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Searchlight New Mexico Stories

Native Public Media and Searchlight are pleased to release the following stories in the Navajo language about missing, endangered, and murdered native relatives.

"Searching on their own"

by Vanessa G. Sánchez

Photography by Shayla Blatchford for Searchlight New Mexico

A Navajo-led search and rescue group looks for missing and murdered Indigenous people — going where no one else will.

From Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, a dozen volunteers and three separate families — uncles, aunts, cousins, and neighbors — have come together to search for Ryan Tom, yet another Navajo man missing on tribal land.

This latest search represents one of the countless times the Tom family has gone looking for Ryan. They’ve scouted around the Red Mesa Chapter House on ATVs, searched a nearby solar energy plant, and looked along County Road 443, which divides Utah and Arizona. Finally, empty-handed, they turned to Bernadine Beyale, a search and rescue expert.

Though her team is all-volunteer, these search parties don’t come cheap. A single search can cost up to $1,000 for food, fuel, medical supplies, printouts, and electrolyte drinks. Beyale relies on community donations to cover expenses; searches are always conducted free, she says, for families with missing loved ones.

“If I don’t find anything out here, at least I’m canceling out an area,” Beyale said.

Still, she says she feels a weight on her shoulders whenever a search fails to turn up anything. While she continues looking for answers, she’s learned that there’s no such thing as “closure” for the families.

“They don’t like that word,” Beyale says. “Because most of the time, you won’t find closure.”

To listen to it in Navajo or Read more, click here.

"These Foster Kids Need Mental Health Care. New Mexico Is Putting Them in Homeless Shelters"

by Ed Williams

Photography by Kitra Cahana, special to ProPublica

Youth crisis shelters aren’t set up to deal with foster youth who need intensive mental health treatment. When teens try to harm themselves or others, staff resort to calling 911.

Facilities like this, known as children’s crisis shelters, are licensed to temporarily house kids with nowhere to go. They don’t provide psychiatric care. But they are home to some of the foster system’s highest-needs teens, an investigation by Searchlight New Mexico and ProPublica has found.

It’s not supposed to be this way. Two and a half years ago, the state of New Mexico settled a landmark civil rights lawsuit, agreeing to place teens in foster homes or with relatives instead of emergency facilities such as youth shelters. The agreement also called for the state to reduce its reliance on residential treatment centers — troubled facilities that had become hotbeds of abuse and assault.

The state has fulfilled part of its agreement, largely by shutting down several residential treatment centers. Due in part to those closures, the number of children in group facilities, which includes shelters and residential treatment centers, has dropped by about 60% over the four years ending in August, according to the state.

But New Mexico has yet to build the system it promised: “a statewide, community-based behavioral health system that all children and families will be able to access.”

To listen to it in Navajo or Read more, click here.


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