Heroes: Protectors of their people

Crucial work of the Taos Pueblo Emergency Management Team

By Juanisidro Concha
Posted 6/25/20

For millennia, Taos Pueblo has faced its enemies with the kind of respect worthy of Camelot's Round Table.

From the age of discovery to the Spanish flu, Taos Pueblo has endured. We've battled the Catholic Church for a right to believe in ourselves; we've fought back against a cunning conqueror, who would see our mountainous cathedral mowed down to grazing lands, and won.

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Heroes: Protectors of their people

Crucial work of the Taos Pueblo Emergency Management Team

Posted

For millennia, Taos Pueblo has faced its enemies with the kind of respect worthy of Camelot's Round Table.

From the age of discovery to the Spanish flu, Taos Pueblo has endured. We've battled the Catholic Church for a right to believe in ourselves; we've fought back against a cunning conqueror, who would see our mountainous cathedral mowed down to grazing lands, and won.

During those times of adversary, tribal members have stood up, and taken the well-being of their fellow tribal members seriously. The pandemic has called upon the people of Taos Pueblo Emergency Management Team to utilize their own talents and resources to protect the community they love and respect.

TPEMT is comprised of several different individuals from various departments within Tribal Programs. According to a press release sent to Tempo, "The team members are made up of the Governor's Staff: Governor Edwin Concha, Lt. Governor Antonio Mondragon and Secretary Joel Archuleta. War Chief's Staff: War Chief Gary Lujan, Lt. War Chief Michael Martinez and Secretary Daniel Lucero; Incident Commander Ezra Bayles - Director of Health and Community Services; Deputy Incident Commander Cameron Martinez - Director of Natural Resources; Operations Section Chief Shawn Duran - Tribal Programs Administrator, with Deputy Vernon Lujan; Planning Section Chief David Archuleta - Risk Manager; Deputy Planning/Emergency Management Coordinator Kimberly Marcus; Logistics Section Chief Delbert Chisholm - Bison Agriculture Manager, with Deputy Robert Trujillo; and Finance Section Chief Ian Chisholm, with Deputy Robert Palmer."

Although the team looks to tribal government for guidance, each role on the team is of great and equal importance.

Through the tribe's Central Management System (CMS) Safety Committee, Taos Pueblo established an emergency preparedness plan and approved it in 2017. The plan provided the framework for selecting the members of the Emergency Management Team based on their capabilities developed in tribal programs.

Members of TPEMT were selected based on knowledge, skill and ability to manage complex situations. Another consideration included knowledge of the National Incident Management System, tribal issues, concerns and situations.

Though TPEMT credits Ezra Bayles' knowledge of health-related issues for providing the initial recommendation to establish the team, "Cameron Martinez has extensive knowledge and experience with complex incidents and the workings of NIMS with the inclusion of other state and federal entities," states the team's press release.

Taos Pueblo has created a response team of which its ancestors would be proud.

The team follows the NIMS program, which is a standard approach to incident management developed by the Department of Homeland Security used in large complex incidents like wildland fires, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and other disasters, both natural and man-made.

"The team and NIMS provides a systematic, proactive approach to guide all levels of government to work seamlessly to prevent, protect against, respond to, recover from and mitigate the effects of incidents," states the release. Other tribal programs, such as the Department of Public Safety, Utilities, Housing, Indian Health Services and other CMS programs, committed themselves to aid the TPEMT.

TPEMT support doesn't stop with tribal programs. For the April 23 mask distribution, members of the Taos Quilters Guild helped sew 500 masks for the event. Hundreds more were sewn by Taos Pueblo seamstresses, who also volunteered their machines and their dexterity to the cause.

Materials and supplies were provided by the TPEMT. During the event itself 706 masks were distributed to tribal members that day. As of press time, 1,884 masks have been given out to tribal members.

Masks are still available for those tribal members who have not received one. "Masks are given out on a daily basis at the Taos Pueblo Gaming Commission office," states the press release, "a walk-up window had been created for tribal members or tribal members can call us, and we would bring it out to their vehicle."

The response and cooperation from tribal members have set the tone. Signs posted at the entrance to Taos Pueblo lands encourage tribal members to wear masks. The team states, "The Taos Pueblo Gaming Commission has been instrumental in coordinating and supporting the mask distribution and their help has been vital to this distribution."

On May 12 TPEMT held its first coronavirus testing event for tribal members. The team was excited to report that, "The turnout was greater than we expected. We asked the state to bring around 225 tests; we ended up performing 285 tests, which was one of the largest in a tribal community up to that point."

The team provided an opportunity for any tribal members who wanted to get tested, regardless of symptoms. The testing also gave TPEMT a sense of any asymptomatic cases that may have been in the community. Happily, they report, none were discovered.

"This is a testament to the community's interest and the seriousness with which they are taking this situation," says the team. Future testing events are planned.

TPEMT extends their gratitude to the State of New Mexico Department of Health and the Taos Public Health Office, as key partners in the testing event. Staff from the Taos /Picuris Service Unit and Taos Mountain Casino also helped out during the event. All tests were provided free to all tribal members.

TPEMT has held several other community-orientated events. Stray Hearts Animal Shelter donated pet food and 12 bales of timothy hay for Taos Pueblo pets and livestock.

Also in early May, the team held a food distribution event that was met with much appreciation. One tribal member commented on a Facebook post regarding the distribution, "Thank you Taos Pueblo for the kindness and love for our people." Many other tribal members followed up by offering their own thanks and blessings to all those involved.

On May 30, the team organized a parade to honor those tribal members who had either graduated from school or were promoted to a new educational level. Graduates gathered in their vehicles, and even on horseback, before cruising down Veteran's Highway and into the main plaza of the Pueblo. There, graduates received gifts from the tribe and were honored with song and prayer.

The transparency of TPEMT has been a welcome change for the people of Taos Pueblo. Formal introductions to the team members have been made on the team's Facebook page and the goals of the team have been outlined there as well.

The primary goal of the Taos Pueblo Emergency Management Team concerns protecting the health of Taos Pueblo community members. TPEMT has provided a coordinated and organized response, from inventorying supplies, to contact tracing to community and employee safety.

In regards to the difficult times the globe is facing, the governor and war chief staffs have been commended for their open communication with the tribe, not only through the use of social media and digital platforms but also with the installment of message boards around the reservation for those who do not have access to the internet or digital media.

The creation and efforts of the TPEMT have helped bring the Taos Pueblo tribe together. They have created a calm to an otherwise chaotic situation for their people.

The TPEMT pledges to be available for further management of the COVID-19 pandemic and any other incidents that affect the Taos Pueblo community. When Tempo asked TPEMT what motivates its team members, the answer was crystal clear: "The need to take responsibly for the health and well-being of our people, culture and protection for the natural resources as we were given by the creator."

So when you see the flashing lights at the entrance to Taos Pueblo, remember that, once again, a group of brave, talented women and men have chosen to stand up and fight for their tribe.

Ta-ah.

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