Michelle Concha’s Taos Pueblo ancestral lineage and her work in the Taos community intertwine with pride and passion.
For two and a half years, Concha has been a family navigator. As a court-appointed social advocate, she works with Taos Youth Heartline, a children's advocacy agency for vulnerable families in the community, located in the Pueblo's Health and Community Services building.
Through work with a Taos Pueblo home visiting service, Tiwa Babies, which provides families resources for optimal child development for the Pueblo community, Concha was called to service. Recognized for her compassionate demeanor and outreach abilities, her position was created through a memorandum of understanding between the Taos Youth Heartline director, the health and community services director and Taos Pueblo social services director.
Concha is the second-oldest daughter of master drum maker Mike and mother Celestine. One of five siblings, Concha and her family grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The family worked as ranch hands at Flying W Ranch. At the end of each summer the Conchas organized a social powwow. They spent the school year in Colorado and returned to Taos Pueblo each summer to visit her grandparents.
"Those were the best times. I would look forward to them, coming down here and staying with my grandparents at their house in the Pueblo, in the village," said Concha.
It was important to Concha and her family to keep the connection to the Pueblo and stay versed in the traditional Tiwa language, to attend the ceremonial functions and be initiated in Pueblo ways.
"The spirituality of the mountain — it's the force. The vibe that it gives out is so welcoming and loving. That's what our religion and traditions are, everything is based on the environment; the trees, the animals, the snow," expressed Concha.
Before long, Concha's family moved back to the Pueblo permanently returning to their sacred mountain, but still continued their work producing social powwows at the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. Tribes from all over the United States attended.
The “gray area”
Later in life, Concha went studied forestry at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. After college she moved to Denver to work for an oil company, but found the city to be out of her element. She chuckled recalling the suit and heels she used to wear. Before long Concha decided that was not her calling and Denver was not her place.
“I started missing Taos a lot,” she said.
Concha longed for her Pueblo culture, her friends in Taos and her siblings were starting to have children. She didn't want to miss out on the growth of the next generation of family.
After returning to her homeland, she helped organize the Taos Marathon and was involved in the Tiwa language immersion program at Headstart. She was already actively participating in the community before she landed in her current position.
"We wouldn't really know that my position was needed until I worked with a group of women at the Pueblo called Tiwa Babies,” said Concha. "They were needing advocates for their clients who were homeless because of domestic violence and who were homeless because the housing situation we have at our pueblo right now.”
Concha's occupation and her services, however, extend beyond the Pueblo. She is currently serving all of Taos and Colfax counties, including Native and non-Native people. Her focus is what Youth Heartline calls the “gray area”.
"I'm not a social services worker. I don't work primarily in town, but I'm housed at the Pueblo as a family support services advocate for victims of crime," Concha explained.
Some of the services Concha navigates her cases through include civil advocacy for court hearings, finding counseling and recovery for drug use, obtaining transitional and supportive housing, as well as completing Crime Victim Reparation Commission applications so that victims may receive compensation for rental and relocation means. Concha often feels her vehicle is an office, all in Taos. She regularly helps with transportation so families may visit the Giving Tree, St. James Episcopal Church food pantry or the Community Against Violence office.
Many of the resources she guides her clients through must be outsourced. In 2015, Taos lost a detox center, and last year behavioral services provider Tri-County closed. She works alongside other local agencies such as the group the State of Homelessness, the DreamTree project, Inside Out Recovery and shelters throughout the state to discuss bringing more resources to Taos. Concha also devotes time to networking so her clients have the opportunity to receive the resources they so desperately need.
"My frustrations are that there are not enough resources for my clients for sheltering, rehab and detox," Concha said. "There's not enough resources here. We are all scrambling, all these agencies that work with the homeless and victims of crime.”
However, Concha refuses to lose the battle. Her long-term goals are to gather a larger team of people in order to create more housing to address the homelessness situation and a rehabilitation center. She is passionate about helping and hopeful that in time Taos will gain more resources.
Concha — the mother of three children and grandmother of two grandsons — strives to leave her family a better world. She practices her trade with vigilance, understanding and sincerity. She is inspired by the community and by the women in her life.
"My passion for helping others is just community, the love of community, the love of people. We don't know what their plights are in life, we don’t know what their dreams were, but if somehow I can make it better for them to get their dreams back, to better their situation in life, that's what everybody wants," Concha said.
We hit these bumps, these little hiccups in our lives and sometimes one is a bigger bump or a bigger hiccup, so I feel that my passion in helping not only my tribal community members, but our community as a whole, is to be there for them and show them we care, that there are people here.”
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