On March 1, 1973, an activist's kidnapping of the Gallup mayor rocked the small New Mexican town and drew national attention to Native American activism in the state.
Carried out by Larry Casuse, then-president of the University of New Mexico KIVA Club, the dramatic event would cement itself in the timeline of Native American struggles in the region.
Larry Wayne Casuse had long been known as a political activist within the Gallup community. By the time he was 19 years old, he was a key figure in the KIVA Club, an organization dedicated to providing support for Native American students at UNM, as well as raising awareness for Native American issues and events.
Casuse's main public focus centered around violence against the Native American population and unchecked liquor sales in Gallup. Even as a high school student, Casuse was an advocate for his community, unsuccessfully lobbying local government for reform in these areas.
Casuse was especially involved in issues relating to the mayor of Gallup at the time, Emmett Garcia. Garcia was a co-owner of the Navajo Inn, and a liquor store located a mile east of the Arizona-New Mexico border. Casuse, as well as others in the Navajo community, condemned the liquor store for profiting off of alcohol sales despite its severe impact on Native American populations. Alcohol was largely blamed for the increase in deaths of Native Americans in the region.
In early 1973, Garcia was nominated to the UNM Board of Regents. Casuse attended Garcia's confirmation hearing and firmly protested the nomination. Casuse testified on what he believed was Garcia's lack of concern for Native American people. He criticized Garcia's involvement in an alcohol rehabilitation program as a conflict of interest, given Garcia's part-ownership of the Navajo Inn, calling him a "false person."
In UNM's documentation of the Feb. 23, 1973 meeting, Casuse is also cited as saying to the Board, "We don't really care what you people do, because you people aren't human beings."
Garcia was, nonetheless, confirmed to the Board of Regents.
The following week on March 1 at 4:10 p.m., Casuse walked into Garcia's office, produced a pistol and marched Garcia out of his office at gunpoint. Accompanying Casuse was Robert Nakaidinae, who aided Casuse in the kidnapping.
The trio was briefly stopped by the Chief of Police Manuel Gonzales, who unloaded and surrendered his weapon after Nakaidinae threatened to kill Garcia. When Garcia asked Casuse what his plan was, Casuse replied, "We're going to march you around the state."
Casuse and Nakaidinae led Garcia down the street to a sporting goods store. There they barricaded themselves while law enforcement assembled outside the building. According to Garcia, Casuse stepped away briefly, and Garcia decided to attempt an escape. He kicked Nakaidinae and ran toward the window.
Seconds later, the mayor crashed through the store's front window in a rain of glass. He was accidentally shot in the back by startled police. Garcia was pulled to safety by Gonzales. According to Gonzales, the police officers began taking fire from inside the store shortly after the mayor's escape. Gonzales ordered a barrage of tear gas as officers returned fire with their service weapons.
After the shooting subsided, Nakaidinae walked out of the store to surrender. Police arrested Nakaidinae and entered the store. Inside, they found Casuse lying on the floor, dead.
A coroner's report, detailed in an Albuquerque Journal article from March 3, 1973, reported Casuse's death as a suicide. District Attorney Louis DePauli summarized the report, stating that while there were multiple gunshot wounds found on Casuse's body, the fatal one appeared to be a self-inflicted shotgun blast.
News of Casuse's death rippled through the Native American community. On March 3, 1973 hundreds of people gathered for a peaceful march through Gallup. Native American groups, including the KIVA Club, demanded further investigation into the events leading up to and including Casuse's death.
Garcia, meanwhile, was recovering at a nearby hospital guarded by FBI agents. The gunshot wound he sustained was superficial.
"I feel that the majority of Indians in the country are good people, and there is no way that I will hold this act against the good people," Garcia said in a statement.
The kidnapping came at a crucial time in Native American activist history. Just days earlier, hundreds of Native Americans — led by members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) — occupied Wounded Knee in South Dakota. Wounded Knee was previously the site of a massacre of Lakota men, women and children in 1890 by the U.S. Cavalry.
Armed with a variety of weapons, the group took 11 people hostage as federal authorities laid siege, at times exchanging gunfire with AIM members. The occupation lasted for 71 days and ended on May 8. Two AIM members were killed.
Casuse's actions caught the nation's attention and was the main focus of local media in the days following the kidnapping. The Daily Lobo reported on the controversy surrounding Garcia's appointment to the Board of Regents in an issue published on March 2, 1973.
"ASUNM Senate (had previously) blasted the appointment of the mayor calling for Gov. Bruce King's reconsideration of the matter," the Lobo wrote. King had previously nominated Garcia for the Board of Regents position.
Casuse's actions have inspired much of the current KIVA Club's activism and its mission. Today, his memory is still alive and thriving within the KIVA Club.
"He did what he did out of a place of genuine love for his people, not of just hate for oppressors," Jennifer Marley, a former KIVA club president, said.
In a 2016 article, Demetrius Johnson, the president of KIVA Club at the time, discussed Casuse's importance to the club with the Daily Lobo.
"KIVA Club always looks towards Larry," Johnson said. "Having the spirit of Larry Casuse, which is what we always say, is fighting for your people and fighting for your community and fighting for indigenous rights. That's a part of what KIVA Club is."
For KIVA Club, one of their main goals is keeping UNM in check.
"We’ve really been a thorn in (UNM's) side, and that’s something that I'm proud of," Marley said. "There's so much that UNM owes to native people."
The KIVA Club has published a list of 11 demands stemming from the controversial UNM seal depicting a Spanish conquistador. Among the demands is a call for the "Formal Adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as UNM Policy." UNM's adoption of the declaration has also been encouraged by ASUNM and by the All Pueblo Council of Governors.
"(The demands) are very baseline, bare minimum demands," Marley said. "Regardless if we have permission or not, just like Larry Casuse we're going to keep pushing."
Liam DeBonis is a freelance photographer at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @LiamDebonis