NCI, Na’nizhoozhi (the bridge) Center Inc. is the largest social detoxification center in the nation, and the only larger one is in Siberia. But after 20 years, NCI is expected to close its doors July 15th. About 27,000 NCI clients, or relatives as the center calls them, pass through their doors annually. Ninety-eight percent are Navajo, and ninety-eight percent of the staff are Navajo. NCI is the envy of cities across the country. Doctors who visit comment that they wish there was something comparable in their cities. The medical establishment in Albuquerque has inquired about their model.
The city’s community service aides drive around in their vans and pick up intoxicated persons who appear to be in danger of hurting themselves or others. Inebriated individuals may be held up to 72 hours in the facility’s non-medical detox facility, which has 160 beds, depending on their situation. Afterwards, if they so choose, they may enter one of NCI’s culturally appropriate residential treatment programs that can last up to sixty days.
Now the center is threatened with imminent closure as the more than million dollars a year in federal funding designated in a memorandum of agreement at its founding for the social detox program was diverted to other programs by the Navajo Nation over the last few years, and other funding sources have turned their backs. The center at its height employed 90 Navajos, with a dedicated group of 14 traditional counselors and healing practitioners. By January it was down to 60, and currently is running on a skeleton crew, with funding projected to run out by July 15th. The center is now falling prey to local city, county and state politics.
With 57 liquor licenses in a town of 15,000 that borders the Navajo Nation, the county's unique liquor excise tax collects about $1.1 million from wholesale liquor distributors and some retail establishments in the county each year. Gallup's mayor Jackie McKinney had insisted that the county’s liquor excise tax should be used to make up the shortfall. The county, digging in its heels, insinuated mismanagement and poor planning. County attorney Doug Decker broadcasted the county's intentions back in January when he indicated in an interview with this reporter that if NCI ran out of money, they could replace it with another non-profit to operate the detox facility, if not the rehab portion, since the city owns the building.
Last year, after six months of wrangling, city and county attorneys had signed a Joint Powers Agreement for the allocation of the 2013 Liquor Excise tax revenue, and set aside $320,000 in emergency funds for NCI, if they needed it. However, now with time running out, the county has yet to see fit to allocate those funds. Other last-ditch attempts have fallen short: A request to the state for emergency funding by Rep. Patricia Lundstrom for $350,000 sailed through the state legislature only to be axed by Governor Susana Martinez in a line-item veto when it landed on her desk April 5th. Anther initiative, by Sen. Munoz, to increase the unique county liquor excise tax from 5 to 10%, only passed after it was watered down to a one-percent increase to 6% and those funds won’t become available until 2015. Appeals to the Navajo Nation's Council for additional emergency funding have fallen on deaf ears. Other grant applications are pending.
When NCI’s current director Jay Azua was asked if it was a concern to him that someone from the county sent to evaluate their programs might not understand their treatment methods, he said, yes, that is a concern. “They’ll think, ‘Somebody dancing around in feathers, that’s not treatment. Treatment [to them] is a white bed in a white room with a white nurse in a white uniform taking your temperature.’”
Azua said that what NCI does is “culturally appropriate, Navajo-centric, Native American healing using medicine men, road men, the hogan, burning sage, the talking circle, the sweat lodge.”
Stay tuned for further news.
See also this related article, Alcohol rehab therapy Navajo Style, which goes into more personal detail about the center.