Law Center reaches out to Native Americans

This graphic is the logo for the Native American Law Center which includes the universal access and scale of justice symbors & is black, torquoise and red in color.
Law Center Logo

For seven years, the Native American Disability Law Center has been working with the Navajo Nation, the nation’s largest Native American reservation, to establish basic adult protection measures for people with disabilities.

Though the Navajo Nation has statutes providing protections for children with disabilities and the elderly, it has no regulations in its legal framework providing safeguards for adults with disabilities from abuse and neglect. As a semiautonomous nation, the Navajo Nation is not affected by most state and federal laws.

Similarly, the process of providing services for Native Americans with disabilities is also more complicated than with people living in other jurisdictions, especially because many of the service programs for the reservations are contracted out.

“You get a dynamic where multiple people say it’s not our responsibility,” said Therese Yanan, co-director of program services at the Native American Disability Law Center. “Services can be delayed while people are trying to figure out how to deliver which services.”

These challenges are just a few of the unique issues the lawyers and advocates regularly engage at the Native American Disability Law Center.

The center, established in 1991 as the Native American Protection and Advocacy, was originally located in Navajo Nation as a program of the Legal Services Corporation. In 2005, it became a separate nonprofit.

The center has two main offices, in Farmington, New Mexico and in Gallup, New Mexico. Though most of its calls come from the Navajo Nation, an area about the size of West Virginia, it sometimes receives calls from Native Americans nationwide, whom they direct to various protection and advocacy organizations and other service providers.

Outreach efforts to Native Americans is often especially challenging for the center because of the myriad cultural and language issues that arise between Native American and non-Native American individuals, as well as between people from the different reservations.

“With all the language differences, there’s sometimes really not any communication happening,” she said.

In recent years, the center has been involved in multiple lawsuits with the Navajo Nation, involving issues such as due process in vocational rehab and other discrimination cases. Housing issues are also prevalent.

“Although New Mexico has ended its large scale institutions, institutional issues remain on the Navajo Nation, where the homeless rate is sometimes as high as 45 to 50 percent,” Yanan said.

The Native American Disability Law Center is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.

3 responses to “Law Center reaches out to Native Americans

  1. I would like tribes to provide equal access and support for the disabled on reservation, for the enforcment of MedicineCreek treaty of 1854, offering a supplamental income for our salmon fishery, and shellfish gathering, to those that qualify, equally.

  2. It does seem as though the challenges cited are the same for outreach efforts throughout the USA, with cultural. language, and regional issues; delayed services and jurisdictional conflicts; uncoordinated patchwork contracted services; housing and discrimination issues. As for the state of New Mexico having a better reputation concerning elimination of institutions and quality of institutional care, I hesitate to overlook the recent past with issues like .
    It may be that having had such a long relationship with the great Navajo Nation that includes multiple lawsuits, has created a narrower focus on the many challenges found in that community that are actually experienced throughout the USA between individuals and groups who speak exactly the same language.
    Although I admire and respect the efforts of the Native American Disability Law Center, I feel this article reflects the bias of the dominant non-Indian culture. Working toward an admirable goal for seven years might give advocates good reason to feel frustrated and count excuses for the slow pace of change in protection or support of vulnerable individuals, but advocates in every community throughout the USA have been working for at least a quarter of a century on the same issues and goals for safeguards and opportunities with varying degrees of forward movement and pushes back. Where there may be actual regulations in legal framework throughout the states, people with disabilities continue to be abused, neglected, cheated, and otherwise harmed without those subjecting them to such harm having to face consequences.
    I would never devalue the existence of laws and regulations put in place to provide safeguards and consequences for abuse or neglect, I only mean to point out that comparing the challenges faced by people with disabilities living on the Navajo reservation to those living in an imaginary idyllic alternative off the reservation does not do a service to either population. It is nowhere an ‘us and them’ situation. We are all us.
    I believe we often get into habits or develop perspectives that keep us from finding different ways of working with one another – those woven finger ‘handcuffs’ come to mind – that restrict and bind the fingers tighter the more we follow the intuitive move to pull them farther apart, but loosen and let go when we push one toward the other.
    I hope that some of the difficulties experienced will eventually be resolved as all sides work with respect and dignity toward a more inclusive and supportive community for every person. This is not easy work for any group, family, PTA, political party or board and will most certainly be frustrating for tribes and disability advocates. I am grateful that members of the Navajo Tribe and the Native American Disability Law Center have been working on these issues for seven years and wish you many successes in the future.

Comments are closed.