The Words of Glenna Begay

During the week of October 19th, Cultural Survival hosted the talents of Glenna Begay, a weaver of the Dineh (Navajo) Red-Running Into-Water Clan of Northeastern Arizona. At Boston's International Festival at the Bayside Expo each day, spectators had the opportunity to watch Glenna weave her red, gray and white yarn into the "storm" pattern, one of the most impressive hallmarks of Navajo art. Glenna was in Boston as a representative of the Black Mesa Weavers for Life and Land, a nonprofit enterprise sponsored by Migrations.

Glenna Begay was raised on top of Black Mesa in Northeast Arizona, where she has lived and woven since childhood. She integrates her handicraft with many other aspects of her life: caring for children, grandchildren and flocks, tending gardens, caring for property, and speaking out for tribal integrity. She spins warp yarn and wool from her own sheep, arguing simultaneously against the imminent relocation of her people.

Her visit to Boston had a twofold purpose: to share her craft with International Festival-goers, and to bring to the fore her personal feelings about Navajo relocation.

I [Eileen Moore Quinn, Research Coordinator] conducted the following interview on the next to the last day of the International Festival. Although the setting was loud and boisterous, we were able to find a quiet corner for tape-recording. Glenna, who speaks no English; relied on her fellow Navajo, Esther Yazzie-Lewis, a federal court translator, to represent her. What follows is a verbatim transcription; Esther supplied the translation for Glenna's testimony.

Eileen: This is an interview with Glenna Begay of the Dineh (Navajo) tribe, who has come to Boston for the International Festival as part of Cultural Survival's project. I am interviewing her and [her translator], Esther Yazzie-Lewis, at the International Festival, and the first question that I've asked Glenna to address is why she came all the way from her native land to Boston. [I've asked her] to tell us why she came, and what she hopes this visit will accomplish.

Eileen: Could you tell us what you are trying to do personally, as one woman?

Glenna: The problem with my land is that I'm having a tremendous pressure and force from the Hopis telling me to leave. Telling me to leave with my life and belongings and [um] and to chase me out of my own home. Peabody [Coal] Company is mining the land and they're two miles away from mining into my homeland ‚ into my home. And I'm sure that they say the same thing. I am sitting in their way where they want to mine. They want to mine where my home is. 'You are in our way,' they probably say. [There is] no one to speak for me, that is the reason why I as an individual, as a mother, for my children, am traveling to tell my story and the problem that I have with the removal out of my home. Maybe someone will hear me; maybe someone will take an interest. So, I'm here today in Boston to tell the same story.

{A short pause, and Glenna begins to speak again}.

And {um} I have children and I have grandchildren, both paternal and maternal. I think well for them, I want them to have a good future. I am protective of my land. I speak to protect my land, to protect my livestock-the very things that I have. The people who are causing problems for me-they only come to destroy the land.

Eileen: If you were to look back on your life, Glenna, [from] the time you were a young woman until now, {could you} talk about the changes that you've seen in the land, and among your people?

Glenna: When I was a child, there were no problems. We had a good life when I was a child. There were no issues that we are confronted with today. It was about twenty years ago and more ‚ maybe twenty-six years ago when the issue of land had become a conflict. And it has increased through the time. Now, that issue has become harsh and fences were built to divide the land and we are under attack by a forced relocation. To me, it is bad and it is not good, and I don't like it as an individual.

Eileen: Glenna, how do you see your weaving in terms of the struggle to hold onto the land? Do you see them as one and the same?

Glenna: Well, the way I look at it, sheep is livestock, and when my livestock is being {uh} infringed on (because sheep is weaving), it's the wool off the sheep that I am able to weave. When your sheep are decreased such as livestock relocation ('You have too many sheep; you have to lessen your sheep permit,' is what we're told, and I'm told), then my life is decreased; my weaving is decreased. And it is through my wool that I am able to have some money, {through} my weaving and through selling the wool. My rug is my life that sustains and supports my life. That's where I get my money. I don't have any assistance of any kind. I don't even have Social Security. I don't even like what's happening, the decrease in my life, the decline in my life support. I am-I feel saddened by what's happening to me and it's a great concern that bears a great burden on my thinking.

Eileen: I can see that in your face.

Glenna: The struggle, the dispute, the conflict that has come upon us in not good. It's bad. It kills life, sustainable life. My husband used to work on the land issue, but he has left now. And maybe he left because of the conflict and the dispute that has been placed upon us. Maybe that's why he has gone and left the home. Maybe ‚ it may be another reason; maybe there's another woman that he has left for. He's older than me. But I look at my life, where it has affected me, where my husband and myself are separated, and it carries a great burden on me. When you have a conflict like this, it also takes that very life that keeps you alive and separates that.

Eileen: Do you see the women in Black Mesa as the leaders of the attempt to stop the Peabody Company from taking away the land? In other words, are the women the ones who are leading this type of movement?

Glenna: From the beginning, there were women there that really fought for the land, that stood for their home sites. They sat down in front of the encroachment. But, as time went on, they must have gotten tired. Some of them left. Some relocated. There are some homes still there right now. We have been separated again by the 75-year lease. Some have signed. They're afraid and they're tired. And because they're told that they cannot maintain their homes, their homes have become poor. They don't shelter the family. And so, you see, they sign their name. And if you sign your name, they say that you will have a home, because their homes have been beaten down and worn away. They want homes and so they have signed their names to have a new home. Some of them.

And on that 75-year lease, you're only given three acres. What's three acres? That doesn't sustain your life when you have livestock that sustain your life. And so they sign their names. Mothers are given this three acres and they say that the mother[s] will have the land until they die. But that doesn't include the children. The children cannot take on the land. And we ask, 'Why aren't our children included?'

There are a few Navajos left who still live there, and we are struggling with all the forces that are there against us. All they do is work against us. There are some women who are home alone, and there's a group of individuals that come for signatures, and they won't leave your home until you sign. They will not walk away without a signature.

Eileen: I know we're running out of time, and I know that you have to go now to Brandeis [University], but if you could imagine what a different situation or a different world would look like on February first, what would you like to see, or what would your imagination‚ what kind of a world would your imagination create for you? That will be my last question. What kind of an imaginative world can you envision, or see?

Glenna: That deadline is approaching, and we're told that we're gonna have to leave. That's the way they're talking about us. That's their strategy about us. The deadline is just about land. If we don't sign, they say, without a signature, there's gonna be a bus that's gonna come and that bus is gonna load up your personal belongings, load you up and haul you away. They're gonna haul us, they said, outside of the fence. Maybe just dump us off there. They also said that our livestock is gonna be hauled off. I'm not sure if it's the new lands or if it'll just be on the other side of the fence, but like it was said {in the video}, the new lands are polluted with radiation, too. So that is the way that they are talking about us, that that's their strategy.

Eileen: Do you have any final thing that you would like to say to us [Cultural Survival]? How can we help you?

Glenna: The only thing is your prayers. Your prayers for us and we‚ we hold on to those prayers. That's our only source of strength. We don't want this to happen. Your voices, your thoughts, and your communication and talk to the leaders-that will make a significant impact on this decision, to help us like that would be helpful.

Eileen: We're going to do everything we can to try to keep it that way. Thank you so much for coming all this way to share your story and your beautiful art and handiwork with us. It's a great honor to have you here.

Glenna: The Hopis are not respectful. They have no shame. They come with the police. They use the police as their force and demands. Years back, there was the long walk, and at the time , the agreement and treaty was to never hurt the Navajo people again, and that nothing would ever take away from the Navajo people again. And the way I look at Washington, Washington has put Indians on Indians to hurt one another. And I see that the Hopis have taken advantage of that because Hopis have been told what to do to the Navajos.

Eileen: Thank you.


To learn more about weavings by Glenna Begay and other Black Mesa Weavers, go to:

*To learn more about the controversy surrounding the Navajo and the Hopi in Northeast Arizona, visit the following websites:

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