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 responsible." 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 happen." 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 Hopis. 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 says. 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 tragedy." 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 relocation. 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 forged." 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 electricity. 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 people." 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 river. 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 program." 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 contamination. "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 living." 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."