnerable communities.

I am Dine from the Navajo Nation. Since time immemorial, my maternal family lived on Black Mesa near Shonto, Arizona. My family has been subjected to displacement and forced relocation by the government for generations. My great, great, great grandmother returned from the Long Walk upon release by the Federal Government soldiers at Bosque Redondo. My great grandmother was forcibly removed due to the Hopi-Navajo Land Dispute Settlement Act. My grandmother was taken as a young child and forced to attend boarding school in Fort Wingate, New Mexico and then relocated to San Francisco, California upon graduation to assimilate into urban life. However, she did not stay in California, but returned to New Mexico to obtain her degrees in education; ultimately retiring as an educational administrator after 45 years. As for myself, I live in Albuquerque because I can’t go back and there are more opportunities afforded to me in the city than on the reservation. My family’s story is just one of the hundreds of thousands of Indigenous families that were forced to relocate. But going to school here, getting a job here and buying a home here was extremely difficult. So, how can Indigenous communities build wealth when every generation has been and is still being affected by forced removal and relocation policies?

I have been working with the City of Albuquerque for two years and serving as the Native American Affairs Coordinator within the Office of Equity and Inclusion. We believe that people of all backgrounds are our greatest asset and we work to achieve racial equity and social justice. Understanding the history of the people who live here, celebrating their cultural identity, representing the people at every level of government and advocating to create space for our community to insert their voice is a step towards building capacity and providing equitable and inclusive services and resources.

In our partnership with Living Cities, we specifically focus on housing and homeownership. The community voiced their concerns of Native Americans experiencing homelessness and difficulty achieving housing security. My work centers around creating opportunity for Albuquerque’s native population to create and develop their own wealth through homeownership. Generally speaking, individual ownership and wealth is a fairly new concept to indigenous communities as we value what benefits the community. But I think our work can do both. There has to be a way for individuals and families to build wealth through homeownership while simultaneously uplifting native-owned businesses and entrepreneurs. To achieve this, multiple jurisdictions need to work together, from tribes to city to state and federal governments, providing Indigenous communities with the tools and resources needed to create their own wealth within cities and overcome generations of disadvantage.

Ultimately, we want the narrative of Native Americans not to be seen as a burden or the face of homelessness, but to shine as a part of our city’s rich cultural identity.

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