The Office of Native American Affairs in the city of Albuquerque, with support from other advocacy groups like the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, will be hosting the Indigenous Housing Justice Summit at the Albuquerque Convention Center on Tuesday, Oct. 11. The summit will take place the day after Indigenous Peoples Day and seeks to address housing insecurity within Indigenous communities.
Chenoa Bah Stilwell-Jensen, an co-organizer with the Housing Justice Collaborative Group, said they were inspired to host the summit by voices throughout the Indigenous community and to address the ongoing housing crisis both in urban communities and traditional homelands — also known as reservation lands.
“... as well as shelters for those who experienced domestic violence — on and off in traditional homelands and in urban communities — as well as Section 8 housing, emergency rental assistance, transitional housing and home ownership,” Stilwell-Jensen said. “So really looking at the full spectrum of housing.”
The summit will be a free event available in person and online, and will allow for leaders in the housing justice movement to learn from each other along with the public. The summit was created for after many were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and experienced unemployment as well as a loss of housing, according to Stilwell-Jensen. Many who sought out housing in urban areas like Albuquerque and lacked the ability to return home were further affected by increasing rent in the city.
“We have a high population of unsheltered relatives in Albuquerque, and the majority of those who are unsheltered are Native American, Indigenous, and we feel that we need to come together to support them. A majority of those Indigenous people are women … It's a really critical factor that this Gateway Center is going to be a safe shelter for these women,” Stilwell-Jensen said.
The federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which provided support to many Native communities, ended in September, making the New Mexico state goverment the only resource for those communities. The summit aims to call attention to this along with rising rents, according to Stilwell-Jensen.
“Why are landlords not allowing for Section 8 vouchers at their places of establishment? We want to have New Mexico lawmakers really assess how people are living and, if they're not thriving, how is housing a part of that issue? Where it needs to be addressed (is) by providing affordable homes, safe spaces, safe neighborhoods and really ensuring that just because a person gets an increase in their salary, doesn't mean that automatically their rent should go up as well,” Stilwell-Jensen said.
The event’s keynote speaker will be Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty who has advocated for housing on Native homelands and has demonstrated support for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives.
“New Mexico has one of the highest rates of missing, murdered and Indigenous people — Indigenous women and Indigenous girls — and those who are transgender, LGBTQ, nonbinary individuals who are affected by this crisis. And so we really feel that there are housing inequities that are also leading to this crisis,” Stilwell-Jensen said.
Along with the keynote, other panels will take place allowing for discussion of many different aspects of housing from homelands to urban areas, with Stilwell-Jensen identifying the centric theme as “housing as a human right.”
“All of these traditional homes have been purposely meant to be annihilated, and not to exist in this nation because of colonization and genocide. And so for our communities to revive themselves and to see a home as a safe, sacred space again, whether it's in their traditional homelands or in an urban area,” Stilwell-Jensen said.
The goal of the summit is to call for policymakers to take actual action beyond memorial bills and to support affordable housing, according to Stilwell-Jensen. There are plans for a future summit in April 2023 and the possibility of holding one in Arizona.
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“I think really gathering our hearts and our minds to really address this issue together; to increase the amount of resources, to increase the amount of advocacy to change these policies so they better support our community people. And also to draw attention to this issue for awareness, but also for educational purposes. But also that this not only affects Indigenous people, this affects everyone — every walk of life,” Stilwell-Jensen said.
Maddie Pukite is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @maddogpukite