Big Mountain Elder: “State of the Dineh and the Big Mountain Resistance”
July 19, 2009, Big Mountain, Black Mesa – A sign just outside of Flagstaff says, “Beat the Heat!” as it tries to lure people into a get together of grown-up adults that ‘play’ with model airplanes. This gathering seemed mostly of non-Indians scheming to make some money and sell more membership. 120 miles away on the reservation at Big Mountain some families still do not have electricity and the day time temperature has reached 104 degrees Fahrenheit. There are no icy refrigerators to provide a 40 ounce glass of lemonade with ice or a chilled, 32 ounce of sugar called Coca Cola. It felt like the “Heat has Beaten Us” at Big Mountain, but the U.S. Relocation Policies in the name of Peabody Energy has not beaten the Dineh, yet.
As we sip on a cup of shade or room temperature water, the traditional elder resister takes the opportunity with my visit to talk about the struggle to resist relocation. She is a medicine woman as well as being a sheep rancher in her late sixty. I wish not to disclose her name because of her status as a healer and spiritual leader.
“The Dineh, overall, have transformed their ways of doing the rituals. We here at Big Mountain, those of us resisting the harsh policies aimed at us, have tried to set examples through speaking out about strengthening our languages and our ceremonial ways. We even had hopes through the sacred, Lakota Sun Dance. The Dineh across the reservation try to conduct the great healing ways like the Great Gathering Ritual and Dance (a.k.a. “Squaw Dance”) and the Yei Bi Chei Dances. Now, these have become nothing but social gatherings where people come for the feasts and the giveaways. Once all foods and gifts have been acquired, the ceremonial grounds are suddenly deserted. The Clans of the Staff-Receivers are all gone except for lone Receiver of the Staff. The Initiator Clans of the Gathering Ritual are all gone, too, except the Patients. No one is around to sing and hold the final and very sacred dance. This great ritual of the Dineh has become a very silent conclusion ceremony which was once full of celebratory and jubilant singing and dancing.
“All this (American) greed and mannerism has taken away the ancient, traditional thoughts of the old time Dineh. ‘Taken away’ just like relocation. It has been moved away or it has been separated from us. Traditional parents and their children were separated and many elderly parents die of heart break caused by this. Every sibling within one family unit that I know of have accepted the relocation benefits, the matriarch became sick and she died, her brother tried to resist but he also died of heart break, and now, only the elder patriarch remains. He is so alone. I have never seen such a lonely person. He is surrounded by several houses and hogans but there is no one else to be expected, to come out of any of those dwellings. This elder man only has his late wife and brother in-law’s sheep and horses to look after. Why did his children decided to leave the land? This is hard for me to comprehend.
“My children have never accepted the relocation benefits. None of them accepted that and I consider them all to still be residents, here, though their attempts to build homes were stopped by the B.I.A. Police. So, how can children just leave their land and parents behind?
“Our history told us about the ‘Long Walk’ when the U.S. Army forced thousands of our peoples to march to Ft. Sumner. Many had their heads bashed-in and died on the way to the four year internment camp. So, I would understand about being forced-relocated if we were to have received the same kind of brutality. But we did not.
"What is left of our past resistance at Big Mountain is nothing but a ‘war of words on paper.’ Papers are served to our front doors and most of our Dineh take that as a threat and run. The whiteman’s paper is considered more sacred. These papers supposedly interpret the American laws. Our ancient sacred ways are no longer held with high reverence and the modern Dineh can violate those ancient ways as they wish. The Dineh have all truly become greedy and selfish and to only seek hand outs.
“Even the idea of love and freedom is used by the Americans as ‘sugar-coated’ mentality and behavioral acceptability. Love is many things but to us at Big Mountain, love was what we bestowed for our country, the land. Freedom was that same thing. We resisted and fought, physically and with papers. A couple of our local Dineh have volunteered nearly their whole life to maintain this love and freedom for us, those of us who are now very old and some who are alone. Love and freedom is the willingness to visit the elders, to learn more about our sacred places, to visit those sacred places, to communicate with non-Indians and other tribal communities that believe in harmony and sustainability, and to teach the youth about who they are and where they really belong.
“It is time, while in our last desperate attempt to save our identity, to do the Beauty Way Ceremonies. Yes, we can call it ‘a fight’ but it is that (real) love and freedom that involves helping people to withhold the sacred and support their existence on their ancestral lands despite the threats and harassment. The indigenous peoples must resort to these rituals ways immediately instead of wasting energy on designing more words on paper to send to the oppressors.”
* * *Elders and their extended families at Big Mountain traditional communities still need your support and prayers. The crop fields need tending to, the wooly sheep and goats need to be herded, and if you cannot get away, contact your local indigenous support groups and see how you can help in the coming fall or winter.
[**Learn more and contact: Black Mesa Indigenous Support at http://www.blackmesais.org/ or call BMIS Voice Mail: 928-773-8086. The BMIS Fall 2009 Caravan is tentatively being planned and continued, long-term (2 wks to two months + ) on-land stays are needed.]
Free Leonard Peltier and Free All Political Prisoners!
And remember nature always beats you and if you endure that, lessons of many blessings will come. (The foregoing statement was translated by Yours Truly, Chief Loner.) –sdnRocks, 2009