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Walk to promote racial tolerance in Navajo border town 7-07

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - An advocacy group is planning a march Labor Day weekend to promote racial tolerance in a Colorado city that borders the Navajo Nation.

The second annual Walk for Peace and Justice is scheduled for Sept. 1 in Cortez. Leaders from the Navajo, Hopi, Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes were among 1,000 people who turned out in Farmington last September for a walk to remember victims of violence.

The time of this year's event and the route haven't been decided.

Art Neskahi, executive director of the Cortez-based advocacy group, Southwest Intertribal Voice, said assaults on American Indians sparked debate of racial intolerance and acceptance in Cortez, which is north of Farmington.

Cortez police Lt. Darrell Hinton said six American Indians, including two women were assaulted around Thanksgiving in three separate incidents. A Ute Mountain Ute tribal member was arrested in one case, but Hinton said police haven't identified suspects in the other two cases.

“These are people who drink just about every day of their life, and they are in that condition when they get assaulted, and the witnesses are very unreliable,” he said.

Talks of forming a human relations commission followed the assaults. The Cortez City Council has recommended that the Montezuma County Commission appoint the members, said Cortez city manager Hal Shepherd.

“The City Council thinks that the issues are not just in the city limits,” he said.

Neskahi said some American Indians have come to him with complaints about employee discrimination, racial intolerance and other issues.

The main focus of the walk is peace, Neskahi said, but organizers also want to debunk some American Indian stereotypes.

Amid the speakers, bands and vendors, organizers plan to set up booths to provide information about what benefits Indians are entitled to under treaties with the federal government.

“We want to make sure that these benefits that Native people do get are understood,” he said. “We want to try to do away with a lot of the misconceptions that we get pockets-full of money every month.”

Shepherd said he hadn't talk with organizers, but the march would fall on the same day as a planned parade, and on the same weekend as a bike rally in the Four Corners area.

He said organizers would need a permit.

Navajo leaders planned last year's event after a summer in which a Navajo man was shot to death by a Farmington police officer and another Navajo man was beaten by three young Anglo men.

Duane “Chili” Yazzie, president of the tribe's Shiprock Chapter, said he believes that border communities have made an effort in the past year to let their citizens know that different racial groups need to tolerate each other.

“I think our walk for peace and justice would primarily be to accentuate our support for that dialogue and education of the community that we need to be better neighbors,” he said.