The New Mexico Veterans Memorial Center in Albuquerque, N.M., was the site Saturday, Feb. 15 of a historic moment for Native American veteran groups.
The Southwest Native American Veterans Alliance met to finalize bylaws and articles of incorporation to establish its status legally as a nonprofit organization. The alliance will serve as an umbrella organization for tribal veterans service offices and Native American veterans groups in the Southwest.
Currently there are an estimated 40 members consisting of tribal veteran programs and groups from the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos, Laguna Pueblo, Navajo Nation and Southern Ute Indian Tribe. All have been involved since its beginning in September 2013. There are also interested veterans groups from California, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Washington.
“This association will benefit all our Native People who have served,” said Southern Ute veteran Rod Grove.
Because as Howard Richards stated, “Who is taking care of those who don’t have an association?”
The mission of the alliance is to educate and assist in the areas of veterans rights, entitlements, benefits and enrolling families for entitlement benefits. Membership is open to non-Native Americans and Native American honorably discharged veterans, their spouses and children.
Southern Ute Indian Tribal Councilman Howard D. Richards Sr., a veteran and former tribal chairman, said the association’s services are critical.
“Who is taking care of those who don’t have an association?” said Richards, who at the meeting was also elected to the association’s board.
Also present was Joe Martinez, honorary chair of the Veterans Advisory Council’s Executive Committee for U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M.
“Veterans need a voice, a collective voice,” he said.
Following a final motion to approve the bylaws and incorporation, board members were nominated and selected. Board members are Richards, Perry Benally (Diné), Fred Luna (Isleta), Ramus Suina (Cochiti), Marvin Trujillo (Laguna) and ex-officio Martinez.
“It’s a historic day as we are starting a new association to help veterans,” said Marvin Trujillo, Veterans Program director for Laguna Pueblo, “Let’s show D.C. we have taken initiative, on our own, to take care of our veterans.”
The meeting continued with much discussion on the upcoming veterans conference scheduled for Sept. 22-24 at Iselta Resort & Casino. The general theme of the conference will be “ Empowering Veterans: Speaking With One Voice, Veterans Rising for Healing.”
The agenda and possible workshops were discussed; Grove suggested a workshop to discuss agreements between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Indian Health Service to increase health coverage for veterans in rural areas, which has already been done by the Southern Ute Tribe.
The Southwest Native American Veterans Alliance set a next meeting for Feb. 22 at 10 a.m. at the Laguna Pueblo Wellness Center. A website and Facebook page is in development.