Long a state icon, Spanish conquistador faces attacks
ALBUQUERQUE — The Spanish conquistador is an image found throughout New Mexico, the most Hispanic state in the United States.
Depictions of men such as 17th century explorers Don Juan de Oñate and Don Diego de Vargas have long adorned murals and been honored at commemorations as symbols of the region's Hispanic heritage.
In recent years, however, the conquistador and all the effigies connected to it have come under intense criticism. A new generation of Native American and Latino activists is demanding that conquistador imagery and names be removed from seals, schools and streets. They say the figure's connection to colonialism and indigenous genocide makes the conquistador outdated, highlighting the region's changing attitudes about its colonial past.
Activists convinced organizers of the yearly Santa Fe Fiesta to abandon "the Entrada" — a recreation of de Vargas recapturing Santa Fe for the Spanish from Pueblo tribes. Under pressure, Santa Fe's public school district also announced it would limit when conquistador reenactors visit. This month, the University of New Mexico said it's looking for a new design for its official seal following protests from Native Americans over concerns about the current seal with a conquistador.
The demonstrations and protests have inflamed racial tensions between some New Mexico Latinos — who call themselves Hispanos — and Native American tribes. Both sides say the battle is over how to tell the region's history.
The Spanish identity has made New Mexico unique in how some Hispanic residents have celebrated the conquistador.
Nick Estes, an American Studies professor at the University of New Mexico and co-founder of The Red Nation, said activists want state leaders to stop lionizing the region's violent colonial past and recognize the history of Native Americans.
Wildlife officials fight to keep 'zombie deer' from state
LAS VEGAS — Zombie deer may sound like something in a bad B-movie, but wildlife regulators say they're real and officials are working to keep them out of Nevada.
The term relates to animals that have contracted chronic wasting disease, a highly contagious and terminal disorder that causes symptoms such as lack of fear of humans, lethargy and emaciation, The Las Vegas Sun reported. It can destroy deer and elk populations.
Officials are testing dead animals and monitoring migratory elk and deer at the state line with Utah for signs of the sickness, a Nevada Department of Wildlife veterinarian said.
States reporting animals with the illness include Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming.
The incurable disease is neither viral nor bacterial. Instead, it is transmitted by prions — protein particles that have been linked to brain diseases including mad cow disease in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.
Nevada lawmakers this year banned bringing certain animal body parts into the state, including the brain and the spinal cord that can contain large concentrations of prions, in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease.
Politician charged in human trafficking adoption scheme
PHOENIX — An Arizona elected official ran a human smuggling scheme that promised pregnant women thousands of dollars to lure them from a Pacific Island nation to the U.S., where they were crammed into houses to wait to give birth, sometimes with little to no prenatal care, prosecutors allege.
Paul Petersen, the Republican assessor of Arizona's most populous county, was charged in Utah, Arizona and Arkansas with counts including human smuggling, sale of a child, fraud, forgery and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The charges span about three years and involve some 75 adoptions. Investigators also found eight pregnant women from the Marshall Islands in raids of his properties outside Phoenix, and several more are waiting to give birth in Utah, authorities said.
The adoptive parents are considered victims along with the birth mothers, and no completed adoptions will be undone, authorities said.
Petersen's attorney defended his client's actions during a court hearing in Phoenix as "proper business practices" and said they disagreed with the allegations.
Prosecutors say Petersen used associates in the Marshall Islands to recruit pregnant women by offering many of them $10,000 each to give up their babies for adoption. Petersen would pay for the women to travel to the U.S. days or months before giving birth and live in a home that he owned until delivering the baby, according to the court records.
Beer drenches Mormon church parking lot after truck crashes
SALT LAKE CITY — Cans of beer have littered the parking lot of a church of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a Salt Lake City suburb after a semi-trailer crashed that was carrying cases of brew banned by the faith.
Sandy Police Stg. Jason Nielsen said the semitrailer veered and fell from a road and into the church's parking lot after it was hit by a pickup truck that ran a red light. Beer cans were strewn across the empty church parking lot.
One of the faith's key rules is a ban on members drinking alcohol.
Nielsen says the semitrailer driver was left with injuries that were not life-threatening.
The pickup truck driver wasn't hurt. Authorities haven't determined if he will be cited.
The church building wasn't damaged.
Research finds uranium in Navajo women, babies
ALBUQUERQUE — About a quarter of Navajo women and some infants who were part of a federally funded study on uranium exposure had high levels of the radioactive metal in their systems, decades after mining for Cold War weaponry ended on their reservation, a U.S. health official said.
The early findings from the University of New Mexico study — shared during a congressional field hearing — screened 781 women during an initial phase of the study that ended last year.
Among them, 26% had concentrations of uranium that exceeded levels found in the highest 5% of the U.S. population, and newborns with equally high concentrations continued to be exposed to uranium during their first year, she said.
The research is continuing as authorities work to clear uranium mining sites across the Navajo Nation.
The hearing held in Albuquerque by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall and U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Lujan and Deb Haaland, all Democrats from New Mexico, sought to underscore the atomic age's impact on Native American communities.
The three are pushing for legislation that would expand radiation compensation to residents in their state, including post-1971 uranium workers and residents who lived downwind from the Trinity Test site in southern New Mexico.
The state's history has long been intertwined with the development of the nation's nuclear arsenal, from uranium mining and the first atomic blast to the Manhattan project conducted through work in the once-secret city of Los Alamos. The federal Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, however, only covers parts of Nevada, Arizona and Utah that are downwind from a different nuclear test site.
From the end of World War II to the mid-1980s, millions of tons of uranium ore were extracted from the Navajo Nation, leaving gray streaks across the desert landscape, as well as a legacy of disease and death.