Human relations group ready for next step

Keywords: Poll question,

It’s been five years since the Montelores Human Relations Coalition was formed, and they are ready to take the next step.

The coalition, which represents Montezuma and Dolores counties, was recently advised by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (CCRC) to form a complaint committee. Such a committee would be enabled to try to mediate a resolution between affected parties. If a resolution is not possible, the coalition could forward the complaint to the CCRC in Denver.

Such a complaint committee would periodically visit towns in the two counties, said coalition secretary Bill Jobin.

Jobin said the coalition normally receives one to two complaints at each of its monthly meetings. However, over the past five years the CCRC has only received “two or three” complaints from this area, Jobin said. The other complaints were apparently left unresolved. Jobin said complainants often need help filling out the CCRC complaint form, hence the need for a complaint committee.

The coalition is looking to improve relationships in employment, education and hospital care, for example. “It’s a long, slow slog,” Jobin said.

“The primary problem here is discrimination against Native Americans,” Jobin said. He noted the coalition’s mission statement works to prevent and resolve conflicts perceived to be discriminatory based on race, creed, color, disability, gender, sexual orientation, religion and national origin.

The coalition was formed after some Native Americans were attacked in a park just before Christmas in 2007. The coalition grew out of the ensuing dialogue. Cortez Police Chief Roy Lane serves as treasurer of the group.

Art Neskahi is the coalition’s president. Neskahi, a Navajo, grew up in Shiprock, N.M., but his family moved to the Cortez area in 1967. He has seen the effect of violence first-hand. His brother was beaten by three caucasian males and run over by a pickup truck, Jobin said.

Neskahi founded the All Nations Medicine Lodge in 1997. Its focus was on traditional Native American culture. It became Southwest Inter-tribal Voice in 2001. That group, which consists of seven Native Americans in addition to Neskahi, conducts its meetings jointly with the Montelores Human Relations Coalition.

The coalition held a wine-and-cheese fundraiser a couple of years ago at the Cortez Cultural Center. Approximately $3,000 was raised, which is being used to build a ceremonial hogan on Neskahi’s property between Cortez and Towaoc.

At one point, Neskahi became discouraged. He wanted more people to become involved in the coalition, and didn’t attend three consecutive meetings to see what would happen. Several board members resigned, but that’s when Jobin stepped up.

“Jobin really wants to see the coalition revived,” Neskahi said. “He picked up the ball and is starting to run with it. He has the commitment and passion to help it go forward.”

Jobin, who splits his time between Cortez and Massachusetts, got involved in part because his adopted children were discriminated against after they moved here in 1996. “I assumed the problem would take care of itself,” he said. He and his wife ended up sending their three minority children out of state.

Jobin believes in responding to discrimination with non-violence. “When you see injustice, you have to stand up against it because tolerating it is a way of participating in the injustice,” he said.

He advocates boycotts, marches and writing letters to the editor, for example.

The coalition is working on hosting a walk in the park and ethnic music festival next summer, complete with Ute drummers, Scottish bagpipers and Mexican dancers.

The group is looking for additional members and volunteers to help build the hogan.

Their next meeting is at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14 at Cortez Public Library. For more information, call Neskahi at 739-7280.