Healing Our World
Mining - the Navajo - to Extinction
(this is an expanded version of the article that is posted on the Environment News Service)
We the five-fingered beings are related to the four-legged, the winged beings, the spiritual beings, Father Sky, Mother Earth, and nature. We are all relatives. We cannot leave our relatives behind.
Betty Tso, traditional Navajo
In our traditional tongue, there is no word for relocation. To relocate is to move away and disappear.
Pauline Whitesinger, Big Mountain Elder
With all the talk of alternative fuel sources and energy-efficient light bulbs you hear today, 55 percent of our nation's electricity is still generated by the burning of coal. This requires that tens of millions of tons of coal be extracted from the Earth each year. The toxic fallout from coal burning is well known to most, but largely unknown is that the price being paid for extracting this coal is the virtual genocide of approximately 10,000 Navajo people.
Environmentalists, politicians, scholars, new age speakers and theologians will often speak of the power and wisdom of the native peoples of North America. Their reverence for life, connection to the Earth and appreciation of the web of life are foundational concepts in many philosophies. The modern day environmental movement began with these philosophies at its core. Yet while many non-Native American people speak of that wisdom from comfortable settings, the United States government continues to implement its final solution for the last remaining original inhabitants of this land. All native peoples have been suffering but the Navajo in particular face an ominous deadline.
By February 2000, the U.S. government plans to complete the relocation of the Navajo, known as Dineh in their native tongue, that remain at a site in Arizona that they have inhabited since the U.S. Army tried to wipe them all out in 1863. The relocation site is a desolate piece of land downstream from the location of the nation's worst nuclear waste disaster in 1979 and is unfit for humans or animals. This relocation began by order of President Ford in 1974, when he signed Public Law 93531 while on a skiing trip. Nearly 12,000 Dineh have been forcibly moved from their tribal land since then and the impacts have been catastrophic for their people.
Twenty five percent of the first group that was moved in 1980 died within 6 months of arrival on the new site. Since then, the remaining population is ravaged by birth defects from the uranium mine waste spill in 1979 and by deep cultural wounds. The native plants vital to the religious ceremonies of the Dineh do not grow at the relocation site. Their animals die from radiation poisoning. Their bond with Mother Earth, they believe, has been broken. To the Dineh, to relocate from the land of their birth is to disappear.
Those that have refused relocation are mostly elders. The U.S. government is now taking extreme measures to force them from their homes.
This relocation is the result of the same plague that is destroying us all from the inside out - the endless extraction of resources from the Earth and the greed of those that control the money, property and power in this country. The Native American reservations, those marginal lands that were given to the remaining Indians as a settlement when the U.S. expanded into the West and stole their land, contain considerable mineral resources, particularly coal.
The U.S. wants the Dineh out of the area around Big Mountain, Arizona, the site of a massive coal strip mine operated by the Peabody Western Coal Company. In the 1940's and 1950's, it was discovered that massive deposits of coal, oil and uranium lay beneath the lands that the Dineh settled in after the U.S. Army, led by Colonel Kit Carson in 1863, began its efforts to kill everyone in the Dineh nation. Thousands of Dineh were killed during that assault and thousands more were forced to march 400 miles in the infamous "Long Walk" during the winter. Some escaped and took refuge in the Black Mountain region. Those who survived the five years of imprisonment rejoined their people there.
The U.S. hunger for the resources on the Dineh and Hopi lands was insatiable. The mineral companies sought agreements with the Tribal Councils set up by the U.S. government to expedite the awarding of mineral rights to companies. Most Dineh still do not know how to read and write English and few have any connection with the decisions of these Tribal Councils. The result has been that one-third of all uranium mined in the U.S. has come from Dineh land and the world's largest strip mine was erected in the 1960's to mine coal. The nation's largest power plant was built adjacent to the site, generating so much pollution from the burning of coal that Apollo astronauts saw the toxic clouds it emanates from the Moon. It is the largest single point source of greenhouse gasses in North America. Many Native Americans who worked in the uranium mines have suffered from radiation sickness and many children suffer from birth defects.
About 3000 Dineh have resisted eviction from the area for the last 25 years. In 1996, President Clinton, while on a golfing vacation, signed Public Law 104-301 sanctioning the forced evictions of the remaining Dineh by February, 2000. In an effort to force out those that remain on the land, a U.S. court ordered that the Dineh cannot repair their homes or build new ones, denied them access to fresh water, and confiscated their livestock upon which they depend. Firewood is confiscated in winter, and law enforcement officials harass and threaten them with eviction and jail sentences. This level of harassment and violation of basic human rights would never be tolerated in any U.S. city.
The Peabody Western Coal Company is owned by Hanson Holding Company of London, England. They have paid the Navajo and Hopi Tribal councils 12 cents per ton of coal, which they sell for $22 per ton in the marketplace. They mine 12 million tons of coal per year.
Currently, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has begun confiscating the livestock of those who refuse to sign a lease saying they can live on the land for 75 years. At the end of that lease, ownership would be taken away for all time. The people being affected by these confiscations are all elderly people who rely on the animals for their lives. Taking their livestock is tantamount to issuing a death sentence.
These government sponsored flagrant civil and human rights abuses are inexcusable. Congress and the President must be told that the American people will not tolerate this kind of behavior.
Of course, we must remember that the insane push to extract resources from the Earth at all costs is due to the demands that business, industry and we as individuals make. If we dramatically reduce our energy needs and dependence, then the need to extract resources would diminish as well.
We all must send letters of support (and financial contributions if you can). The Resources section below will tell you how. The United States was built on a legacy of murder and abuse of the original inhabitants of this land. We cannot carry that legacy into the future and begin the new millennium with more blood on our hands.
Please write letters (email, regular mail or FAX) to your elected representatives to urge them to stop the genocide of the Dineh and give them the rights they deserve. This 25-year tragedy must end now. The resources below will help you take action.
For updated status reports on actions against the Dineh, visit http://www.solcommunications.com/bigmountain/bigmtnreports.html
A press release about the current state of affairs is at http://www.mindspring.com/~ulmpaper/blk-mesa.htm
For a prepared letter that you can copy and send to your elected representatives visit http://www.magiccookie.com/activism/black-mesa/scia-19990219.html. It has a list of the current U.S. Senators who sit on the Select Committee on Indian Affairs.
The Dineh resistance effort needs money. Tax deductible donations can be sent to their authorized agent below. I have worked with these people personally for many years and I can assure you that the money will reach its destination. They also have a video that presents the issue:
Steve Sugarman, Executive Director Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs (SEE), 20110 Rockport Way, Malibu, CA, 90265-5340, Telephone: (310) 456-3534. Please make your check payable to Sovereign Dineh Nation (SDN). You can email Steve at SEE8541@aol.com
If you or anyone you know could possibly go to Black Mesa and stand by the elders during this struggle, you can contact them at: Black Mesa Indigenous Support, (520)773-8086, P.O. Box 23501, Flagstaff, AZ 86002. Email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Send letters to the following officials.
Email the Bureau of Indian Affairs at email@example.com
Email Bruce Babbitt, the Head of the Department of the Interior in which the BIA is housed at firstname.lastname@example.org
Fred Chavez, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Hopi Agency, P O Box 158, Keams Canyon, AZ. 86034
Kevin Gover, Assistant Secretary, Indian Affairs, Bureau of Indian Affairs, email@example.com, Office: 202-208-3711, Fax: 202-501-1516
for a complete BIA phone book, visit http://www.doi.gov/bia/biapho.htm
For a detailed list of addresses of those who need to hear from you, visit http://www.magiccookie.com/activism/black-mesa/contacts.html. The site is still under construction, but a lot of good information is there now.
Read a fact sheet prepared by the Dineh Nation at http://www.solcommunications.com/bigmountain/myth.html
The recently issued report by the UN Commission on Human Rights regarding the Dineh can be found at http://www.theofficenet.com/~redorman/amor_report.htm#III
Read the Notice to Vacate given to the Dineh by the U.S. Government at http://www.lisn.net/bigmountain2.htm#bigmountain2
See a thorough summary of the history of the Dineh relocation at http://www.alphacdc.com/wsdp/dine-ct.html
Another good summary can be found at http://www.umc-gbcs.org/dineh-am.htm which focuses on the human rights violations and the religious freedoms issue.
Read the EPA description of the Church Rock nuclear waste spill superfund site that is upstream from the relocation site. Ten thousand Dineh are living and suffering here now. You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed to read http://www.epa.gov/earth1r6/6sf/pdffiles/unitdnuc.pdf
Send an email message to President Clinton at firstname.lastname@example.org demanding action on this issue. The Dineh must be supported and the harassment being condoned by the U.S. government in the interest of big business must end. You can also use the form at http://www.whitehouse.gov/WH/Mail/html/Mail_President.html to send your message.
Find out who your Congressional representatives are and e-mail them. Demand that the harassment of the Dineh end and that steps be taken to help these people that the U.S. has persecuted since its beginning. If you know your Zip code, you can find them at http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/ziptoit.html or you can search by state at http://www.webslingerz.com/jhoffman/congress-email.html. You can also find your representatives at http://congress.nw.dc.us/innovate/index.html
Learn about the issues. A great alternative bookstore is Powells Bookstore in Portland, Oregon at http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/associate?assoc_id=212 where you will find a wonderful alternative to the massive chain bookstores taking over the market.
Navajo Prisoners in 1863, on the Long Walk (from the National Archives (http://www3.pbs.org/weta/thewest/wpages/wpgs640/64_07.htm)
This Healing Our World article appear
courtesy of Jackie Giuliano (copyright 1999)
Jackie Giuliano, a writer and a Professor of Environmental Studies, can be found in Venice, California, thinking about all the power his computer uses and how that has impacted the Dineh. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at email@example.com and visit his web site at www.healingourworld.com