Due to the large amount of interest on this topic, I have posted the article I wrote for Brave New Traveler. Some of you have already read it, but at the bottom of the article I have posted some updates which were sent to me today from Black Mesa Indigenous Support Group – the group that helped me set up my trip to the Rez, as many of you requested ways you can help.
Thank you everyone for your support on this issue, and I impart everyone to do what you can to help!
Black Mesa, also know as Big Mountain, is a beautiful desert land out in the northeastern tip of Arizona. It is dotted with few sheep and other livestock.
It is also home to the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe
These two peoples have peacefully shared and lived off this land from time immemorial. But the United States government, who holds these peoples in its charge, drew their own borders in 1974, leaving over 10,000 Navajo (Dine’, “The People”) and about 100 Hopi families on the wrong side of the line.
This land is held sacred to these peoples. It is the physical representation of Mother Earth.
So the irony wasn’t overlooked when these artificial boundaries were drawn in order to exploit the land for the coal, uranium and natural gas in the earth below.
The tribes do not benefit from the resources themselves – they have no electricity, running water or plumbing, not even a phone. They make their way as they have always done, through their livestock and agriculture.
Yet their very existence was threatened in order to power cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix; to water their many golf courses in the desert. The Dine’ watched as their wells dried up, the wildlife disappeared, and the plants for the sheep to graze on become more and more scarce.
A Familiar Tragedy
Like similar stories heard the world ever, these sad events and measures were agreed upon by corrupt leadership.
The US Government decided to solve this crisis by relocating these Dine’ families now on the Hopi Reservation to track housing projects in suburban Phoenix.
Most of these families did not know how to survive in urban areas. They could not afford their mortgages because they could not find jobs, as many of these relocatees were elders who are illiterate and speak no English.
Some of these elders, who know no other way to live than by herding sheep and living off the land, started resisting this relocation. Thirty years later, they are still fighting for the right to remain on their ancestral lands.
The US government, through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, called the Hopi Tribal Police to coerce them to leave, enforcing laws to make those resisting families lives harder. Their livestock were impounded, they were barred from collecting firewood, and even their homes and sacred spaces were bulldozed.
Journey To Black Mesa
Winter is an unforgiving time on the Mesa. Many elderly resisters die because of sub-zero temperatures, and with wood difficult to stockpile, many get sick, and they freeze.
In 1998 my conscience called to me to action.
I went out to Black Mesa to spend several months with an elderly couple, to help them with their daily tasks and to keep watch over them. I also went to bear witness to the atrocities.
It was a sadly documented reality that Indian families in the company of a white person were less likely to be harassed by the Hopi Police. If anything happened to a white person up on the Mesa, it would be all over the airwaves.
During my time there I had the honor of staying with the *Smith’s. (*I have changed their name in this article, for their protection). It wasn’t long before they were known to me as “Grandma” and “Grandpa.”
When a person of relative privilege goes to a place where the basic amenities and comforts of home are absent, it forces you to become what is really inside of you, to call upon your deeper nature. You find out what you are really made of.
It gets down into your core of you and just… simplifies everything.
As you focus on the things that really matter in life, the value of “stuff” becomes unimportant.
No more taking for granted running water and flushing toilets or a hot bath. As you focus on the things that really matter in life, the value of “stuff” becomes unimportant.
How much does one really need in order to be content and happy? Does it come from things, or the beautiful exhaustion that comes from having an actual relationship with the land and the earth’s creatures?
I learned to talk to myself and to listen. I wondered, what are the issues in my life that I would be willing to fight for?
In The Presence Of Tradition
I helped Grandma and Grandpa too. I was there when the Hopi Ranger arrived with a semi-automatic, entered their home and questioned them in a language he knew they didn’t understand.
I was there to take care of the goats and the sheep when Grandma needed to go to her heart doctor, 3 hours away in Phoenix.
Alone and afraid, I brought the herd home when the snow and ice were so deep that ice balls had formed on their fur and weighed them down so much, they could no longer walk. Relying on my newfound inner strength, I found a stick and beat the snowballs off the goats until I could get them up the hill and to safety.
I was also there for humor. Slaughtering a sheep and preparing the meat afterwards is a process that takes all day. The first time I participated, I was given lots of little jobs to do. The Dine’ eat every part of the sheep.
I watched as Grandma sat emptying the bowels of the animal into old coffee cans and cleaning the intestines in hot water. She took parts of the fat layer that had dried in the sun and wrapped the cleaned pieces of the intestines around it. She then put these packages into clean water to keep them fresh.
She motioned for me to do something with the bowl of water with intestines and the dirty coffee can. I could not figure out why she wanted me to put the clean intestines in the dirty coffee can. I pretended to do it and she nodded.
I dumped the intestines in the coffee can. I had almost dumped it all when she yelled and came over to me with another bowl of clean water and motioned for me to take the intestines back out of the coffee can and clean them.
I realized then that all she had wanted me to do was dump the dirty water out of the cleaning bowl into the coffee can.
I felt horrible. But instead of being mad, it became the joke of the duration of my stay. She started calling me dygyss (some form of “stupid” or “git”) and even when we had visitors she would tell the story of how the stupid bilaga’ana (white girl) dumped clean food to be eaten into sheep dung.
A Place In Their Family
The most treasured gift they gave me was the gift of humility; of knowing how much space I take up in the world. That humbleness has nothing to do with weakness, but is perhaps the most powerful human attribute of all.
The silent power of knowing more is not better. To give when you have nothing and never presume to know anything.
Since then I give thanks that I don’t have to sleep with one eye open, worry about freezing to death or having my home torn down when I am away.
After all the pain and sadness these Dine’ resistors had experienced at the hands of outsiders, to know they invited me into their home, eat their food, and made a place for me in their family is overwhelming.
These people, on the brink of losing everything, can still forgive. It changed the perspective of how I think. Even now, almost ten years later, as I sit here writing this, the tears well in my eyes as I wish I could have done more.
When I was there, I even considered staying with Grandma and Grandpa indefinitely, helping them as my life’s work. But I knew I had to get back to head home eventually. My job was to bring these lessons back with me, and implement them into my own life.
To tell people what is happening up there, on a beautiful desolate land full of people who “Walk in Beauty”.
Things for the most part have remained the same on Black Mesa. Grandpa died of old age about 5 years ago. Grandma, in her 80’s continues to live out her years, on her own, with her piece of land and her sheep.
In November, she suffered a minor heart attack after a harassing confrontation with a Hopi Ranger while herding her sheep. (Read her statement here)
Currently her case is on continuance and the pre-trial date is March the 12th.
We thank everyone for your dedication in your continued support of
Black Mesa families in their struggle to remain on their ancestral
homelands. We have some great news, updates regarding human rights on
Black Mesa, and a couple event listings to share with you. The BMIS
web-site is now mainly an archived site but will be updated in times of
urgent situations or breaking news. The sheepherder program will remain,
as requested by the families on the land.
~Black Mesa Indigenous Support
***VICTORY FOR THE SACRED SAN FRANCISCO PEAKS!!
Most of you may have already heard the terrific news by now and if
so, it feels good to state it again! Victory For the Peaks! See the
press release from the Save The Peaks Coalition & be sure to stay
posted: The 9th Circuit Court Rules to Protect Sacred Peaks -
Landmark Ruling Celebrated as a Victory for Religious Freedom,
Environmental Justice & Cultural Survival.
***LONG TIME SUPPORTERS HERDING SHEEP FOR ELDERS LIVING IN REMOTE
PARTS OF BLACK MESA RECEIVE WARNINGS OF EXCLUSION, DETAINMENT, &
The recent warnings of exclusion & detainment of non-Indian supporters
staying as guests of elders and families living in remote areas
throughout Black Mesa draws concern from local and international support &
human rights organizations. Expelling support is also expelling
fundamental human rights, and violates the elders & families right to
decide who is allowed into their own homes. The permit process is
insulting and puts unfair burdens upon the families. It is one more thing
that they are told to do to under non traditional laws placed upon them.
Please stay posted and read our statement signed on by international human
rights organizations. http://www.blackmesais.org/concern0307.htm
***FAMILIES PUT A CALL-OUT FOR SHEEPHERDERS & SUPPORT:
“We welcome people to come out and support our resistance in this
way.”-A resister grandmother. Guests of the families are encouraged to stay
for a month, as it can require a lot of work for both the family and the
guest to establish a routine. It is important to have good help out there,
and not create more work for the families. Guests are expected to be
adequately prepared prior to staying with families on Black Mesa,
which is high desert and very remote. Read the Cultural Sensitivity &
Preparedness Booklet and fill out the supporter application form
prior to making arrangements for your stay. Supporters are expected
to pay for gas and expenses when families provide their ride out to
the land. http://blackmesais.org/cultural_sen.html
***RELOCATION LEGISLATION S1003 DOES NOT MAKE IT TO RESOLUTION.
Senate Bill 1003 (The Navajo Hopi Land Settlement Act of 1974
Amendments) proposed by AZ Senator & Presidential hopeful John McCain
did not come to a resolution! If passed, this bill would have had dire
consequences for Dine’ families who continue to live on their ancestral
homeland, for the families who have moved and for the land of Black Mesa.
While S1003 passed through the Senate, it never made it out of the
House Resources Committee to the House floor for a vote. The
congressional session ended with no action being taken.
Many thanks to all of the action taken in support of the Dineh and in
stopping this bill, and the relocation laws. Thousands of letters,
emails, and faxes were sent from throughout Indian Country and
general support network, as well as the video sent to Congress that a
Black Mesa resident and BMIS volunteer compiled of statements from
residents of the ‘Hopi Partitoned Lands’.
***NEXT STEPS FOR STOPPING PEABODY COAL’S BLACK MESA PROJECTS’
MASSIVE COAL-MINING PLANS THAT CALLS FOR MORE RELOCATION OF
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES, MORE WATER AQUIFER DEPLETION, GLOBAL WARMING, &
DESTRUCTION OF SACRED ANCESTRAL HOME LANDS!!
1. OSM will review the comments and continue with the preparation of
the final Environmental Impact Statement.
2. OSM will issue a Final Environmental Impact Statement with a
“Record of Decision” on the project. No new studies will be made.
Office Of Surface Mining (OSM) states: “Environmental Impact Statements are
based on available data and information. After conducting a preliminary
review of the comments received, we do not anticipate we will conduct
additional studies.” OSM presently estimates that the timeline for the
decision on the final EIS will be out late June ‘07.
3. After the Record of Decision is made, there is a 45-day appeal
process. If the decision is made in favor of the Black Mesa Project, this
is when appeals can be made. Lawsuits could be filed to block the
What you can do:
1. Awareness is still needed! Please visit
http://www.blackmesawatercoalition.org for more info about BMP & Just
***FURTHER INFO REGARDING PEABODY’S BLACK MESA PROJECT AND MOHAVE
On Feb. 6th, the Salt River Project (SRP), ended its efforts to return the
coal-fired Mojave Generating Station power plant to service with the
appropriate environmental emission controls due to the high cost, and an
aggressive campaign by indigenous and environmental networks. As a partial
owner, SRP failed to reach a purchase agreement with Southern California
Even though it’s a victory that Salt River Project has pulled out of
Peabody’s Black Mesa Project and the station remains closed today,
their press release stated that “SRP believes Southern California
Edison intends to continue with its ongoing effort to identify
potential new buyers for Mohave,” and in turn the coal from the Black
Mesa Mine. In addition, the Office of Surface Mining is still
continuing the Environmental Impact Study process on the Black Mesa
***Venezuela: We denounce The Forced Relocation Of Indigenous
Families From Their Traditional Lands At The Hands of the Venezuelan
Government and the Multi-National Coal Corporations. Paso Diablo
Mine is owned in part by Peabody Coal/Peabody Energy Corporation. By
Wayùu of the Perija Mountains
***DESERT ROCK RESISTANCE CONTINUES – Since December 12th, 2006, Tribal
Elders and Navajo protestors have maintained a blockade, and encampment
called Dooda Desert Rock to stop surveyors from coming onto their
land to start inspection for a new 1,500 mega-watt, 2.5 billion power
plant to be built by Sithe Global. This project would be the largest
economic development project ever undertaken by the tribe. However,
this land is considered sacred by many of the families who still live
there, and they have no intention of leaving their homes to make way for
the power plant. They believe that it will disrupt sacred burial grounds,
displace many families, and exacerbate public health problems with air
pollution. Completion of this plant would make it the third one of its
kind in this area of New Mexico.
For info visit their blog: http://www.desert-rock-blog.com/
MOTHERS DAY GATHERING AT WESTERN SHOSHONE PEACE CAMP & OF
HONORING CORBIN HARNEY: Elder Corbin Harney is calling for the annual
Mothers Day gathering out at the W. Shoshone peace camp May
11-13. “This Gathering is to honor Corbin and all who have
participated over the decades at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site to end
the destruction of our Mother Earth. Corbin Harney has taught many to
respect and protect Mother Earth and traditional ways through ceremony and
non-violent direct action. We’re calling everyone who loves Mother Earth
to join us.”-Western Shoshone Defense Project. Contact P.O. Box 211308,
Crescent Valley, NV. 89821. 775-468-0230. http://www.wsdp.org. Many of
you have been to the gatherings at the Peace Camp over the years, and your
presence would be enjoyed.
Corbin has been struggling with his health this past year and your
prayers are appreciated.
RUN 4 SPRING PLANTING AT SAND SPRINGS & OTHER AREAS
OF BLACK MESA
“For the second year in a row, Mark & Bear Dyken will be running the
Big Sur International Marathon together on April 29th….The course
is 26.2 miles of hills on California Highway 1, along the coast of
the Pacific Ocean.
This year, in the spirit of the sacred run we have decided to offer
our marathon run to support the spring planting in Sand Springs and
other areas of the Navajo Reservation in North East Arizona. By
dedicating the run to the planting we will work to raise awareness,
funds and support for our annual spring trip to sustain local
agriculture on the reservation. On other spring trips in the past we
have used funds for tractor repair, fencing costs, purchasing seeds,
and farming tools. The goal is to be able to purchase some of the
subsequent harvest to be distributed during our annual Thanksgiving
food and supply run. As always, we encourage supporters to join us on
the trip to the reservation, meet the families we are working with
and join in the work and fun.
….By dedicating the run to something larger we hope to draw
strength from the support of others who feel the same way about
issues of justice, land use and the treatment of indigenous people
around the world, while offering up the one thing we have control of
in this world-our bodies-to the cause.” http://www.clandyken.com