Family, friends honor newly elected Alamo Navajo officials

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Marlene Thomas-Herrera envisioned a simple ceremony honoring her husband, Stanley Herrera, newly elected Alamo Navajo Chapter president and Alamo Navajo School Board vice president.

“I started planning in December,” she said. “Originally, it was going to be a simple ceremony. I thought, ‘Let’s get some spiritual guidance.’”

As she and fellow organizer Olivia Vicente started planning, word got around.

Thomas-Herrera and Vicente, who says she is “related to almost everybody,” decided that rather than separate family gatherings, it would be more community-building to have one big celebration.

“At first, it was just a family thing we were going to do, but people started asking about it,” Vicente said. “It got bigger and bigger until it got to be a full-blown event.”

Vicente estimates over 200 people attended the Saturday event.

“We had 26 tables set up, each with six people,” she said. “And there were more people in the bleachers.”

Both women wanted to celebrate unity, so they invited representatives from many facets of the Alamo community to participate, such as the Alamo Veterans Organization: 2013 Alamo Elders Elizabeth “Lena” Herrera and Juan Monte; 2012-2013 Miss Alamo Edwina Padilla and 2011-2012 Miss Alamo April Lupe.

“We wanted to show that we are all in this together, and to honor programs like the veterans organization and the senior center,” Thomas-Herrera said. “We wanted to thank the community and the voters and to have a blessing to go forward.”

At the ceremony, members of the Alamo Veterans Organization posted the flags of the Navajo Nation, New Mexico and the United States. Edward Padilla, Edwina’s father, and his band Rocking for Jesus provided music throughout the event. Pastors and members of local churches gave invocations and blessings, including Ray Padilla from White Lamb Ministries, and Viola Jake and Frances Guerro from Word of God church. Master of Ceremonies Manual Guerro Sr. moved agenda along with tact and humor. Jimmie Lee Guerro closed the ceremony with a benediction.

Goals articulated

2012-2013 Miss Alamo Edwina Padilla, a junior at Alamo Community School, exhorted the new officials to work as a team to address community problems.

“We need new water wells and new housing, especially for young families,” Padilla said. “Help high school graduates. Help everyone from newborns to elderlies. Let’s work together so young kids don’t do drugs and drink alcohol.”

New Alamo Navajo Chapter President Stanley Herrera welcomed unity among families and elected officials, and addressed his concerns about a lack of equal opportunity for Alamo high school students attending Magdalena High School.

“First, this event has taken place with all the leaders united,” he said. “Let’s not be divided.”

He addressed his next remarks to Magdalena school board candidate Gail Armstrong, the only candidate present at the gathering.

“Thanks to Gail from Magdalena (for being here),” he said. “What bothers me is there is no scholarship for Alamo students at Magdalena. We need to support our kids so they will be more competitive in the world.”

Invited to speak, Armstrong vowed to work on the scholarship if elected, and volunteered to be one of the first to fund the scholarship.

“I will look into it,” she said. “I want to be the first one to donate $500 to a scholarship honoring the outstanding Native American student in the school district.”

Earl Apachito, a third-term ANSB vice president and first term ANC president, chastised the Navajo Nation administration for neglecting Alamo.

“There are a lot of needs in Alamo,” he said. “We’re always being treated as a stepchild by Window Rock.”

Apachito did note the Navajo Nation Department of Transportation’s funding of the next 6.8-mile section of N 55, another phase in a paving project to connect Alamo with Interstate 40.

Apachito said the current 20-year-old Alamo Wellness Clinic needs renovation. The project, funded through the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Services, will start in three to five years, he said.

Steve Guerro, ANSB president, pointed to his accomplishments on the board during his tenure.

“During my first term, the ANSB had $9 million in its accounts,” he said. “Now it’s $29 million. We got $9 million in health benefits.”

He added ANSB helped the chapter obtain grants for building the mini-mart and courthouse, and paving the senior center parking lot.

Guerro was proud of the improvements he and ANSB made to the community’s water system.

“Six years ago, we had the worst water system in the reservation,” he said. “Now we are number one in water quality in the Navajo Nation.”

New ANC secretary/treasurer Veronica Smith was glad of the new team spirit evident among the officials at the gathering.

“It’s such a positive start,” she said. “Once again, we have faith in tribal government.”

Steve Apachito, elected to the chapter land board position, named fencing as his top priority.

“We need to repair the fence along the (Alamo) boundary line to keep outside cattle from coming onto the reservation,” he said.