Families rally for relatives facing bordertown violence

Group raises the call for resources like counseling, job training, substance abuse prevention

By: - May 6, 2022 12:49 pm

Family members of Zachariah Shorty light up candles for his birthday, which was May 5. (Photo by Cyrus Norcross for Source NM)

FARMINGTON — Family members and advocates lined up Thursday in front of Berg Park to raise awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous people and how poverty leads to unrest on Native lands. 

“The sad truth about it is many of these families are the working poor,” said organizer Darlene Gomez. “Their communities are infested with domestic violence, alcoholism, drug abuse and these problems stem from the federal government not putting enough money into social programs.”

Gomez, an attorney and victim’s advocate, put together the event in collaboration with the Party for Socialism & Liberation and Vangie Randall-Shorty. Social issues brought to light were domestic violence, lack of resources for the community and substance abuse.

Justice for Relatives

“There also needs to be more opportunities for the youth as they grow into adulthood as far as college scholarships, welding programs, letting them know that there is a future outside of today, that there is a future tomorrow and we can be whatever we want to be,” Gomez said. 

Red flags

Kimberly Wahpepah (Diné), a sex trafficking survivor, spoke from her experience. “The traffickers know what they are doing. They prey upon young women, even little girls,” she said. “Because most of the time, no one knows how to say no. They are so easily pulled in.”

She discussed red flags for young people to look out for when they are being targeted or groomed by a sex trafficker.

“They will take advantage of the vulnerability of your situation,” she said. “The trafficker will feed off of that through manipulation, groom you. He will take you out to dinner and start to make you feel comfortable, then throw you into that world.”

Kimberly Wahpepah says a prayer at the end of the rally on Thursday, May 5, 2022. Around 30 people attended the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People rally. (Photo by Cyrus Norcross for Source NM)

She said social media is the place where people often meet their abusers and sometimes are even introduced by a person that is familiar. “They will start inboxing you, asking if you would like to make some money by being their girlfriend for a week,” she said. “They can be your friends, asking you to come over and hang out. It’s that quick.”

Wahpepah said reporting the crime and speaking up about it when it occurs are key to breaking the cycle of trafficking. 

“The first thing that needs to happen is reporting it,” she said. “Someone can be murdered, missing — it’s not something to be joked about. That’s someone else’s life.”

To make her point, she shared an example of recent experience, where she said a person on the street propositioned her, saying there’s money to be made.

“I stood there in silence. I didn’t know what to say,” she said. “He’s saying he can make a lot of money off of me because I’m Indigenous.”

Vigil for a loved one

Vangie Randall-Shorty (Diné) held a candle vigil for her son, Zachariah Shorty, in Kirtland on the day of his birthday. He would have been 25-years-old. 

Zachariah was born May 5, 1997, and the last time he was seen by his mother was on July 21, 2020 after dropping him off at Journey Inn in Farmington. 

On July 25, 2020, his body was found on a dirt trail half a mile away from Nenahnezad Chapter House.

The family of Melanie Marie James stand in front Berg Park in Farmington on May 5, 2022 raising awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous People. James has been missing since April 20, 2014. (Photo by Cyrus Norcross for Source NM)

“I want to bring awareness to this community that this is happening in our community,” Vangie said. “I just hope that people out there will report something so we can find closure.”

Vangie spoke about how poverty has not only affected people on Native lands but in rural areas such as Kirtland. 

“So many families go through this. They have no idea where to turn,” Vangie said. “There is a lack of resources for help here. For instance, with Zach’s drug addiction and mental health, there are no facilities where he could go or other families can go.”

The reliance on the bordertowns for treatment requires transportation and money for gas, Vangie said, and the family would have to drive hours to Albuquerque or into Colorado for outside resources to help with his addiction.

“There is nothing on the reservation. Look at Shiprock — no jail, no police station. At the hospital you can only get so much health care,” Vangie said. “The people have to go elsewhere — no resources at all for anybody. In Farmington, everything is full. They don’t have enough facilities for the people. There are not enough resources here.”

Rose Yazzie, mother of missing Ranelle Rose Bennett, holds a sign with her daughter on May 5. Bennett has been missing since June 15, 2021. (Photo by Cyrus Norcross for Source NM)

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Cyrus Norcross
Cyrus Norcross

Cyrus Norcross is a writer and photographer. His work can be seen in the Navajo Times.