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Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

"Acoma Pueblo (Acoma Sky City)" by throgers is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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After more than a year of severe funding cuts due to the pandemic and an inability to open to the public, the Pueblo of Acoma is set to receive $114,000 in economic aid from the Economic Development Administration (EDA). The funding is intended to develop strategies for job growth and economic development. Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan have welcomed the funding.

“We have a commitment to our tribal communities to ensure they receive the necessary assistance to grow their economies and job opportunities,” Heinrich said. Many Indigenous communities in New Mexico have had heavily restricted access in and out of the pueblos due to COVID. The state’s reliance on tourism and other industries affected by social distancing has created a need for strengthening and diversifying local economies to help weather the next unforeseen economic disruption. 

“I’m proud to support this funding for the Pueblo of Acoma and will keep fighting for the economic sustainability that every tribal community in New Mexico deserves,” Heinrich said. Indigenous communities throughout the state have received or are expected to receive federal funding from a $1.9 trillion stimulus package that Biden signed into law in March. The stimulus package has more than $31 billion in economic aid for tribal governments and other federal programs that support development for Indigenous communities.  

“New Mexico’s pueblos and tribal nations were disproportionately hurt by COVID-19’s economic impact. Today’s award from the EDA is a down payment in new economic opportunities and good-paying jobs in the Acoma Pueblo,” Luján said. The funding will be part of the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy that is designed to bring together both public and private sectors that are operating in the pueblo to promote economic sustainability and job creation. To be awarded the EDA grant, Pueblo of Acoma had to apply and be chosen based on merit and eligibility among other factors.

The Pueblo of Acoma was forced to close Sky City Casino when COVID-19 hit New Mexico. It was over a year before the pueblo was able to reopen the facility and continue operations beginning April 19, 2021. Sky City Casino was a major tourist attraction for the pueblo and a source of employment for many in the area. According to Census Reporter, the pueblo has a population of 2,788.

Along with the economic woes of the pandemic, the Pueblo of Acoma also had a drawn out legal battle with Indian Health Services (IHS) over the proposed closure of Cañoncito Laguna (ACL) hospital, (Cañoncito is now Too’hajilee.) IHS decided to close the hospital in November 2020. The hospital provided essential medical services to the Acoma Pueblo and surrounding rural communities. After much public backlash and a lawsuit by the Pueblo of Acoma, IHS agreed to continue services at the hospital.

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