SUV speeds past Native American parade; 15 wounded

GALLUP, New Mexico –

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and his family were among those nearly hit when a large SUV drove through a parade celebrating Native American culture in western New Mexico, injuring at least 15 people, authorities said.

Gallup police took the driver into custody Thursday, later saying he consumed alcohol before going down the parade route that was the kickoff event for Gallup’s 10-day Intertribal Ceremonial Centennial Celebration.

The vehicle sped through downtown Gallup about 15 minutes after the nightly parade began and as thousands looked on. Many captured the chaotic scene on video, some yelling obscenities at the driver and occupants of the van who were detained and handcuffed.

As the SUV sped up near the parade, videos posted on social media showed people yelling at others to get out of the way and some pushing parade-goers to safety.

The children dancing traditional dances appear to have been among the first to see the truck heading towards them, videos show. They ran to the side amid screams and others struggling to get out of the way.

The images also showed blankets, shoes, banners and umbrellas thrown in the street and on the sidewalks as people fled.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Friday that the state will send additional police officers and a behavioral health crisis team to Gallup for the remainder of the event. She said 15 people were injured and characterized most of the injuries as minor. Two Gallup police officers were among those injured.

Nez said the vehicle was coming toward him and a group of tribal officials who were marching in the parade. He thanked people for quickly taking action to get spectators and participants out of harm’s way.

“We just ask for your prayers for all the participants,” Nez said in a video posted on social media. “We’re all in shock. You’d see this on TV, you’d think it would never happen here. I’m sorry to say it happened here in Gallup, New Mexico.”

Tonya Jim said she went to the parade with her parents, grandchildren and children. Her 5-year-old granddaughter, KaRiah, was chosen from the crowd to join a group of dancers. Shortly after, the vehicle slid down the parade route, spun and hit a man sitting across from them in a folding chair, she said. Someone helped KaRiah out of the way and she was not injured.

“I’m glad whoever was holding her hand was still holding her hand and running with her to get her out of the way,” Jim said. “I’m not sure who she was, but I’m thankful for her.”

Jim said the family burned cedar and prayed when they got home and said a tobacco smoke prayer on Friday morning to calm down.

“I blessed my children and thanked the creator that they are still with me and (to) pray for the families that are hurting,” said Jim, who is Navajo and lives in Fort Defiance.

During the chaos, the SUV swerved onto a side street, pulled into a parking spot before trying to get out again and then hit a parked car and backed into a police car, New Mexico State Police said. Officers converged on the vehicle and handcuffed the driver and two passengers, police said.

The nightly parade is a highlight of the ceremonial celebration, which was founded in 1922 as a way for merchants to showcase the culture and art of Native American tribes in the region, said Inter-Tribal Ceremonial Association board chairman Gallup India, Kyle Tom.

A daytime parade will go ahead as planned on Aug. 13, the day before the closing events, Tom said. Other events include dances, rodeos, and a juried art exhibit.

People travel to Gallup from the vast Navajo Nation that stretches into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah and from other tribal reservations to attend the parades and events. Nez, tribal council members and others expressed anger and disbelief at what happened.

“It’s supposed to be a celebration, but today was a tough time for us,” Nez said.

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