Pauline Whitesinger climbed out of bed in the predawn
cold. She put a coat over her long cotton dress, stepped
outside into the darkness, and turned to the starry east to say
her morning prayers, as her ancestors had done for
hundreds of years. She welcomed the sun, thanked the
Creator for this life, and asked for a prosperous day.
Whitesinger has a sun-wrinkled face and long graying
hair. She's probably in her late 70s or early 80s; her
exact age is unknown because she has no birth
certificate. Her posture is slightly bent; years of living a
frontier lifestyle on the Big Mountain Navajo Indian
Reservation, a mostly barren, Rhode Island-size swath
of land in the northeastern corner of Arizona, have left
their mark on her body. Whitesinger herds sheep for a
living, carries a .22-caliber rifle to ward off coyotes, and
lives alone in a one-room cement-block shack with no
electricity or running water. She speaks no English.
After tending to her animals that morning last spring,
Whitesinger climbed on her horse and galloped five
miles across the rugged, semiarid terrain to a neighbor's
home. There she joined other Navajos for a community
meeting to discuss the loss of their land and their
precarious future.

That was when they came, in the late morning after she
had left, to impound part of her livelihood. She knew
who they were, too. The tire tracks they left behind
betrayed them.
Whitesinger's bull calf was gone. It had been loaded
onto a trailer and hauled off to Keams Canyon 35 miles
away, where it was auctioned off by the Bureau of Indian
Affairs (BIA), the federal agency that oversees life on
Indian reservations. The one-year-old bull was
unbranded -- a violation of Whitesinger's grazing permit
-- so the BIA took it. But the animal was suffering from a
dislocated hip and Whitesinger didn't want to harm it
further by burning hot steel into its flesh.
"I decided to leave it alone and let it
heal first," she says through an interpreter.
"That's why I had not branded it yet."
Losing her calf was only the beginning. That same
day, as she traveled to Keams Canyon with a friend in hopes 
of getting her bull back, Whitesinger's horse was shot to 
death not far from her home. Her 14-year-old grandson found 
it while herding Whitesinger's sheep. "At first I thought it
was the BIA rangers," she says. "But I now
suspect it was my neighbors. They support relocation, and I 
don't think they want me living here anymore."

Pauline Whitesinger (R) and her daughter Bonnie

Like other Navajos who've had their only source of
food and clothing impounded for seemingly
mundane reasons, Whitesinger believes the BIA's
program of animal confiscation is a "pressure
tactic to starve us," she says. "It's all because of
the coal that is in our land."
Whitesinger is one of about 3,000 mostly elderly
Navajos who live in abject poverty in the high
desert of northeastern Arizona and are being
forced to move from land that is rich in coal.
About 13,000 Navajos have already been relocated
under a 25-year-old congressional act that some
say violate the tribe's human rights. Coal dug from
the Big Mountain reservation yields electricity for
more than 1.2 million homes in L.A. County.
"Every time you flip a switch, you are helping
eradicate Navajo people," says Marsha
Monestersky, consultant for the Sovereign Dineh
[Navajo] Nation and cochair of the Human Rights
Caucus for the United Nations Commission on
Sustainable Development. "The United States likes
to point its finger to human rights violations in
other countries, but never to itself."
Federal authorities, however, say the relocation has
nothing to do with coal. Navajos are being moved
out simply because the land they occupy now
belongs to the Hopi tribe, under the terms of the
congressional order. The energy industry,
including Southern California Edison, which
transmits electricity to L.A. from a Nevada power
plant fueled by coal from the reservation, also
denies any responsibility for what's happening to
the Navajos.

Peabody Coal and Black Mesa Pipeline

Some scholars view the relocation as the latest
manifestation in the U.S. government's
century-long campaign against the Navajos.
"This is the largest forced relocation since the forced 
removal of Japanese Americans in World War II," says Dr.
Thayer Scudder, a Caltech anthropology professor
and expert on forced removal programs. "We
realized that internment was unjust, and we tried to
make amends. Navajo relocation is equally unjust,
and all three branches of government are

Caught in the middle are Whitesinger and other
Navajos who must vacate Big Mountain by
February 1, 2000. And as the federal deadline
approaches, there is growing fear of a potential
clash between government agents and Navajos
who refuse to leave. "I think there will be some
kind of showdown," says Kerry Begay, a
30-year-old sheepherder. "I'm prepared to fight for
my land. But I don't know for sure what's going to

The tense situation at Big Mountain has roots that
go back decades. In 1974, Congress passed the
Navajo-Hopi Settlement Act to resolve a purported
"range war" between the two tribes. Land
surrounding the Hopi reservation that had been
used by both tribes became strictly Hopi territory
under the act, and Navajos were forced to move
out. But critics say the supposed range war was
largely a fabrication designed to open the land for
coal mining and more cattle grazing by wealthy

The Hopis began lobbying Congress to partition
the joint-use zone so they'd have exclusive use of
it, according to Gabor Rona, an attorney with the
Center for Constitutional Rights, a New
York-based public-interest legal organization that
in 1988 sued the U.S. government, charging that
the relocation act was unconstitutional. The Hopis
were joined by the Peabody Western Coal
Company, which liked the partition scheme since it
would be easier for the firm to expand its
strip-mining operations in the area, adds Rona.
"There is evidence that Peabody hired a public
relations firm to promote the range-war story," he

Congress, convinced that the two tribes were at each others' 
throats over land and desperate to solve the energy crisis 
created by the Arab oil embargo in the early 1970s,
passed the relocation act  with little hesitation.
"There was tension between some Hopi and
Navajos who were competing for land, but it
never got too serious," says David Brugge, an anthropologist 
and author of the The Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute: An
American Tragedy. "The [coal company] came in
and exploited this tension for their benefit. They
wanted to get at the mineral wealth. So Peabody
supported the Hopi. They wanted the tribe to get
the surface and subsurface rights to the land."
Since the settlement act's passage, more than
13,000 Navajos have been relocated to towns
outside the Big Mountain reservation, like Flagstaff
and Holbrook, Arizona, and Gallup, New Mexico.
The total cost of moving them: $350 million and
counting. The act also imposed a building freeze
and reduced livestock in Big Mountain by up to 90
percent; Navajos are prohibited from renovating
their dilapidated homes, and most of their animals
have been confiscated. The government denies that
displacing the Navajos has anything to do with
coal. "We are concerned with overgrazing on the
reservation," says Heather Sibbison, a special
assistant to U.S. Interior Secretary Kevin Gover.
"It's really that simple."
But critics charge that the relocation has caused
cultural and social disruption as well as physical
and psychological shock to a sheepherding,
matriarchal society whose identity is closely tied to
the land. Caltech's Scudder, who has studied
forced relocations in Asia and Africa and testified
before Congress against the Navajo resettlement
act, has estimated that during its first phase in the
late '70s, 25 percent of the relocatees died within
six years from illnesses brought on by stress and
depression. He describes the Navajo removal
program as "a magnificent 20th-century example of
one of the worst relocation programs that I have
seen anywhere in the world" and a "real human
Although there is no recent study measuring the
impact of relocation on the Navajos' health, the
Navajo Area Indian Health Service and the U.S.
Public Health Service in 1978 looked at 80 patients
in the first wave of relocation and found that at
least 85 percent of them suffered from depression
and severe stress. In 1985, UCLA anthropology
professor Jenny Joe examined 300 Navajos and
concluded that "people facing relocation are more
likely to have people die in their families."
Alcoholism and suicide were also found to be
more widespread compared with Navajo families
who were not being pushed off their land.
Moreover, Navajos today continue to complain
about illness and depression that they attribute to
Scudder has seen the same pattern throughout the
world among forcibly transplanted peoples.
"Relocation creates what I call multidimensional
stress," he says. "There's psychological stress,
where people grieve for the lost homeland and
have anxiety about the future; there's physiological
stress that leads to death and illness; there's
emotional stress and cultural stress, where the
religion and ideology of a people is undermined
when they are taken away from a land that has
strong meaning to them. For the Navajo, relocation
is about the worst thing you can do to them, short
of killing them."
Not all Navajos are leaving. About 100 signed an
"accommodation agreement" with the Hopi that
allows them to stay for 75 years. The 1996
agreement was struck during talks over settling the
Center for Constitutional Rights' lawsuit that
challenged the relocation act. The suit charged that
relocation violated the Navajos' right to practice
their site-specific religion. The court, however,
upheld the act, stating that relocation benefits
provided by the federal government "would be the
envy of countless millions in other countries," says
attorney Gabor Rona. But many Navajos thought
the agreement was unfair, not only because it
prevented future generations from living in Big
Mountain but because it forced them to live under
Hopi jurisdiction, without any say in how they are
governed. Even more insidious, says Rona, is that
the U.S. offered to pay the Hopi Tribal Council
$25 million for a certain number of Navajo
signatures, an incentive that led to fraud and
intimidation as Navajos were pressured to sign. "A
bounty was placed on Navajo signatures," he says.
"Some people claimed their signatures were

Coal is the real cause of the Navajos' plight, say
critics. "Places privileged by nature have been cursed by 
history," wrote the Uruguayan historian and
poet Eduardo Galeano in his famous indictment of Yankee and 
European imperialism in Latin America, The Open Veins of
Latin America. He could have been describing Big
Mountain, where some of the world's richest
deposits of high-grade, low-sulfur coal lie beneath
cedar trees, meandering arroyos, and burnished
mesas covered in ancient Indian drawings. More
than a billion dollars of coal has been gouged out
of the earth in the last 30 years, according to Beth
Sutton, spokesperson for Peabody Western. Each
year, the land yields 12 million tons, five million of
which are pumped through an underground slurry
line to the Mojave Generating Station in Laughlin,
Nevada -- 275 miles away -- where the coal is
burned to generate power for most of the
Southwest, including L.A. Yet, Navajos have no

The truth is, the Navajos and Hopis peacefully
coexisted for hundreds of years until fossil fuel
was discovered on their land in the 1950s. At that
time, neither tribe had formal governing bodies
(they were self-governed and community-based)
capable of negotiating mining leases with coal
companies. To solve that problem, two white
lawyers, John Boyden and Norman Littell, were
dispatched on behalf of the U.S. government and
the energy industry to delineate tribal borders and
set up tribal councils for the sole purpose of
issuing coal leases. Traditional Hopis and Navajos,
however, wanted nothing to do with the tribal
councils. They viewed them as a violation of their
autonomy. "Creating the tribal governments made
it easier for the United States to deal with the
Indians," says David Brugge. "But the
traditionalists saw them as another way for the
U.S. to control the tribes."
Acting in a lawsuit by Boyden and Littell, a court
set aside separate areas for the two tribes, and coal
leases were signed. A joint-use zone for both tribes
was also established in which coal revenues could
be split equally between the tribal councils. In
1970, Peabody opened its Black Mesa Coal Mine
about 15 miles northeast of Big Mountain in an
area that straddled the two tribes' land. Peabody
opened another mine, Kayenta, a few years later.
The coal company's lease area stretches over 100
square miles, a vast terrain that is still home to 200
Navajo families. As strip-mining expands into areas
where these families live, Navajos are bought out
and moved to different parts of the reservation.
About 50 people have already been "resited" by
Peabody, which has exclusive rights to the land
and the legal power to force the Indians out. The
Navajos are paid per acre -- Peabody won't say
how much -- and given new homes.
"Our leases have provisions for resiting homes to
ensure that the mining can continue safely," says
Sutton, the Peabody spokesperson. "The family
selects an area...and Peabody constructs a
brand-new home for that family with solar heating
and plumbing. The process has to be approved by
the tribe and the family."

Since the mines opened, Peabody has paid $40 million a year to
the tribal councils for the leases. Mining operations
generate 700 jobs on the Navajo and Hopi reservations, where 
unemployment is around 50 percent, Sutton says.

"These are highly skilled jobs that enable Native
Americans to live and work in the area," she says. "We are 
proud of that."

But Navajos like Whitesinger say they haven't
benefited from the jobs or coal revenues. They say
the tribal councils are corrupt puppets of the U.S.
government and have never shared the coal profits.
"They are controlled by Washington," she says.
"They don't represent our people."

It's a windy day in March, and about 45 people are
protesting in front of the Department of Water and
Power building in downtown L.A. Holding signs
that read "Relocation is Genocide" and "Save
Mother Earth," most of the activists are members
of the American-Indian Movement and the
Sovereign Dineh Nation. They say the DWP --
which co-owns the Mojave Generating Station
along with Southern California Edison, the Nevada
Power Co., and the Salt River Project, a federally
owned utility based in Phoenix -- is partly
responsible for the Navajo relocation in Big
Mountain. The activists are demanding that the
DWP sell its share of the Mojave plant, one of the
last coal-fired power facilities in the country. "Coal
is a dinosaur," says Marsha Monestersky, of the
Sovereign Dineh Nation. "And it's killing Dineh
More than half of the power generated by the
Mojave plant goes to Southern California, and the
plant gets all its coal from Peabody's Black Mesa
Mine. But its owners -- including Edison, which
owns 56 percent of the facility and operates it --
claim no responsibility for the impact the mining
has had on the Navajos. Not only have they
refused to meet with Navajo representatives to hear
their complaints, but the power companies say
coal has nothing to do with relocation.
"We do not feel that we have any part in the
relocation issue," says Steve Hansen,
spokesperson for Southern California Edison.
"The issue involves an old dispute between the
Hopi and Navajo tribes."
But Monestersky, who has dedicated her life to the
Navajo cause and recently addressed the 55th
Session of the U.N. Commission on Human
Rights in Geneva, Switzerland, says Edison's
position is unacceptable. "It's ridiculous," she
says. "They are generating energy at the cost of
human rights and the environment."
The Dineh Nation is not the only group
condemning the Mojave plant. In 1997, the Sierra
Club and the Grand Canyon Trust, a conservation
group, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Las Vegas
against Edison and its partners, claiming the power
station has been violating federal clean-air laws for
20 years. Environmentalists say the Mojave station
releases unacceptable levels of sulfur dioxide and
soot into the atmosphere, creating a layer of haze
over the Grand Canyon 80 miles away. They point
to a recently released U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) report that assessed the
Mojave plant's impact on the Grand Canyon.
Although the EPA found that the plant was only
one of several sources of the haze in the national
park, it described the Mojave generator as "the
single largest point source with the greatest
impact" on the Grand Canyon, says Regina
Spindler, an EPA environmental engineer. "That
means that we can point to this facility and show
it's contributing to the visibility impairment."
The Sierra Club wants Southern California Edison
to install pollution-control devices. "We are
basically asking for this power plant to no longer
run dirty," says Rob Smith, southwest staff
director for the Sierra Club in Phoenix. "This is the
last uncontrolled power plant in the Southwest."
Edison says it has pledged to either install
emissions scrubbers or shut down the plant by
2008. As for Peabody, it says it has no plans to
further expand mining operations on the Navajo
reservation. "We don't have any plans or any legal
right or desire to mine in Big Mountain," says
company spokesperson Beth Sutton.
But that is scant consolation to the 3,000 Navajos
who are being pressured to move. If they give in,
they will probably be sent to New Land, an area
just south of Sanders, Arizona, where 356
relocated Navajo families now live and where the
federal government has already set aside property
for more. "My umbilical cord is here," says Alice
Begay, who lives with her husband in a two-room
shack in Big Mountain. "I heard the water is
contaminated in the New Land, and I think the
government moved our people there so they could
die faster."

Pressed against the Arizona-New Mexico state line, New Land is
365,000 acres of arid, undulating land sparsely covered with 
sagebrush and cedar trees. The area is sliced in half by the
Puerco River, which in 1979 was contaminated
by one of the largest radioactive spills in U.S.
history. About 94 million gallons of
uranium-tainted wastewater and 1,100 tons of
uranium tailings flooded into a tributary of the
Puerco after a dam broke in Church Rock, New
Mexico, about 50 miles upstream from New Land.
Not only was the water radioactive, but "it was
highly acidic, with a pH level akin to battery acid,"
says Chris Shuey, environmental health specialist
with the Southwest Research and Information
Center, a nonprofit education and scientific
organization in Albuquerque.
Traveling 100 miles, the spill left a trail of "hot
spots" that are still detectable today in sediment. In
1994, the U.S. Geological Survey found high
radioactivity in the Puerco during runoff
conditions. Although the USGS report didn't say if
the defunct uranium mines in Church Rock were
responsible, the agency nonetheless recommended
that people not let their livestock drink from the

Tract Housing on the "New Land"- Sanders Arizona

The 1979 spill was merely the most dramatic
incident in a 30-year period during which the
Puerco had been routinely contaminated by the
Church Rock mines. Indeed, more wastewater
routinely poured into the Puerco between 1950 and
1983 than during the 1979 spill, according to
Shuey. About 1,200 gallons a minute of
contaminated water was discharged into the river
during the 1960s. As uranium production increased
in the '70s, the figure climbed to 3,800 gallons per
minute, and by 1983, it rose to 5,300 gallons per
minute, until the last uranium mine finally shut
down in 1986.
"The contamination was ongoing," says Shuey.
"That's what we need to realize."
Despite the potential hazards of the Puerco River,
the U.S. government decided to relocate Navajos
to New Land in 1980. So far, no study has been
done to determine if people there are getting sick,
have higher death rates, or suffer from cancer.
"We just don't know," says Shuey. Federal
authorities insist that the land itself is not
contaminated and that people actually live better
than in Big Mountain. "They get better housing and
better services than anywhere else on the
reservation," says Paul Tessler, attorney for the
federal Office of Navajo and Hopi Relocation. "I
think [relocation] is a decent and humane
Indeed, Navajos in New Land live in modern,
tract-style homes with three to five bedrooms.
They have bathrooms, full kitchens, ceiling fans, as
well as plumbing, electricity, and gas. The
community also boasts a new high school, a police
station, a health clinic, and a recreation center for
both youths and senior citizens. The roads are
paved, and Interstate 40 is readily accessible,
linking New Land to Gallup, New Mexico, a city
about an hour away. Families with livestock also
enjoy large tracts of grazing land and have access
to an impermeable aquifer that's free of
"All of them are adjusting very well," says Tessler.
"I'm not saying they don't have problems, but they
are not due to relocation."
Some New Land residents, however, tell it
differently. Removed from their ancestral
homeland and forced to pay bills they never had
before, families are having a hard time making ends
meet, they say. They suffer from anxiety,
depression, and have difficulty maintaining their
Navajo traditions. Some even travel for hours back
and forth to Big Mountain for cedar, used in
Navajo cooking, because they say the cedar in
New Land tastes bitter. "This doesn't feel like
home to me," says John Curtis, 65, who moved to
New Land with his wife Bernice and four children
nine years ago. "I can't adjust to this way of
Curtis had been a seasonal farmworker but is too
old to work anymore. He lives in a simple,
beige-colored house on semiarid land near a
handful of similar homes. He says the Office of
Relocation told him he would have a better life
here and made verbal promises of employment.
But these promises were never fulfilled, he says,
and his family is now on welfare. Curtis wishes he
could return to Big Mountain, where he farmed,
herded cattle and sheep, and felt more
independent. "It's really hard out here," he says.
About eight miles farther west along I-40, other
residents of the sparsely settled New Land area say
it's just as difficult, if not more so, to herd cattle
there as it was in Big Mountain. There are
ordinances that limit the number of livestock and
prohibit grazing during certain times of the year.
There's also not enough water, they say. "It's the
ordinances that make it difficult here," says John
Friday, 50, who moved to New Land four years
ago. "In Big Mountain, I was allowed 161 sheep
and eight horses. Here, I'm allowed 40 sheep and
one horse, sometimes a little more, depending on
the time of year."
Friday says he moved here because the
government told him his land in Big Mountain now
belonged to the Hopi. But his Hopi friends, he
says, never wanted him to go. "It wasn't the Hopi
who knocked at my door and told me to leave,"
says Friday. "It was a white man from the Office
of Relocation and a Navajo interpreter who told
me I had to move. I didn't resist because I thought
it would lead to physical conflict. I didn't want to
end up getting killed for the land or getting hurt, so
I signed up for relocation."
Next door, June Benally, 69, has similar
complaints. She moved to the area six years ago.
Although she has adjusted to life in New Land, it
isn't any better or easier than when she lived in Big
Mountain. "I was promised it was nice out here,"
she says. "But it's the same."
Underlying the relocated Navajos' hardships is a
deep fear that someday the government will shove
them off this land, too. They live in a state of
unease that prevents them from fully adjusting to
life in New Land. "I think a lot about this place,"
says Bernice Curtis. "Am I living here for nothing?
Will the government come around again and take
away this land?"

The loss of their land -- it has been the story of
American Indians since Christopher Columbus
arrived. What were once independent societies
with a whole continent to themselves have been
reduced to wards of the state with their land held in
trust by the U.S. government. Yet Navajos and
other Indians still try to preserve their way of life
despite pressures to assimilate into the "white
man's world." In Big Mountain, history really is
repeating itself as scores of families are pushed off
territory their ancestors called home for thousands
of years. "This problem is the making of U.S.
government policies," says Caltech's Scudder.
"The bottom line is, this wouldn't be happening if
the coal wasn't there."
As for those who refuse to comply with the
relocation act, their names will be filed with the
U.S. Justice and Interior departments "for action
they deem appropriate," says attorney Tessler. But
no one knows what that "action" will be. The
government claims to have no strategy for forcibly
moving people come February. "As far as I know,
there are no plans for how to deal with this issue,"
says Heather Sibbison, of the Interior Department.
Back in Big Mountain, some Navajos are hesitant
to talk about what will happen when the deadline
arrives. John Benally, 48, doesn't want violence but
says there might be a "confrontation" with the
government, similar to the Zapatista uprising in
Chiapas, Mexico. One Navajo woman is already
known to have fired her rifle at BIA rangers when
they tried to impound her animals. "I think that is
what it will come down to," says Benally, who has
vowed to stay in Big Mountain. "I think we will
have to take a stand, just like our brothers and
sisters down south."
His neighbor and good friend Pauline Whitesinger
doesn't want violence either, but she has told the
Office of Relocation she plans to stay in Big
Mountain no matter how many notices they send
or how many of her animals they take away.
"I don't know what will happen when the deadline
comes," says Whitesinger. "Only the Creator will
decide that. But I am not leaving."