Los Angeles, Ca. USA
Report on Big Mountain
It is frightening to believe that as we approach the new millennium, horrendous crimes against humanity, I am talking about genocide, exist within the very heart of this country. The Dineh (Navajo) Indians at Big Mountain Arizona may be going down for the last time. The signs of human rights abuses upon them have been surfacing in America for over two decades. Each time, the government obediaently covers up. Meanwhile, politicians, greedy tribal leaders and energy companies profit as Dineh ancestrial land is raped. They have succeeded in smoke screening the almost unbelievable truth for 27 years. In that time another forced indian relocation has taken place. Fourteen thousand have been moved to lands contaminated by radiation accidents that are the worst this country has ever seen. If we had seen them. Now, after the death of thousands of traditional Dineh, and the obliteration of their culture, only a small weakening number continue to resist relocation and death. By the way, over 350 million tax payer dollars have fueled this holacost.
How can this be true? To comprehend, the traditional Native American Government must be made clear. Then one must take the time to confront the public relations monster created by the energy corporations and politicians. But first, the history of the U.S.-Dineh internment must be examined.The very framework of governing imposed upon them opens the door for a continuation of the brutal treatment Native Americnas have recieved since the occupiers stepped foot on American soil.
Grossly unethical, Native Americans are directed and cared for by the Dept of Energy. This is accomplished through DOE's division know as the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).The BIA formed the reservations. The Navajo (Dineh) Reservation was formed in 1868. Soon after, in 1882 the Hopi reservation was formed on land that was traditionally used by both tribes. Then in 1911, a geological survey was done at Black Mesa, centered on the reservation. The Government survey revealed that over 16 billion tons of coal was lying under the Navajo. The Government, pressured by the energy corporations, came up with a plan in order to get at the profits that lie under the conquered people. So in 1923 the first Tribal Council for the Dineh was formed. There was then, as is now, no representation of Traditional people in the tribal council. That first council was a direct departure from traditional Native American Government.
The Traditional Native American governing process is vastly different than that of the United States. Usually an elder of a tribe gets to the position of a respected individual and would offer advise to those that would come to him for it. The natives didn't usually tell each other what to do, if there was a difference of opinion it would be settled by one faction moving to a new village without any repercussions. When the US came in to form these councils, the elders and most tribal members didn't pay much attention.
In 1934 Congress formed the Indian Reorganization Act. Government appointed Tribal leaders, many of which were converted to Christianity, began to make decisions for the tribes based on needs of the Government and Energy corporations. These new Government placed "Leaders" of the Navajo and Hopi Tribes began to make deals and sell lease rights without the consent of the traditional populations of their own native nation. They (or thier parents) had traded in thier traditional lifes after years of forced boarding school. But that is another tragedy worthy of its own movement. So who are these Traditionals, kindred blood, that these "progressives" are so eager to sell out?
Traditional people, especially amongst the Navajo and Hopi, are holding knowledge that dates back thousands of years through oral tradition. Even more importantly, these Traditionals are bound, by thier own sacred laws, to live the knowldege and never to stray from the teachings given to them by thier sacred dieties. These dieties are just as real and vital as Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed to respectfully name a few.Traditional life today is as it has been for a thousand years. Life requires a commitment like no other to ceremony, hard work and repsect for all life.
It would be a fatal mistake for mankind to lose the last cultures that know how to walk in balance with the Earth. Native American dieties placed the highest emphasis on how the Earth is to be treated. Each year millions of contemporary people all over the world are waking up to the eco-side that is destroying all life on the planet. The Natives always payed the price first, but eventually all will fall prey to the ignorance that is steering our society. Big Mountain is the perfect example. As the Natives are being killed off or made to be dysfunctional, other far reaching and disasterous events have gone unchecked. For instance:
·Scariest for most will be the truth about the Atlas Uranium Mine cleanup. Radioactive contamination continues to enter the drinking water supplies for hundreds of miles including Los Vegas and Los Angeles, some two decades after contamination began.
·Giant uranium tailing piles; mountains, surround Shiprock New Mexico, the Navajo's largest city. One such mountain is 1 mile long. Lung cancer is a major cause of death. Prior to world war II lung cancer was almost non existant. The radiation victims nor thier families have be compensated by the government or the tribal council.
·Over 1,100 tons of uranium mining waste/tailings and 100 million gallons of radioactive water flowed into the Rio Puerco, contaminating the destination site of the relocation as well as the entire Rio Puerco watershed. Only 50 of the 1100 tons was cleaned up by unprotected Navajo workers.
·Documentation exists that show Kerr-McGee miner's were exposed to 100-1000 times the safe dosage the government publishes. 500 miners (rising) have died w/o compensation as congress juggles relief legislation for over 12 years.
·The White Mesa Uranium Mill is six miles square and sited as a dump for 1,220 55 gallon drums of deadly waste. Over 3500 people live just six miles away. Other locations are under rapid scrutiny as America's toxic waste increases.
·Tons or uranium tailings blow freely across Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. Old mines are scheduled to re-open as the price of Uranium rises on the world market.
For years the people of the United States have been fooled, being led to believe that there was a dispute between the Hopi and Navajo tribes. If you observe the tribal councils you will see this to be true. If you observe the Traditionals you will see this to be a lie used to pull the wool over your eyes. Unfortunately, only one truly "high priest" of the Hopi presently is alive thanks to the accelerated assimilation of that nation. The reality of what has happened to the Hopi is the darkest I have ever imagined this country would ever allow! Here is as good as any to pass along the importance of knowing the Hopi Prophecies as explained by the One who is still with us today. (Thomas E Mails "Hotevilla"). It is all tied together my friends. If you want one last chance at Hopi, then the Dineh must be saved.
Eventually some smart generation is going to condemn this this generation having lost the Hopi and Dineh traditional cultures in shameful openess and without mercy. The trail of evidence the Government and the energy corporations has laid down isn't even hidden. For instance, a John Boyden applies to the Navajo Council for position of General Council. He was turned down. Boyden, a former Mormon Archbishop, was then hired by the Hopi Tribal Council. While representing the Hopi tribe he also represented Peabody Coal, clearly a conflict of interest.
Many ask me why the Dineh have let this happen or why don't they mobilize? It's easy from an American point of view to try and figure out what you would do. After going to the reservation and being with these people I have come to understand the situation.The lives these people live are directly connected to that of their ancestors. The sheep they herd are a part of that same ancestry. The migratory patterns the sheep take are the same ones used for hundreds of years. The time and stress of our civilized lives does not exist here. This is the land where you live as a ceremony. Their lives haven't changed much in hundreds of years. Their ability to mobilize has been hampered by their need to plant corn and take care of their livestock. It takes about 30 minutes to get from one neighbor to another. They have tried to tell the world. Kee Watchman has been to Geneva as well as the United Nations twice. In 1993 and 1996 Kee and Roberta Blackgoat, along with Weaving for Freedom founder and civil rights worker, Arlene Hamilton went to see Lord Hanson of Peabody Coal. They wanted to invite him to their land. They also wanted to ask him why his company was out there at Big Mountain. They posed as stock holders in order to get in.They convinced the secretary to get them in to see Lord Hanson, the owner of Peabody Coal Not one of the promises Hanson made that day have been fulfilled.. Invitations by the Dineh to the Stockholders to come visit their land went unswered. The PR of this land killing corporation was the best in the world. But if you go out and talk to the people that have lived here their whole lives you will hear the real stories.
The Benally's have lived next to the mine since it was developed. As you stand outside of their house you hear the loud speaker from the mine and the low wine of machinery that creeps up the mountain of coal waiting to be transported through the slurry lines. Slurry Lines are underground pipelines that pump billions of gallons of pristine aquafier water (the most precious resource )and coal to Laughlin Nevada, hundreds of miles away. The pile of coal, that looms over the Benally's is a ten year supply. In the past this family has lost all their sheep (due to poisoning of streams by Peabody) Three of its family members were arrested in mid 97 for standing by a tree in thier grazing area as Peabody scraped the land clean of life. The Benally's were never told of the plans to place a mountain of mined coal where their sheep have been grazing for generations. This family only wants to be left alone. "The rest of the country needs to see what is going on here" Norman Benally told me as we filmed him outside his house..
Then there is Lawrence Altsisi, whose parents signed and relocated. Lawrence was 18 at the time, but was not asked to sign. He has remained on the land in his Grandmothers hogan and has tended his family's sheep to this date. He has been harassed and cited by numerous officials. He contends that he never agreed to give up the land of his ancestors. Without a signature, the authorities are denieing him his basic human rights. In March the Hopi Marshalls came to confiscate his herd of sheep. Lawrence's nephew, Chris Interpreter, would not move from the coral. The Hopi manhandled Chris out of the coral and arrested him for trespassing on his own land. This kind of intimidation has been taking place on the reservation for many years. Some stories, barely whispered, tell of the darkest of autrocities. Even now the media sweeps this one under the rug. If salvation is going to come then it will be by way of international dissent , protest and boycott.
There are many people getting the message out about this awful act of human rights violations. It is happening all over the planet. As I work on this issue there are others that I know are working on similar needs in other parts of the Nation as well as the world. The Dineh are a large number of people, but the Traditional numbers are not large and easy to wipe out. When relocations to New Lands started in the 70's there were 10,000 and of those 4,000 have died.
Its clear to see when your on the reservation how the times are hard for the Dineh. The roads are all dirt and deeply rutted. The traditional Hogan still stands at every household. Most of the Grandmothers still live in the the hogan left to them by their Grandmother. As we went to see Roberta Blackgoat down one of the twisting roads through a canyon, a mature adult Golden Eagle stepped off a juniper branch an took to flight 50 feet away. We had a chance to be out in a land with no humming of electric wires or car noise , just pure silence. The two day stay with Roberta along with hours of interviews have given me a deeper understanding of this made to be complex and diabolical scheme. The simplicity in which this Grandma can explain the situation is clear, "The land it sacred it is our prayer and our song." The ancestors of the Dineh are buried here, on this land, as well as the sacred bundles they possess. For this reason the Dineh cannot by their own sacred laws leave this very spot they now are being forced off of.
As I walked in a sacred canyon that Kee took me to, I heard of the stories of his childhood and many years in this canyon. He showed me ancient rock writings dating back a thousand years. He pointed to a beautiful valley and told me of a family that lived there. It seems that they relocated many years ago when the first Dineh had taken the Governments offer. He told me he had just heard that there was only one left in the large family and it was the Grandmother. The rest had died, mostly due to depression and suicide.
Kee told me that the Dineh would take the money at the time it was offered (aprox 19 K) and they would move to what's called "The New Lands". He told me that after they got there their lives would fall apart because their families and ceremonies were back at Big Mountain. They would run out of money and have no sheep to sell so they would get depressed. They would feel like they had betrayed their people, they couldn't go back to their homeland so they would get drunk or kill them selves'. Also take into account the New Lands are also home of the Nations largest nuclear waste spill (100 million of gallons) in the Little Colorado River in 1979. That spill killed livestock, caused cancer and death, and mutated corn crops. The spill has never beend cleaned. This relocation has broken the spirit of these people. The United States government has tricked the Dineh with the intention of an ethnic cleansing.
The family shrines of the Watchman family were destroyed in one of these official land business excursions. The Dineh never know why or when these land recking crews will come. I visited a well just walking distance from Pauline Whitesinger in the Wide Ruins canyon.It had been capped 30 years prior for no reason. These are the tactics that keep the Dineh stressed and on the run. They are at the mercy of Presidential and Congressional meetings . Being with these people is like being in Peru or Napal. Its hard to believe that there can still be some last indigenous people left in this country. It is a must to preserve this by just leaving them alone and let them work out their lives their own way.
The issues are complex but the answers aren't. Leave the Dineh and their land alone. There will surely be an extinction of this tradition if they are to be moved or if they are not left with their sacred Big Mountain.
The Accommodation Agreement is harsh and does not permit the religious freedom that every human has the right to practice. Clinton signed the law. Oh, it doesn't matter that he is a democrat, this is a bi-partisan scandel. As of April 1st 1997, land that the Dineh people had lived on for hundreds of years was now property of the Hopi tribe under the control of the Tribal Council. After April 1st, the Dineh would be trespassing. The "accomodation" is that the Dineh can stay under a 75 year lease at which time the land would be Hopi. The terms of the lease resemble that of martial law. The Hopi council force the Dineh to get ceremonial permits, herbal permits and they get cited when thier sheep wander off. The grazing lands allotted to these families is ludicrous when you see how much land there is and how the livestock never over graze.
Then there is water. Hundreds of wells have dried up. For years Peabody Coal has been draining pristine aquifiers for thier slurry lines. The Black Mesa Pipeline coal slurry, which is rumored to be unpermitted and totally uncared for runs the length of the reservation and on into Laughlin Nev, hundreds of miles away. Leaks in the slurry line are ignored in remote canyons. The aquifer under the dessert has been disasterously reduced with a life expectancy of less than than 10 years. The idea of using pristine water in a desert could only come from corporate dollar decisions not the ecological decisions we need to make in order to save the planet.
Many methods of intimidation have been used over the years to pressure the Dineh off thier sacred homeland. I have been told by Dineh that Dineh have been murdered. Wells have been capped or the water poisoned so the livestock die. Fences have forced thousands to move to the "right side". This in a land where Roberta Blackgoat (Dineh Elder) can show you the graves of her mothers and great grandmothers near her hogan. The BIA destroys land like hers with powerful bulldozers with giant chains that scrape the land clean of life. This will leave the energy corporations free to come in and rape this beautiful preserve of indigenous wilderness.
What does it take for the people of this continent to see what is going on with the Corporate greed in this country. They will not move on finding alternatives until the land below them is all used up. The land at Big Mountain could be used for solar technology. The Government will not do it nor will private enterprise. How can the people of this country let our lives be governed to by a system that wills for money over the environment and human life. It will only be a matter of time before the rights you think you have no matter where you, may be taken away. The time is now for us the true people to stand up and be counted as the ones against the Human Rights Violations to the indigenous peoples and plants on Big Mountain.
The World Council of Churches along with several hundred other NGO organizations at the United Nations are calling for an investigation of human rights violations by the United States Government against the Dineh people.
This country doesn't seem to be interested in what its people want.. Even though they are shamed at the United Nations they are seemingly above recourse.
The United States is always pointing its fingers at other countries about human rights violations when here within the US borders it does the same if not worse human rights violating. Isn't it time the Government looks at the needs of the people instead of the needs of the corporations or is this country called the United Corporations of America.