Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Volunteers helping relocation resisters

Support Thanksgiving Caravan prepare mutton stew. The volunteers will stay with elders on Big Mountain until Saturday, helping them prepare for winter.

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau - Navajo Times

The third, and possibly final, Black Mesa Indigenous Support Thanksgiving Caravan arrived on Big Mountain Saturday, bearing a welcome cargo of food, hay, firewood, and plenty of enthusiastic young muscle.

They will help a handful of Navajo families who resisted relocation, and are still living on a peninsula of Hopi Partitioned Land on Big Mountain, to get through the winter.

For 120 people from across the country and into Canada, it will be a different sort of Thanksgiving.
Instead of feasting on turkey with their family, they'll be sharing mutton stew with Navajo elders, some of whom don't speak a word of English.
Instead of taking a holiday, they'll be working, hard - herding sheep, splitting firewood and building corrals.
And, they're grateful for the opportunity.
The third, and possibly final, Black Mesa Indigenous Support Thanksgiving Caravan arrived on Big Mountain Saturday, bearing welcome cargo of food, hay, firewood, and plenty of enthusiastic young muscle.
Sponsored by Black Mesa Indigenous Support, the caravan was conceived to help the handful of Navajo families who resisted relocation, and are still living on a peninsula of Hopi Partitioned Land on Big Mountain, to get through the winter.
"We think one of the best ways we can express solidarity with them is just to help them continue their traditional way of life," explained Theresa "Tree" Gigante, one of the caravan's organizers, who has been working with the Big Mountain resisters for 15 years.
The volunteers were divided into groups of two or three, each to live with a Navajo elder for five days and help him or her prepare for the winter - which, with no running water or electricity, on a slippery dirt road a half-hour from the nearest trading post, can be awfully long.

7 'awaiting relocation'

As if on cue, wind-whipped snow started to pelt Big Mountain Sunday as the caravan's opening ceremonies commenced, with the elders expressing appreciation for the help and detailing their plight as people who resisted being relocated to New Lands in the 1970s and 80s.
Forty-nine of the 56 home-site lease holders who remained on the HPL after relocation signed an accommodation agreement in 1996, giving them a 75-year lease but severely restricting the number of animals they can graze. The remaining seven are still considered by the government to be "awaiting relocation," although that's certainly not how they see it.
"If we're just one animal over (our limit), the Hopi rangers will come and take it," complained one woman.
Another worried that she won't be able to leave her home site to her children, but her daughter said she plans to stay there anyway.
"This is still America," she said. "They can't just chase people off their land."
The volunteers, crowded into a prefabricated geodesic dome that had been set up as a space for talking and learning, also heard speakers on the physical and spiritual aspects of coal mining on nearby Black Mesa.
The Hopi and Navajo used to share the land in peace, the elders said, until the Black Mesa mine was opened in the 1960s, necessitating the partitioning of the land and the relocation of 6,500 Navajos and about 30 Hopis in the 1970s and 80s.
In addition to leveling home sites, the elders said, the mine has encroached on burial grounds and cultural sites, and dust from the operation has created respiratory problems in the nearby populations.
The Black Mesa Mine was closed in 2005, but mining continues at the Kayenta Mine on the north side of Black Mesa.
The volunteers also learned that the Diné regard Black Mesa as a living female entity, and the coal seam as her liver, and that mining is foreign to the traditional Navajo worldview.

Water another worry

The Northeast Arizona Water Settlement recently approved by the Navajo Nation Council is another concern of the elders.
"They signed away the coal, and now they've signed away our water," said one, speaking in Navajo. "We have no leaders these days. Just people who betray us for money."
Evelyn Samuelson said she's concerned not just that the Diné will have enough water in the future, but whether the long legal document will have some kind of power over the water's spirit.
"The water rights are all tangled up like a spider web," she said, illustrating by crossing her gnarled fingers over each other. "They've mixed up the male and female water. I don't know how Mother Nature's going to react."
Danny Blackgoat, son of Big Mountain resister Roberta Blackgoat, who passed away in 2002, advised the volunteers to build little catchments wherever they saw water collecting, so the elders' livestock would have enough to drink.
"We should be doing that all over the Navajo Nation," he said.
Most of the volunteers are in their 20s, much too young to remember the relocation. Every one interviewed seemed to have learned about it in a different way: in a college class, at a human rights panel, from an environmental group, Googling around on the Internet.
Becky White, a young singer-songwriter from the Bay area who is now working on her master's at Berklee College of Music, learned about the relocation 11 years ago while attending Prescott College. She's been making periodic trips to Big Mountain ever since, lending a hand on elders' ranches.
"As a Californian, I was shocked to learn that the (electrical) power in my state comes from stolen coal," she said. "This is a human rights issue the whole country should know about."

Growing awareness

Thanks to the efforts of BMIS - and much earlier speaking tours by Blackgoat, Katherine Smith and other resisters - a growing number of people do. The caravan had to turn away volunteers, limiting the number to 120 in order to have a manageable group and avoid too big an impact on the land.
But many volunteers end up coming back for a month or two to help their assigned families, White said.
"They need help all year round, not just five days in the fall," she declared.
Gigante, who now lives in Virginia, spends about five months a year on Big Mountain. She has learned Navajo and is teaching it to her children.
She said this might be the last year she organizes the caravan, although BMIS will continue to facilitate volunteer work on Big Mountain.
"There's only about five of us core people who organize this," she said. "It takes a lot to coordinate all this."
Some of the elders and organizers were concerned the volunteers would be hassled for trespassing on Hopi land, but Clayton Honyumptewa, acting manager of the Hopi Tribe's Department of Natural Resources, said his department was aware of the caravan and not out to bust it.
"We do wish they'd go through the proper channels to get permission," he said. "I'll probably send somebody over there to monitor the situation. We aren't going to arrest people for doing humanitarian work."
"I don't see any Hopis out here helping me herd my sheep and chop my wood," quipped Jack Woody, one of the elders who had invited the volunteers to assist him in preparing for the winter. "I don't see my Council delegate. If these non-Indians want to help me, I'm not going to chase them away."

Learning the issues

Actually, there are a few Indians in the bunch. Alex Morrison said she made the trip as a service learning project for an English class at Salt Lake Community College.
"It hit close to home, because I'm half Navajo," said the 19-year-old, who looks Native except for her startling hazel eyes. "When I heard about it, I knew I wanted to do it."
Craig Luther, 21, is from a family that was relocated from Big Mountain to Nahata Dzil, but he was raised in Sanders, Ariz.
"To tell the truth, I really don't know that much about the issues out here," he confessed. "That's why I'm here."
While she appreciates all the volunteers, it's the Navajo youngsters like Morrison and Luther who give Marie Smith hope. The daughter of resister Katherine Smith, she's working on a master's in sustainable communities at Northern Arizona University. She envisions Big Mountain as a network of sustainable farms where Navajos can return to the land and once again live in peace.
She sees greenhouses, a community center, and maybe even their own chapter, so they could accept grants and funding from the Navajo Nation and other entities.
"People say, 'You can't go back to the old ways,' but that's not what I'm talking about," she said. "You can have your computer and your cell phone, and still say the proper prayers when you butcher a sheep. We need to re-value the way of life we once had. What our ancestors had was a proven way to live sustainably on the land."
She and her sister, Mary Katherine, both live on a hill overlooking their mom's old place. Mary Katherine prefers to work in the background, helping the elders to survive on the land and organizing occasional health clinics, one of which will be held this week. They are among just a handful of second-generation resisters who were raised with the struggle always the backdrop of their lives, and yet chose to stay.
Most of their generation has moved to Flagstaff or Phoenix or other places, and rarely returns to the mountain. But their children - the ones Morrison's and Luther's age - might be another story.
"I'm seeing a lot of interest among younger Navajos to come out here and experience this lifestyle," Marie Smith said. "There is a movement among young people across the Navajo Nation who are recognizing the value of a life lived with respect for the earth. Because of our elders who have managed to remain here, we'll have a place for them to come. We'll have something to offer them."

[Navajo Times ON-LINE COMMENTS]:

C said: Attention NN Government, newly elected. PLEASE READ comments made by Big mtn elderlies "They signed away the coal, and now they've signed away our water," said one, speaking in Navajo. "We have no leaders these days. Just people who betray us for money." one of the elders who had invited the volunteers to assist him in preparing for the winter. "I don't see my Council delegate. If these non-Indians want to help me, I'm not going to chase them away." Its sad and ashame to read articles like this, what now Navajo Nation.....! Big Mountain is on reserved land.

Zoie Wilde said: It Can be a near perfect world...If we try!

Nan said: We are appreciative of such wonderful gestures and thankful non-Navajos see us for our generousity and hardships. They will be rewarded for their positive actions on Navajo land and many blessings bestowed upon them. Our Elders are prescious to us, they have struggled to bring us where we are and they have endored many hardships. Their strength has been passsed on to us and now we must lead for future generations to come. Thank you volunteers, grandparents and all those who give selflessly. Happy gatherings during the holidays!

Malcolm said: Big Mountain is a place, a respite, where I've seen people from all over the world return year after year. Their ethos of living in balance with the land and habitats was there long before Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize. The way the media appropriates who says what about the Earth today, still marginalizes those who live closest to respecting the land and its resources. With some help from the media, the growing support has grown for Big Mountain. I'm really glad for this article.

Frankie Carr Jr said: thank you very much for caring! does it really have to be bilaganaas that have to help them! why cant the navajo nation or the hopi tribe help one another at resolving these problems! and help our elderlys! respect our mother earth and respect our elders! this is a cruel world!

- 1Sheepherder's reply to Carr Jr: the bilaganaas and the people of Big Mountain learn about that thing call COMMUNICATION. all the EDUCATED people are so afraid of COMMUNICATION. I like trying to COMMUNICATE with them, sometimes it become very funny, ha ,ha specially the fat ONES...... "You notice everything is about HOW not COMMUNICATE"... Cindy thank you for the article. " grandma knows about THE COMMUNIATION"...

(Yours Truly, Chief Loner) 'Haastin' 1st Posted a Comment: Oh yeah, if this was a story about the U.S. military's native veterans or service personnel, you "Navajos" would have some comments to make. You should be honoring "your own" true Elder Warriors of Big Mountain and too bad, it is reality that Peabody Coal Company and the U.S. military-state has invaded your country and destroyed more of the little culture and FREEDOM that was left . This is the real Thanksgiving: volunteers giving thanks to Indigenous elder warriors who are trying to stop global warming and the rape of mother earth.

- R3dcloud13's reply to 'Haastin': Sir, you seem to not know what you are talking about. My first language is Dine' and I try to stick with traditional teachings and I talk with my Grandparents about the old days as much as I can. I do live off the Res but I try to return and help. I grew up in the lifestyle of no electricity or water. I haul water, wood, coal, and hay in my truck for my elders. I honor them everyday and think of them everyday. I also have relatives who serve actively in the military and am proud to be in a military family way back. There is no way I can express the many thanks I have for their service. So don't patronize me from over there because it's so easy to judge when you're hiding behind your weak view of how us Dine' are supposed to feel or act. I do more than you can imagine for my Chei and Masani, I've been in the trenches I felt the hard times. You need to go think hard about what you are doing and walk the walk. Haash Doone'e' Nili? ...and all that.

-- 'Haastin's' reply to R3dcloud13: I am of the great Near the Water people, people of the rivers who crossed over the mountains from the Chama & Rio Grande valleys hundreds (perhaps thousands) of years before the Europeans. My clan, Tabahaa of the Standing Tree and Meadow Bands, joined the Dineh because we made the best arrow & bow quivers and the tall red moccasins. Just cuz Im un-patriotic to the U.S. I don't know what I am talking about: dude, I know about aggression, genocide, greed, and injustice?! My particular clan were relocated (along with many other clans) from Dinetah due the Spanish invasions, then relocated from Canyon de Chelly due to the American military invasions, and now my elders and I are being forced off Big Mountain in the name of coal and electricity, AND I have walked the walk, talk the teachings and Lived the FREEDOM of the ancient ways at Big Mountain. My traditional parents raised me well and now, I am a volunteer for the peoples.

Memories fo you and i said: "Euphonious, First of all, Thank you very much,for helping my people,Black Mesa indigenous Support group." I think it's an great idea,Instead of feasting on turkey,they'll be sharing mutton stew/frybread. Also, I agree with the elder women,that stated; ""This is still America, They can't just chase people off their land." Guess it was all about greediness for Peter Macdonald to partial his own people.

Blowfly86 said: The children of the Earth and rivers is no longer, Respect has been out the window from day one,The old measureable indian character remains done now to fast moving , everything,Enter nets as it picks up more speedly, the rest is a free fall to dome human exist as we know it. Spiritually, I ask you do not eat the turkey it gets no repect,Indain Even Coal was not to be use as household heater, it gaves of dangerous gas. I guess trying to be native american doesn't work also I met way to many that were also native american, born and rasied in American. so, there. Thank you for your support and kindness

^^^ **** ^^^
(Story is courtesy of the Navajo Times, November 24, 2010)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Non-Native Sheepherder, A Direct Action to Defend Human Rights at Big Mountain

An Interview with a Sheepherder: Volunteered Stay from December 2009 to April 2010 at Big Mountain
By Jen-E Johnson, September 2010, A Sheepherder's Almanac-Zine (ASAZ)

ASAZ: Where do you stay and with whom?

SheepHerder: I go to the Hopi Partioned Land (HPL) part of the Hopi reservation in the northeast corner of Arizona (see map). I stay with a Dineh (Navajo) grandmother who is resisting Public Law 95-351 a relocation law that was passed in 1974 by the US government. This law was the last to finalize the redrawing of reservation lines between the Hopi and Dineh and it just so happened that many Dineh ended up on the wrong side of the fence. The law was passed due to a so-called land dispute between the tribes associated with mineral rights and leasing of tribal lands to energy corporations. I encourage those who would like to know more about the history of Black Mesa to read articles on the Black Mesa Indigenous Support (BMIS) website and to view the documentary “Broken Rainbow.”

ASAZ: What is it that initially drew you there?

SheepHerder: I heard about it at Antioch College my first year when some friends were doing a speaking tour from the east coast to Black Mesa for the Fall Caravan in 2006. I ended up driving them to their next destinations because their bus broke down and by the time I’d heard the third presentation my interest was peaked. My friend was organizing a caravan for the winter of 2007 and I was a part of that. I think my original interest was purely curiosity and concern in terms of what my friends had shared with me and wanting to experience it myself. When I got there it showed me a lot of things I didn’t know to expect in terms of a work ethic and the extreme state of nature that was not mediated in any way, there’s not even power lines in a lot of places. It was very different from what I’d ever experienced and I was welcoming that at the time.

ASAZ: You stayed a week the first and second times you went, stayed for five months this past winter, and you’re planning your fourth time for another winter. What draws you to go back now?

SheepHerder: I go because of health, work, learning, solidarity, and community.

Health; because I’m a clearer person with less distractions from technology, like cars, power lines, and white noises (pun not necessarily intended).

Work; because it’s healing for me to use my body in a very active way and it’s healing a lot of the biases and prejudices that I was taught to believe about myself as woman in this culture. Such as I can’t fix things, move heavy things, or take responsibility for things other than the household. I am given those responsibilities and my help in this way is greatly appreciated.

Learning; because it teaches me skills like how to chop wood, how to have my own animals, and how to haul water. Everything I do while out there is a learning experience for me. I want to learn how to survive post-industrial collapse because fossil fuel dependency in our culture is unsustainable and fossil fuels will either run out or the Earth will collapse because of all of the pollution. I want to start learning these ways as soon as possible before it’s too late!

I am not stealing their ways because I am assisting them. I am living and fighting with them thus learning from them rather than asking really aggressive and obtrusive questions as a way of obtaining knowledge. That is one thing that is very different about their culture and ours is we ask a lot of questions. On Black Mesa it’s different in that one doesn’t ask questions rather one observes over time to learn something. Especially if one doesn’t know Dineh bi'zaad' [Navajo language] then how can one ask a question?

There’s a phrase that I’ve heard some people from BMIS say that going to Black Mesa is solidarity work not charity work. The difference is giving somebody a check and staying for a day, versus staying with them day to day and feeling the pain that they feel in terms of government harassment, economic strangulation, and cultural genocide.

As far as humans there’s my partner and grandma, the people who bring us food and check on us, as well as BMIS. There is also a community created by sitting with the sheep and making friends with the juniper trees, sand, rocks, the little bit of water that is there, cows, coyotes, jack rabbits, and lizards. It’s getting to know all of these things that make it a community.

What is one day in your life while on Black Mesa?

We wake up at the crack of dawn or with the sun which in the winter is around 7 AM. We stand up from the ground which we sleep on, roll our bed up, get dressed, start the fire, make coffee or tea, start making breakfast, turn the radio on, get wood from the pile if needed, and feed the dogs. We eat breakfast at about 8 and take out the sheep at 9. One of us would go with the sheep until about 4 PM, come back to the hogan, and the other person who stayed there would have food made. The sheepherder would relax if possible because it’s a long day for them. We’d eat dinner at about 5 or 6 in the winter, keep the fire going, and get ready for bed at about 8 PM.

The person who would “stay home” would do all the chores. I’d either get wood by chopping down trees/limbs or go with the truck and chainsaw, then split or chop the wood, and fill the box in our hogan. I also filled up the five gallon water bucket by siphoning with a hose out of a 55 gallon barrel. In the winter we were melting snow for dish water so I’d scoop up some snow in a pot and put it on the stove to melt and then start some food for later. I would shovel snow, repair the hogan with mud, shovel snow out of the sheep corral or fix the sheep corral. Then I’d go to grandma’s which is a few minute walk up the hill and I’d do all these same chores for her. Chop her wood, organize her wood pile, start a fire, bring wood inside, fill up the water, maybe cook for her, although she’s pretty picky about how she likes to cook. I would give her massages sometimes and keep her company by listening although that was harder for me because I don’t know Dineh bi'zaad'.

ASAZ: Where did you stay?

SheepHerder: We stayed in the sheepherder’s hogan, an eight sided octagon shaped dwelling with big juniper posts about the width of your body. There are eight posts vertically and posts that go along the top that overlap each other and between that is mud and juniper tree bark which helps it stick together and is an insulator. It’s very small and cozy, about the size of a large bathroom, and it has a low ceiling so you can hit your head on the posts if you’re not careful.

ASAZ: Did you keep warm in the hogan with it being so cold outside?

SheepHerder: This past winter it was very windy and cold with lots of snow and rain. It can get down to 0 degrees or colder at night and during the day it can be about 20- 30 degrees.

The heat that is created in the hogan with the wood stove is very different from the heat that comes from a furnace. The first time I went out there I realized how comforting it was because I worked really hard and the sound of the wood cracking in the stove lulled me to sleep. I was like, “What more could I ask for right now?”

ASAZ: How do you bathe yourself?

SheepHerder: I bathed very infrequently. I already limit myself to how many showers I take when I’m not on Black Mesa because I understand how precious water is. It’s not possible for me to go to Black Mesa and live the way I once did because the awareness and consciousness that I now have is hard to be careless with. It is quite an ordeal to bathe because we have to retrieve water from grandma’s where on her modern house she has a roof with gutters that drain into rain barrels that we scoop out and carry down to the hogan in plastic containers. I think I would rationalize the need to bathe in terms of how dirty I knew I would soon get.

ASAZ: Do you think you are making a difference in grandma’s life?

SheepHerder: I do feel like I’m helping. Many resistors are elders in their 80s or 90s whose families are in the cities far away and can’t come visit that often therefore they have all the responsibilities that a whole family would usually take care of. Some elders will get sick in the winter or slip on ice and have to go to the hospital so it’s very helpful to have young, able bodied people to move things and help them walk or shovel snow. Grandma can do all these things but it’s probably not good for her because she’s getting weak. Being an on land supporter and living with a family has a very direct effect in terms of keeping them company and by assisting with all the daily chores that are very strenuous and overwhelming. She shows appreciation by saying thank you to me in Dineh bi'zaad', "Aahxe'he'!" I knew she was very grateful, she didn’t have to speak it although it was mostly communicated with body language and eye contact.

ASAZ: Do you think the farm work you do is harder than the work on Black Mesa?

SheepHerder: I think the farm work may have been harder for me but it was the difference in what I was bringing to the two experiences. I didn’t need to do my hobbies on Black Mesa because I wanted to be fully immersed in the experience, but on the farm it was different because the environment offered me more personal space, the convenience of electricity, and socializing opportunities.Some of the tiredness on the farm came from social stimulation, even though I really liked that, it’s nice to have a break to enjoy nature. I think this is harder in our civilized culture which says, “I’m bored, I need music, I need stimulation, or conversation.” I find myself wanting these things and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that but there’s also nothing wrong with experimenting without it. That’s what Black Mesa is for an outsider, one big experiment without modern forms of stimulation. I did get a little numb and quiet from lack of these things, not necessarily in a negative way. There simply is a different work ethic on Black Mesa than most other places I have ever been. Since the work I am doing on Black Mesa is rooted in traditional and ancient wisdom I get the sense that wholeness is preserved over all else. The emphasis on structuring one’s day to provide time for rest and regeneration is refreshing. I think we need to work harder on this in our modern culture and it’s beliefs and cultural practices that follow us everywhere, even to the country on an organic farm.On Black Mesa I was learning, absorbing enough energy, and was enriched by the sky and the trees, the sheep, grandma, and the peace and quiet of the experience. All of these things kept my energy levels up and my spirit going. I would mostly get emotionally frustrated on Black Mesa; I’d cry and yell at the sheep sometimes.
ASAZ: Why did you do that?

SheepHerder: Because there are many different ways of herding the sheep and I don’t think any grandmother or family wants to tell you how to do it because they probably feel it’s something you have to learn on your own. There’s a lot of paranoia around supporters coming in and losing the sheep, it’s the story the family tells, “Some lazy sheepherder came in and lost the sheep and they were going to get eaten by coyotes!” They tell you that because they don’t want you to do that and it worked because I had a lot of fear of being with the sheep at first. There’s a lot of ways that control plays out when herding sheep, but all you are really doing is staying with them to make sure they don’t get eaten by a predator, stuck somewhere, or separated. They often don’t separate except upon very dire situations such as this past winter when they weren’t doing well with two feet of snow. They couldn’t walk and everything was covered in snow so there wasn’t much to eat and they were wandering all around. It was really stressful to manage all on my own in a place where only two other people were that could help me. There’s a lot of personal responsibility for the sheep and what they symbolize in terms of food and as spiritual beings.

ASAZ: Your main source of interaction with humans was grandma and your partner so what did that do to your relationship?

SheepHerder: We didn’t have much energy to be together in a way that wasn’t just as friends. I think it’s good for us independently of each other to be on Black Mesa together. I feel like I grew so much from my time there last winter in terms of confidence in my ability to do things on my own and in connecting really strongly with the land, the elements and myself. The reason I wanted to be with him is I knew it would be too much for me to handle on my own. He was there the year prior by himself and I asked him how he did it all on his own and he said he didn’t know and that it was so much better having another person to help. We’re going together this year again because we thought it worked out really well, that grandma really appreciated it, and because I think there are things that we can do better this time.

ASAZ: What kind of qualities and behaviors does someone have to have if they are considering going to Black Mesa because it’s not a quick return if they change their mind?

SheepHerder: A lot of supporters who come to Black Mesa overestimate themselves in terms of how long they want to stay. I think its fine to go for a week to begin with, that’s what I did two years in a row and then decided I wanted to stay longer. I didn’t want to get involved in something that I was unsure about, especially knowing that the people on Black Mesa want strong commitments from supporters. It is good to feel the waters out and see if you want to stay longer rather than just saying, “I’m ready!”

ASAZ: How long do most supporters stay?

SheepHerder: People come and go, some staying a couple months others come for a month, a week here and there, or three days and some people do it consistently if they live nearby enough. A lot of the people who come to the caravan are from across the country, like me from the Midwest, and it would make sense to stay for a longer period of time rather than using all the gas and money to get out there every November. The major problem with this struggle is that people can’t deviate from their lives, it’s very hard for them to commit to staying a month or longer, and that’s why a lot of people are attracted to the caravan.

ASAZ: Do they get any help from the government when they move into the city?

SheepHerder: Yes, they get meager relocation benefits but also have to pay bills that come with home ownership which many did not have to deal with before relocating. I hear stories about poverty, alcoholism, drug abuse, violence, depression, and poor health once they have relocated. I think a lot of these things were apparent right after the relocation law was passed and probably a lot of those elders are gone by now. It’s now the second generation of relocates who didn’t get to know their grandparents, don’t have their sacred land base anymore, and may not even know their language.

ASAZ: For the people who live there now have they ever bought that land and have they always lived there?

SheepHerder: Why would they buy it, they are indigenous! It goes back generations to generations! Like white people are from England or Scotland, that’s our ancestry, that’s where our ancestors lived for 20 generations. That’s what their relationship is to that land. White people in this modern day and age have a very hard time comprehending the fact that indigenous people could have rights to their own land before any kind of official papers or money was involved and I find this extremely problematic. It means that we don’t realize whose land we are on and what the consequences of that are on the native people who were here before us! We all need to educate ourselves on our local and global indigenous history that we never learned in history class at school.

ASAZ: What would you do for entertainment?

SheepHerder: We didn’t have entertainment, we just went to bed. Is there anything wrong with that? Why would we need entertainment, to digress from the hard day’s work? Maybe in this culture we work a hard day and then come home, sit on the couch, and watch the TV to zone out. So did we zone out? Neither the work nor the person is separated from the life and this is healing coming from a culture where the only work we are taught to value is the kind we get paid for and often times could care less about. Herding sheep is very entertaining because they’re funny, cute, and each have their own personalities just like people and become your friends and teachers very quickly. I want to go back to see more baby goats because they are so adorable! They make the cutest bah-ing noise, are so soft, have so much energy, and have a really intimate relationship with their mothers. Herding sheep is fun because you can look at the clouds or draw in the sand while you sit on a hill looking at the San Francisco Peaks in the background.
But for the most part our entertainment was the radio. I can honestly say one of the greatest things about being on Black Mesa was it forced me to listen to the news every day and I grew so much more educated about the world and how ridiculous it all is! We made a lot of jokes about things people said on the radio, like when the Senate was trying to pass the Universal Health Care Bill last winter, they had some guy on and he said, “Trying to pass this bill is like trying to get a bowling ball through a straw!” It made me wonder why so many newscasters use these stupid analogies. It must be what the public understands.

We also made fun of commercials and the songs we heard over and over again because many of the radio stations are so tight on funds that they play the same soundtrack every week. We listened to Prairie Home Companion on Saturdays which gave us a lot of good laughs. We also made a lot of jokes about things that we thought we were really funny, like sweat pants. We’d give each other massages or soak our feet sometimes. We’d read, write, or play cards but usually at this time of night I was too tired to do these things. We had a kerosene lamp, imagine trying to read by one when you are already really tired, you’re going to fall asleep! And we’d play Uno by the lamp but we couldn’t tell which color was which in the dim light!

ASAZ: The Thanksgiving Fall Caravan of Support is November 20-27th, 2010 how do you get people to come on board?

SheepHerder: I usually reach out to whatever community I am living in at the time. The ideal communities to organize in are those that are open to hearing about what is happening on Black Mesa and in which there are people who don’t have too many commitments in their lives if they wanted to come. What I really want to do is become rooted in a community so I don’t have to keep moving around and reaching out to people who barely know me. Another thing I want to do is reach out to certain communities of people like farmers, outdoor types (travelers, bikers), those studying primitive living skills, and activists who care about human rights issues, environmental justice, and native rights.

ASAZ: How much money does it cost one do this for a week or if it’s an extended stay?

SheepHerder: If you are fortunate enough to be involved with a group of people who want to go you can do fundraising, like hold benefit concerts, have a raffle, ask for money at your local co-op/small business/ grocery store, or apply for a grant at a local college or university. It takes money for the travel expenses, food and supplies while you are there. I do think that one could go there with very little money and be fine; it’s just a matter of personal preference. I find it important for me to have the right kinds of food to eat while I am expending so much of my energy every day. Money is important in providing for yourself so that you are prepared for your stay. I don’t think many people that go to Black Mesa are prepared even if they read the twenty page Cultural Sensitivity and Preparedness Guide on the BMIS website, because the life on Black Mesa is so drastically different from the life many of us are accustomed to these days.

A lot of people have been telling me lately that it is a very privileged thing to be able to go to Black Mesa because not everyone can afford to leave their job/kids/school/etc. Being of assistance on Black Mesa takes a certain level of personal sacrifice and relinquishing of privilege and material comforts that I wish more Americans would be willing to consider. A certain level of sacrifice is a necessity for something to be actually done in any of the struggles to protect Mother Earth. Our culture needs to start looking at what deep lifestyle changes we can do to help situations in which people are being sacrificed for profit and energy extraction. One example is decreasing your energy dependency which many people don’t know how to do beyond little tips given in green guidebooks. There needs to be a more radical shift, by first asking the question why do we need electricity to begin with?

I think a huge solution to these problems is if we all had our own gardens or a garden for each community. If you have a garden then you’re not going to the grocery store where the food comes from Mexican workers in Florida who were paid only .20 cents an hour to pick tomatoes. Nor are you dependent on GMO corn, large scale industrial farming, and on all this food that is shipped an average of 1,500 miles from farm to plate! Shipping is dependent upon gasoline, which is a fossil fuel, as is coal which is a major reason why all this is happening on Black Mesa.

It’s true that there is a privilege to be able to go to Black Mesa but it’s also not a joy ride! It’s very clear to me that I’m there to work! I don’t goof around for five months, I become very serious. Some people may think of Black Mesa as a vacation, well it’s not!

Comments & Questions to this article can directly be addressed to:

Posted by Sheep Dog Nation Media, 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Acculturated Native Americans Losing Understanding

Modern Indians Influenced by Militarized and Corporate America are Deeper into Loss of Identity
By Bahe Y. Katenay, Sheep Dog Nation Media

Dineh bi Keyah, Northern Arizona, June 16th 2010 - Navajo Country, the largest Indian reservation in the U.S., can be my model to use as an example of how most modern "Native Americans" or indigenous peoples of Turtle Island have turned into White Americans. I had an interesting discussion with my sons who have been on a cultural learning trip that was actually a river trip down the San Juan River. Prior to that, I went with them to the ancient holy lands of Dinetah (northewestern New Mexico) where we all made prayer pilgrimages to the birthplace of Dineh rituals and cultural ingredients.

My son told me that certain Dineh (Navajo) “cultural advisors” that are on state salary and are working in the urban areas are confused about the creation stories and especially ‘which rivers are actually Female and Male?’ Their confusion begins with the San Juan River which cuts through the Four Corners region. These elder “cultural advisors” question why the San Juan is referred to as the Female River when the Little Colorado River is Female, already. The (once) mighty Colorado River is normally referred to as the Male River and the San Juan empties into the Colorado as well as the Little Colorado does similarly later on downstream on the Colorado. To confuse things more, eastern Dineh refer to the Rio Grande in New Mexico as the Female, too.

Modern and educated Dineh are, today, so out of touch with their histories. For example, they probably do not realize that the Holy Lands exist or that there is such a thing. Modern Indians like the Dineh are way more aware of who the President of the United States is, or who is the U.S. Speaker of the House or the U.S. Secretary of State. Basically all the popular news outlets in Indian country are nothing but convey mentalities that are: “hurray, U-S-A! Support ‘our’ soldiers, fly the ‘stars bangle banner.’” They are forgetting their ancient creation stories of how the earth was formed and how the waters of its surface receded. They have completely lost the traditional concepts of understanding and how to preserve the rich qualities of those traditions. American egos, trends and greed have become more meaningful across the Reservations.

Going way back into that ancient time of creation when the world was what we are not able to imagine, it was a very long-distanced time ago. The culturally confused, modern Dineh are thinking in terms of a Dineh-beginning which was designated by the great wise White archaeologist and these westernized thoughts have published only theories that the Dineh arrived into the Four Corners region around 1400 or 1500 AD. Let’s give this a taste of Indian humor: ‘at least we beat Cortez and Coronado by a few decades even though we walked across the Bering Strait, and they spend hundreds of years trying to invent the best ship that can cross the Atlantic.’

The traditional telling of the Dineh creation has always made clarification that the time that it refers to was a time before human beings were around, and it was a time of magnificent forces and beings. But then the poor Indian or the Dineh cannot seem to comprehend this and instead they will comprehend what is ‘illegal’ according to the white man, or that ‘voting is a guaranteed right,’ and they will think it is okay to wear baseball cap with a snake figure or t-shirts with human skull designs. Perhaps, the wise geologist can explain to them if I cannot convince my own confused Dineh.

Rivers are ancient and they have changed form and shape throughout millions of years. The ancestor of the San Juan was once mighty, powerful like the Female Spirit, and geologist have found river stones along the Arizona-Utah border and these rocks originated in the San Juan Mountains. The ancestors of the Colorado and the Green River might have once flowed south and southeast and they created a huge sea, Bidahochi, that spanned from Tuba City, AZ to Gallup, NM. The Rio Grande today flows south in the Gulf of Mexico but it also has been that Female Spirit. Not only was she been pampered by earth’s surface separating which became a trough that influenced her present path and as she built up lands with over two mile deep sediments.

Today, the Little Colorado River, as unimportant as it may seem and so dry as it is, is still the Female River Deity to the Dineh ritual beliefs. The San Juan with its short path but maintains its year-round flow may not be as mighty as the Mississippi but geologist are starting to perhaps understand its great ancient history. Recent evidences found begin to uncovered the possibility that around 6-plus million years ago the ancestral San Juan might have took a course through present day eastern Chaco Canyon area, Gallup, New Mexico and onto to the Little Colorado. She could have been so mighty that she deposited San Juan Mountain rocks far north of present day Grand Canyon. This also answers my own curiosity about why in the Dineh prayer chants they call the Little Colorado River, the Very Long-Endless Bodied Water. Before the rifting of the Rio Grande valley, it is possible for the ancestral Rio Grande to have associated with the Male in the west via the Little Colorado and the ancestral San Juan.

Dineh creation tells about a great deity came to free the land from the waters and with its great stone blade, he gouged out a range of land which eventually created the Grand Canyon. Geology with all its expertise cannot, to this day, define how and when the Grand Canyon formed. Ancestral Grand Canyon supposedly opened completely as an official river gorge just after 5 million years ago. The Colorado perhaps became Male because the ladies, the Green, San Juan and the Little Colorado nurtured for his evolution. The mysteries will always continue but there should never be any confusion and this only happens when the human minds are influenced by artificial interpretations. The Indians that have the guts must begin to accept the creation stories and almost like books of western science, more and clearer information exist within the healing and prayer chants of the endangered traditional medicine peoples.

© SheepDogNation Media, 2010

Monday, May 3, 2010

Old Mexico, Jailed Non-Indian, the Peyote & a Humble Plea

Imprisoned Friend in Mexico & An Issue about the Sacred Peyote By Bahe (Kat) Keediniihii Katenay, Sheep Dog Nation Media

Aztlan (Territories between Arizona and East Central Mexico), March 13 – 19, 2010 – My volunteer work of 35 years for the traditional Dineh (Navajos) in struggle at Big Mountain has encompassed the unimaginable to the normal encounters with non-native supporters. Certainly there are much learning involved in working with diverse communities of peoples. Individuals from varies backgrounds, social beliefs, religious involvements, and political standings. Within this arena, the words “judging” or “racist” would describe negative acts toward fellowship and/or solidarity, and it is crucial to have this kind awareness especially in the struggles for peace and freedom. However, in the movements or in the religious circles, these types of acts do surface in mere attitudes or in actual comments sometime. This article will reflect my personal accounts and it may be viewed with that awkward consideration or with much acceptability. I hope to also project some universal awareness about us, as individual humans, but do that through this story of a quest for a special supporter-friend that came to Big Mountain before and was loved by a couple of grandmothers.

In early fall of 2009, I received a message from this friend who I have not heard from for over a year, and her message was that she is “incarcerated in a Mexican prison for women in the state of San Luis Potosi.” Her plead to me was to help her as a witness to who she really is and that she was not a criminal. The circumstances around the events that she described and that led to her incarceration were to me a cause of “judgment.” First, it was a shock, it felt a bit disheartening, and knowing her, there was much anger with a lot of questions. So, why me and I have not heard from her in ages? This is not related to the Big Mountain cause, or “it could be my ‘personal’ cause.” However on my limited spare time, I immediately began to see what I can do even though I am not an expert on any legal matters –let alone my passion of hating lawyers.

Where does one start? What if she was your daughter or sister, and you have no monies? Eventually, I connected with a couple of friends / comrades that I have met through the movement and because it pertained to Mexico. I wanted suggestions from indigenous and Xicano spiritual activists. They preferred prayers for my imprisoned-friend, look into the legal dynamics of Mexico’s judicial process, and most of all ‘check on her in person.’ Because of the limited free time I had, the internet became my tool to research, find contacts like the U.S. Consultant, see about travel options, and network with old friends and new friends. I talked by phone with my jailed-friend’s mother who lived in the Midwest and whose health would prevent her from travel. The mom is too heartbroken, on limited pensions and came to Turtle Island years ago to raise a family. Her approval for me to help the family further made me consider going to Mexico, finding the prison where my friend is, and hopefully get myself a Mexican court audience.

The new friends in Mexico, some who have been to Dineh country, knew about Big Mountain through the Sun Dance. People that I never met came forth to my calling for guidance about traveling in Mexico. I did not speak Española nor Mexican, I did not have monies like some lucky Yankee-tourist, and I did not know what to expect because this was not tourism but a quest. Friends in Mexico began to learn about my friend’s situation and the greatest thing is that they did not “judge” or express any type of “racist” thought. My (long-lost) friend, Fatima, is of middle-eastern descent from Lebanon. Fatima came to Big Mountain numerous times where she helped and stayed among the grandmothers. I have never seen a grandmother laugh so much with a supporter even though there was a huge language barrier. This former supporter and friend, who wanted to return to Big Mountain someday, was now in big trouble in a foreign place. This was not her to be stupid, but somebody misled or misguided her so horribly that her moral intelligence was somewhat absence. She was not the friend I knew. How can another human being take advantage of someone’s kindness, compassion and humbleness, and then inflict them with evil means of false spirituality?

New friends in Mexico were instant family for me even though we have not all embrace, yet. Like great problem solvers they had presented me with the easiest and cheapest way to travel from northern Arizona to San Luis Potosi and back. It was a go! My Hermosillo contact did blessings for me at her prayer lodge altar and the next day I flew to Monterrey, Coahuila. Two Sun Dance brothers of Mexico and the translator greeted me at the airport in the late evening. It was a six hour drive to the city of San Luis Potosi and half way there, I ask we stop in sight of Sierra de Catorce –where my friend lost her freedom. In the early morning darkness, a prayer was offered to the lands of the Divined Mother Peyote and that she give us guidance and protection. We had at least two hours of sleep in Potosi and we had to go to the prison for visiting day. After a quick sip of coffee, we were off to the prison with our guide and host. The prison is an old compound with watchtowers at each four corners and its big dirt-parking lot was full of visitors’ cars and several buses.

The process to get cleared was long with unpleasant and angry prison personnel. Every visitor looked like they are very poor and some were bringing in any decent foods they could get for their imprisoned loved ones. I fitted right in. My translator was smart enough to give me some foods to take to my friend. Through check points, corridors and barren tunnels, I finally arrived with bags of food to the women’s unit and after another wait, Fatima came. She was so overwhelmed, happy, sad, lost, desperate for freedom, angry, and I have never seen her cry. She cried so much that the makeup smeared her cheeks. We tried to talk, somewhat pretend that everything is okay, share a small meal, and look each other in the eyes as much as possible because there was a strong sense that it might be a long time again. My thoughts did not wonder because I wanted to absorb all her presence, hear her voice, watch her big eyes light up or get flooded with tears. I knew the time will come to say good bye and when it did, the hugs and the touch felt so empty because the sadness of the situation and separation by distant were all too great and still unresolved.
The crew that assisted me, at this point were being referred to as ‘bandidos,’ were waiting for me outside the prison and they were prepared to let me recuperate from my happy but sad experience. That evening we attended a sweat-lodge ceremony and the site was a few hours from San Luis Potosi. Here, another phase of my quest began with a circle of people in prayer and songs. A nearby hot spring after the sweat added to the healing and reassurance. More shared ceremonies followed the next morning and finally then, I begun to embraced all my new and growing family. My education about the indigenous histories of Mexico was quick but I listened intently. Many looked towards the north for that spiritual puzzle that Turtle Island natives still had, but they showed me that they had part of their puzzle, too. Like in America the puzzles were in pieces and it all needed to be pieced back together. I learned about some Spanish histories of colonization and the silver mines to the south. My own peoples’ history in the time of the New Spain, 16th to the 18th Century, was that hundreds of Dineh were captured into slavery and were taken far south to work the silver mines. Some escaped and perhaps a few more made it back to their ancestral homelands. It was once told by the old-time Dineh that, that was how the peyote way of worship began and by survivors returning with the Divine Medicine. I strongly felt the spirits of my ancestors who centuries ago pass through those lands –the lands of the Peyote.

The Mexican court only saw the medicine peyote as nothing but a drug. This time Fatima stood behind a window of steel bars and the informal court proceedings composed of the “defense” lawyer, the government prosecutor, the judge and his secretary, and the recorder. Also present were my “fellow bandidos.” My caged friend was only seen by the court as “a drug-user.” The incident of her involvement is still surrounded by mystery, but she was caught with a bag of peyote. She continues to claim her past affiliation with Native American guidance to peyote use and other indigenous prayer ways in the U.S. Possession of peyote in Mexico is a felony and carries a harsh penalty. So far, after more than eight months of Fatima’s incarceration, I was her first expert witness. The prosecutor’s questions for me were all based on views that the peyote is a “drug” and a “hallucinogenic.” I was learning a little about how Mexico’s court system was different from the U.S. courts. The U.S. is English-style with a jury as evidences are introduced and argued over. Mexico had the Latin or Roman-style with no jury but where official documents along with monies might be key to influencing judgment and the prisoner is never considered innocent.

I failed as an expert witness. Before leaving for Mexico, I tried to get official documentation from my own people who live with that privileged ‘rights’ of the Native American Church (NAC is a U.S. federally-recognized religion that can use peyote). The first question my people asked me was, “well is she an enrolled member of a federally-recognized tribe?”

My answers would be, “What?!” “No but heck, she is a human being who believes that there is a sacred way.”

Personally I feel that these indoctrinated, religious figures of Navajoland do not wish to hear about our troubles at Big Mountain, about universal-indigenous spirituality, or even about the divine medicine-way of compassion. To me, they seemed to only value that American artificial laws of privileged worship and hold the sacrament, peyote, within the confines of those “colonial” statues. Time ran out and I had to leave for Mexico without any attestation from religious peyote Roadmen.

Throughout my five day trip to Mexico, I got to only see Fatima for four hours. But what she gave me, besides all the headaches of planning, was a new world of kind and humble peoples. She brought to me a new perspective about life and histories of Mexico, and what might have been Aztlan, or still is. So strangely is that she made it so that, it was meant for me to see this part of Aztlan and to set foot in its peyote gardens. During our sad departing moment in prison, Fatima said to me, “go see Real de Catorce, you’ll like it there…”

I have called this travel a quest because it was something unpredictable but there was a goal to be accomplished or attempted. This journey like many of my travels was totally un-touristy because there were no sites to see, no scheduled places to chill-out at, or places to indulge on the finest of foods or festivities. My first consultant before my trip, Ray, gave me a lot of insights about how to act and what to expect. He told me something that I did not understand until I was there, “Remember to pay attention to the Spirits, and pray when it is necessary…”

As a traveler from Big Mountain Dineh country, I view new places through the eyes of a Dineh whose self identity is his land-base culture and microcosm religion. I see people in terms of who they really are and for Fatima, her ancestry goes back to the Middle East. The world’s unrest of today is dependent on using more racism and hatred to cope with everyday living. One can praise Dr. Martin Luther King or Mahatma Ghandi’s words of universal harmony and peace, but they will sift through society by color, gender, economic, or nationality statuses. On the other hand, I have been blessed that many have worked alongside me and many have backed me at Big Mountain and abroad. But I, too, do a very limited amount of ‘sifting’ but I do it wisely and not foolishly. I do not claim to have attained the highest of sage-hood, but I must try to see the heart and feel out that soul while being in the best state of humbleness.

An eerie kind of sadness overcame me while leaving a relative behind in San Luis Potosi. Then I realize that I am probably not the first Dineh to leave a relative behind who was still in captivity, down there. It was another all-night drive but my fellow ‘bandidos’ knew how important it was to me to go out into the garden and pay homage to the Divine Medicine. Our new guide near Sierra de Catorce helped us to a garden and it was around midnight –dark and cold. The surroundings of tall cactus and yucca trees painted dark silhouettes of themselves against the starry night sky like spirits observing us and wearing feathered hats. The main Peyote Chiefs were a large cluster of about twelve as three elder Chiefs were in the middle. The Great Grandmother Fire Altar was built east of the Chiefs. After the ceremony, we left this garden of Real de Catorce at around 2 AM.

I continue to make more attempts for NAC officials to understand international rights of indigenous peoples and universal human rights and in hopes that, they make an official statement in support of my friend’s release. My Peyote Road will continue and it has been a special gift for the Road to have taken me to the gardens.

The Peyote Road again beckons me and I may have to return to Mexico to check on the status of my friend’s case. Anyone else interested or willing to assist me in this endeavor will greatly be appreciated and accepted. The efforts for human rights and rights of indigenous peoples’ to appropriately use medicine is expensive on personal income while well-funded organizations fail to assist. Please make a comment to this Blog and we can connect.

© Sheep Dog Nation Media 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

Farewell to My Auntie & Elder Matriarch: Sarah Begay

UPDATE: For those of you who are in-tuned with the struggles for peace and harmony, & resistance to American corporate racism: TODAY, I SALUTE & BID FAREWELL TO ONE OF MY ELDER MATRIARCH, SARAH BEGAY OF TIIC YA TOH. She called me Son, she was true to the histories of the Peoples, she honored sovereignty & the sacred ways, she was a Sun Dancer from the first four years at Big Mountain.

As a member of one of the last traditional, culturally-intact and landbased community at Big Mountain Dineh territories, I am beginning to see the hopes of an "Indian Future" looking more threatened. The legacies of our traditional Dineh elders were not learned and none of the children have declared to preserve the sacred stories.

Sarah always talked about survival of the Dineh culture and its ancient ritual ways because her mom was a very great Medicine Woman. Sarah always wanted to maintain our Dineh identity and that that identity included our ancient intertribal-ship with the Hopi Nation. Her strong wishes were expressed in the representations she brought to the world: "our lands must never be occupied by Peabody Coal Company and that our ancient cultural-ties with our Hopi relatives should never be severed."

I and my friends in solidarity will continue to hear your words and try our best to live up to your humble advices and guidance. Aho, To All Our Relations! -Kat Bahe (aka Chief Loner & Sheep Dog Nation Media)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Support Traditional Dineh Resistance at Big Mountain!

"A Big Mountian summer sunset" Photo by Raphaelle Allix, 2009

Support Crucially Needed: "families still remain --resisting the Kayenta Mine and forced relocation..."

At the end of an exceptionally hard winter of National Emergency status, and the beginning of a muddy spring, the Dine' (Navajo) families of Big Mountain, and surrounding communities on Black Mesa continue to stand strong on their ancestral homelands! For nearly four decades the communities have faced the devastation of the U.S government and multinational coal mining corporations exploiting their homelands and violently fracturing their communities. Although the permit for the Black Mesa Mine expansion didn't pass, and hopefully never will, families remain--resisting the Kayenta Mine and forced relocation.

"The Big Mountain Dine' elders have endured so much since the 1970s and at the same time, they have defended and preserved that human dignity of natural survival, subsistence and religious values. They have resisted the U.S. government's genocide policies to vacate lands that Peabody Coal Company recognized as the Black Mesa coal fields. The Big Mountain matriarchal leaders always believed that resisting forced relocation will eventually benefit all ecological systems, including the human race. Continued residency by families throughout the Big Mountain region has a significant role in the intervention to Peabody Coal’s future plan for Black Mesa coal to be the major source of electrical energy, increasing everyone's dependency on fossil fuel and contributing to global warming. We will continue to fight to defend our homelands.” --Bahe Keediniihii, Dineh organizer and translator.

Supporting these communities, whose very presence stands in the way of large-scale coal mining, is one way to work on the front lines for climate justice and against a future of climate chaos. There are also opportunities for long-term, committed supporters and organizers. Black Mesa Indigenous Support (BMIS) is looking for Regional Coordinators to organize year-round support and work towards movement building, which would maintain and enhance communication channels between the Big Mountain resistance communities and networks that are being established to support the Big Mountain resistance as well as other local forms of indigenous resistance, while building shared analysis, vision and movements for the liberation of all peoples and our planet. Please contact us for more information if you are interested.

The families are encouraging people to come to Black Mesa now! Support is requested all year long!

BMIS is a grassroots, all-volunteer run collective dedicated to working with and supporting the indigenous peoples of Black Mesa in their Struggle for Life and Land who are targeted by and resisting unjust mountaintop removal coal mining operations and forced relocation policies of the U.S government. One of the primary ways that we do this is to honor the direct requests of these families to extend their invitation to all people interested in supporting their resistance, to come to Black Mesa, to their threatened ancestral homelands, walk with their sheep, haul water and wood, whatever they ask of us. By coming to The Land, we can assist the elders and their families in daily chores, which helps us to engage with the story that they are telling as well as to claim a more personal stake against environmental degradation, climate change, and continued legacies of colonialism and genocide. We can support by being there so they can go to meetings, organize, weave rugs, visit family members who have been hospitalized, rest after a difficult winter and regain strength for the upcoming spring. With spring comes planting crops,shearing sheep, and lambing. COME FOR A MONTH! Or Longer!

The elders on the land are very thankful for the support of their resistance over the last three decades. We at BMIS are asking those who have come before to continue the work you have started by coming back. And for those of you who have never come to the land, we encourage you to start. Deep thanks to all who made the November Caravan happen: let us continue the support through the year.

BMIS can assist you in the process of being self-sufficient on the land, which is vital. We are happy to speak with you over the phone or email and we offer important online resources like the Cultural Sensitivity and Preparedness Guidebook found on our website. Volunteers must read the guidebook and register with BMIS to ensure your safety and be accountable to the families. There are also plenty of great documents about the current and background information found on our website--one of the only on-line resources documenting this resistance.

"This land is being taken away because they've got power in Washington. Wewere put here with our Four Sacred Mountains ~ and we were created to livehere. We know the names of the mountains and we know the names of theother sacred places. That is our power. That is how we pray and thisprayer has never changed." ~Katherine Smith, Big Mountain Matriarch

To Send Support Contact: - PO Box 23501 Flagstaff, AZ 86002 - 928-773-8086 BMIS can send letters/packages to families, however we encourage you to be in direct communication with the families. Also visit:


Testimony from a Sheepherder:
By Theresa "Tree" Gigante, BMIS volunteer and volunteer coordinator

I have just left after a four month stay on the Land. This was my 14th winter staying with Dine' families residing on the so-called HPL and resisting the relocation laws by continuing to live on the land of their grandparents of generations back. It has been an intense winter. The big snowstorm was a sight to see, and reminded the elders of storms 40 and 80 years past, when there were many more families out there, and most of the elders didn’t live alone. And yes, the National Guard and US Army did come out to the families. I wondered at the irony of the hay, water, and other supplies, thinking how the families have lived under the threat of the Guard coming in to take them from their homes.

The OSM Life of Mine permit getting denied was a pleasant surprise. I had been looking at the hills, meadows and rocks that I have come to know, as becoming ‘reclaimed’ land through the mine expansion, and thinking of the long, hard fight to come. A second generation Black Mesa miner, and “HPL” resident stated that he was glad about the permit, and ready to see a change back to the old ways of living and away from mining.

The Supporter caravan at thanksgiving was a fast and festive, and abundant time. About 120 supporters for the week, but by the end of January there were only a few supporters on the land, and a list of families asking for a sheepherder. We were desperately calling out for people to come, and a few did, but only a few. And I thought, this is where the real support is needed- in the long haul, the deep snow.

Back in 1997, and again in 2000 the families were living under a threatening “deadline”, and there were literally hundreds of supporters on the land for months. I am grateful that there is no deadline as such now, but I do wonder what keeps us supporters from committing to coming out, or coming back. I have personally placed several hundred supporters in the last 12 years, and I marvel at how much we struggle to ‘get the word out’ and ‘get support to the Land.'

I am so honored and humbled by the loving hospitality I receive from the families. My sons are treated as family, and are growing up knowing the elders, kids and supporters, and about fighting for and supporting what is right. I have been raised out there myself in many ways. The Dineh people have been my teachers and mentors, my inspiration. I believe in doing all that I can to honor their request and invitation to come into the home, the land and the lives of the people indigenous to the land -what that means and what they are fighting for and against. I believe it is at the heart of the most important work today.

And I am writing this to remind us, you, that their door is open and there is a job to do- something that we are needing to understand, a connection that needs to be made and honored. It is time to come. It is time to come back. Its time to give back. Please help us do this.

....Come join us for Sheep shearing in May.

Any concerns about the content should be addressed directly to Tree at

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Non-native Sheepherder at Big Mountain: Call to Herders

What is it about herding sheep on Black Mesa?
By Owen Johnson, Irish-American volunteer herder for Dine’

Cactus Valley, Black Mesa, February 2010 - Herding sheep and goats on Black Mesa makes a lot of sense. Enough sense that people have been tending herds of small livestock there forever. There’s room for them, and just enough water. But you have to make sure they drink, keep them eating the right plants, and help the dogs scare off the predators. It can get exhausting. Old people can do it, especially if they are used to the herd and its used to them. But even if they are able, they enjoy to have a break now and then. Many of these primary herders are also weavers and they can use time off to focus on their cultural art. It makes sense to keep the sheep and the lifeways on Black Mesa because they’ve been there forever, and they could very well last forever.

It’s been mostly Dine’, or Navajo people that have been herding sheep on Black Mesa forever. But other folks have come in and helped out. Some have been integrated on a more permanent basis: Mexicans, Apaches, and Hopis, for example. Euro-Americans, Europeans, and Japanese primarily have been coming to herd sheep and help out for about 40 years. This is mainly because of widespread invitation by traditional Dine’ matriarchs, who have traveled the world since the 70’s speaking of their struggle against relocation and the Peabody coal mine. Many are still living on Black Mesa and continue their interest to have “helpers” come and stay. Some get “adopted”, some marry in to families. But actually, in the last 40 years only a handful of non-navajos have made any long term connection with the community. And really, they have not done very much of the work that it takes to keep the struggle going or contributed the resources that sustain it. It is really the people living on the land and their extended blood relatives, many of whom have accepted relocation benefits and found a place in the ‘outside’ world.

So ‘support’ or ‘herding sheep’ is not really ‘all that’ but it is something, and it has potential. It needs to be done right; and then, more. A person does not need to come out to Black Mesa with judgements, or with a vision about how people out here could do what they do better (‘you know, if they would just be a vegetarian...”, or something). Two times in the ten years I have been around here I have heard of family members from the cities not wanting to come home to visit their elders because “sheepherder” is unpleasant to be around. This was a disgrace. I mention it as an example of the type of risks we face in attempting to “support”. We need to be vigilant and uncompromising with ourselves and each other in order to keep such scenarios from happening.

The pressures of what Danny Blackgoat calls “the dominant society” are increasing—even if the mine is forestalled for the moment. Entering the Navajo universe as a herder is a means of acknowledging the responsibilities of yourself and your relations in the acceleration of these pressures--and a significant step in counteracting the encroachments of white culture on this vital and still vibrant community of traditionals. If you are a non-native, this is an opportunity to accede to and integrate into your life the wished and interests of traditional native people as to what to do and what not to do with your time and energy—how to do it and how not to do it. Maybe this is what is called “decolonization”.

Many people in the counter-culture, being “resisters” themselves of some sort, “rebels”, or what have you, have come to admire the people of Black Mesa/Big Mountain for defying Washington and their tribal government's orders to leave their homeland, even to the point of arming themselves. As it should be. Let’s transform the admiration into day-to day, year-to-year support for their ongoing struggle—not only to avoid eviction, but to keep the homesite running smoothly, to stop impoundments and harassment, to keep the herd strong, and to co-exist well with each other. As Rena Babbitt Lane said to me last year, “the time has come for us to stop ignoring each other,” referring to traditional natives and the surrounding world. We all have much to gain from each other.

So sheepherders, I’m talking to you as a fellow (non-native) sheepherder. How can you set aside some more time? Can we support each other directly to do this? Are you in touch with other sheepherders when you are on and off the land? Lets build or re-build the collective consciousness about keeping the herd covered, or keeping Grandma soandso taken care of. Are you in touch with the family when you are not there herding? Do they know how and where to contact you? Are you keeping up on current events on the rez?

Don’t rely on BMIS for this—support BMIS on this!

There are strategic times to come out. First week of October, it was recently pointed out to me, has always been impoundment season. There’s times in the spring too. Let’s get to know these as our rythms. The impoundments at T’iisyaato last fall could well have been forestalled by the presence of supporters. Lets not let that happen again. Impoundments are a big financial burden for the family—to recover the animals costs hundreds of dollars, and it does permanent damage to the animals. They come back scarred and scared. The families did everything they could to stop it. Did you?

Right now, as we prepare to leave for our other camp on the east coast there are almost no ‘supporters’ here. We have pending requests from 9 of every 10 families that we work with for on-land, live-in support. That means you. So get healthy, get sober, pull your connections—get creative. There’s a lot at stake! We thank you in advance.

***The preceding sentiments do not represent Black Mesa Indigenous Support and the organization is not to be held accountable. Any concerns about the content should be addressed directly to owen at

[Moderator's Note: The article refers to supporting Dineh and other indigenous resisters against relocation policies and coal mining expansions. There are many forms of radical resistance, globally, but to support by physical action of herding sheep, may be new to you. This however this kind of action does help 'sustain' an ancient, land-base community. So yeah, "pull your connections together" and your outdoor gear. You'll never be so radically, enlightened. -SDNrocks]

Monday, March 1, 2010

Chief Loner Comment was Censored at "Censored News!"

Chief Loner's comment at Censored News was "censored!" This Blog basically promotes indigenous issues involving environment, sacred sites and human rights in Indian country. I believe I was "censored" because I have always spoken out on behalf of the traditional, land-based and sovereign resistance at Big Mountain. I made a comment about: how Urban Indian organizations deliberally exclude THEIR own traditional elders on the land, at the frontlines, in order to glorify their urban movements against WHITEMAN-made policies. The political movement world has changed, and it does not care about the real sacred ways of sovereign survivals so, the real indigenous representation does not belong anywhere in this modern convienent world....
An article was written about the resurgents of uranium mining and thousands of pending mine claims on the far northwestern side of the Grand Canyon. The article was of good intention and was only informative about historical data and events of the past Four Corners region mining and millings. The article lack very much the future potential impacts to ecology as well as indigenous communities that included the Dineh (Navajo) lands. Indigenous Action Media just like the Black Mesa Water Coalition are of urban origin based out of Flagstaff, and it is no surprised that they again excluded their peoples' uncertain future of radiation contamination. This article had no real intention except to regurgitate the 1950s thru 1980s events of uranium mining in Dineh and Pueblo country.
My comment basically asked why this article failed to provide more about how the uranium ore was to be transported to southeastern Utah from Grand Canyon north. Thousands of Dineh would be impacted again, but Indigenous Action Media only projected old information which obliviously shows an intention of self-promotion.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Specialized Volunteers Urgently Needed for Threatened Big Mtn. Culture

America’s Fossil Fuel Addiction & Advanced Technology Trends Facilitate Extinction of Land Based Cultural-Spirituality on Big Mountain
By Bahe (Kat) Katenay Keediniihii, Sheep Dog Nation Media

February 1, 2010 Big Mountain, Black Mesa – There is nearly three feet of semi-packed snow that blankets the juniper and pinon woodlands, a country where a few and scattered hardcore Dineh (Navajo) resisters live. It is their ancestral lands and it has been their choice to maintain residency as an only option to resist U.S. government laws to vacate. Out here, there are no electrical lines nor do waterlines something which 99 percent of Americans would not believe exist. You, as an American living most of your daily life with the modern conveniences, probably do not know what to do if your water or electricity suddenly goes off. Try to image also what if your old grandparents lived in a remote place where climate become extreme and there is no phone, no electricity or running water, and finally, would you worry about them as they age year by year and all agency services are denied of them?

Maybe America does not care, or why should they care? These 20 plus home sites, each with traditional elders who maintain culture with the intention of preserving some long-outdated tradition, would be of no importance in comparison to the millions of Americans that subsist on petroleum products. Most caring Americans only look up when thousands of people are impacted elsewhere by disaster, but the undying story of a few hundred souls on Big Mountain on the Navajo-Hopi Indian reservation does not touch hearts deep enough.

Modern society’s desire for petroleum-carbon products like handy-tech-gadgets, food and drink containers, entertainment supplies, and the necessities of transportation far outweighs this Big Mountain human crisis. Furthermore, the official mass media assures the world that ‘government backed Hopis trying to kick out a few dozen lawless Navajos is insignificant.’ Even the corporate controlled Indian newspaper and major television networks have their standard approaches by refuting and downplaying any claims made by these Dineh resisters about how Peabody Energy has a major role in this real estate scheme and relocation law of the 1974.

Everyone is aware that all the so-called, Native Americans, have pickup trucks, carry around cell phones and watch plasma screen TVs at home. That being observed can instantly make the conclusion that, there is no threat of extinction of the indigenous cultural-spirituality. Fortunately, there are still some intelligence human thoughts out there that know that this has always been the American attitude.

Lets invade their country because they are a danger to us and dangerous to themselves. This must be the course and it is all in the name of peace and democracy! They need to be assimilated and be pacified. And when the smoke from the total destruction of their lands and villages has settled, they will be far better off as civilized people, and we will help them to rebuild their economy and make them independent, again…”

These familiar words that were only spoken through military rifles, just a little over a hundred years ago in 1977, still ring in the memories of Dineh elder resisters at Big Mountain. That is why they have chosen to return to the battle and defy the United States Indian Policies of human removal and natural resource exploration. In 2010, these few matriarch and patriarchs try their best, mentality, to rely on the limited physical capabilities to: walk their ancestral land, smell the wood burning from their stove, smell the distance sheep corrals, breathe the little fresh air that earth can still offer, look up at the clouds move across, watch the trees move in the breeze, and to look about their country to only imagine that thriving culture and spirituality of the past.

Extinction is a word commonly associated with vegetation or certain species of animal, but the homosapien equation is always not a factor in this scenario of thinking. With all the intellect of western science, culture can never defined nor can spirituality ever be properly interpreted. America cannot even formulate a list of what ‘their culture is or could be.’ At Big Mountain, the Dineh knew many ways of starting a fire like how fine do you make the juniper bark, or where can you find dry fire starters on a rainy or snowy day? What does one do when the glare of the snow starts to blind them? What wild plant that is in your immediate vicinity is edible, medicinal or is a cure for thirst? How many kinds of foods can be derived from corn –in the Indian way, not in the industrialized American-food-processing way? What kind of clouds tells you if it will snow and when? Which snowfall is unhealthy to ingest? Why are the little blades of water crystals that cover the top of snow in the mornings sacred to the Dineh? Why was it prohibited for the Dineh to say the name of the bear, the sun, the thunder, or the buffalo? What do you do when you see tracks of a snake, when you kill a grasshopper or lizard?

What can happen if humans do wrong? How should the human repent and make restitution in order to keep the harmony and their relationship with nature?

There is world at Big Mountain that wants to survive, but not with the temporary comforts of technology which are also derivatives of the mineral and water exploitation or ‘the rape of mother earth.’ This has to be seen as our problem and that we can be the solution. This cannot be changed through your votes or your advocacy for Constitutional Rights because these few Dineh elders have lost all rights when that relocation law was passed in 1974. Public Law 93-531 was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by the President of the United States, and that is known as an Executive Order just like a declaration of war.

An effective solution is to volunteer your time and commit yourself to a challenging environment by assisting these matriarch and patriarch, and work with them to manage the many aspects of human culture in sustainable practices. Natural harmony and balance may only be revived through something similar to volunteer enforcement of a humanistic controlled democracy. It is well understood that contrary to this corporate controlled democracy is only sustained through fear and in the name of maximized profits.

The peoples of Big Mountain have fought long and hard. They have symbolized that natural human pride but which is now diminishing by their old age and confinement to constant hospitalization. This is causing them to abandon those sheep herds, the unfinished weaving looms, the home sites, cornfields, and the living histories of antiquity and ancestry. Help them. Help us. A cultural and spiritual place must not be vacated to allow fossil fuel extraction which will be followed by commercial beef industries.

Our destinies are so inter-related whether we ignore it or not, but seeing beyond the synthetic technical upgrades of our human moment, are we so certain that the information and digital age will be suitable for our great grandchildren?

* * * To find out more about how you can get involved, email: or leave a detailed voice message at (928) 773-8086 * * * * Or write to:

Black Mesa Indigenous Support
P.O. Box 23501
Flagstaff, AZ 86002


© Sheep Dog Nation Media, 2010

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wha' izit dat U all don't get about the Big Mtn. Struggle?!

Field sketches by Ira Moskowitz of the southwest in the 1940s.

What is it that You all don’t get about the Big Mountain Struggle?
Written by B.Y. "Kat" Keediniihii - Katenay

January 5, 2010 Big Mountain Dineh Resistance Territory, Black Mesa – Because of that irresistible American culture of Wal-Mart, hotdogs, freedomfries, Opry Winfrey, American Idol, and CNN, the human minds on Turtle Island have been saturated with more materialism, artificial-lie-zation, ignorance with self-reality, and a quick fix for cheap comforts. I have had much conversation with individuals who are sympathetic to the elders at Big Mountain, the Dineh elders who have been suffering under the U.S.-Peabody colonial aggressions. Almost all who know about this issue continue to be influenced by books or by authors that think they can use “rational” facts to interpret what the causes of relocation are. The first ugly words I hear from their mouths is “the land dispute” between Hopis and Dineh, but they do not know who the real parties are that are involved in this real estate fraud or scheme, or was it really a fair justice by the U.S. Congress of 1974?

These rational fact seekers and ignorant Indian “activist” still prefer to believe that Big Mountain is about politics. Let’s correct that first : political activism has to do with an attempt, based on “falsely” guaranteed rights, to influence politicians or corporate CEOs to change legislation or existing policies. That is politics, and politics deals with man and woman-made laws.

The original Big Mountain resistance was about a spiritual way of human existence that (tried to) maintain the unique ways of co-existence with the Universe and Nature. They were ways maintained since from a far distance time by indigenous peoples even before “civilization” emerged. Big Mountain and all other land-based indigenous societies deal with universal and natural orders and as human beings; we do not dare to ask the divine powers to change certain orders of life functions. (I use the word humans rather than saying Hopis or Dineh in particular.) The wise elders who are today incapable of physically leading this fight at Big Mountain were rationally correct when they declared, ‘the fight at Big Mountain is for all children of mother earth’ meaning all races of peoples.

It now has been forty years of intense events of force change caused by mineral exploration interest and that, being confronted with physical, spiritual and sovereign resistance. Forty years ago the last of the old time Dineh took their horse-driven wagons into the canyonlands to forever disappear. Today, the few traditional elders who sit in silence alone can only day dream of the past when a visitor on horseback might show up or that they receive some news about a large winter ceremonial event. That kind of visit or news would make their day exciting and would have some expectations that they can discuss with their family.

Big Mountain country is still pristine and in its past, a culture thrived with the Yei bi Cheii and the Mountain Chant Fire Dances in the winter. In summer, there were the Great Gathering Ceremony (a.k.a “Squaw” Dance) and other clan and family rituals. The force changes and the relocation of hundreds of our community members have now silenced the sounds of gourds, drums and the choir of singers. The many campfires and ceremonial fires are no longer present as the land is in darkness and is empty of a living culture.

My father, who is of the great Yei society, recently recalled his elders’ teaching that, the Dineh must always maintain the ceremonies because if the ceremonies die out the moisture and precipitation will also die out. Another matriarch and a resistance leader recalled, too, of a teaching about outside fires for cooking or for ceremonial gatherings that served special purposes in communicating with the night time heavenly lights. One traditional elder man who is also resisting relocation recalled of a teaching: ‘when we Dineh no longer make ceremonial prayer offerings to all the sacred places around Big Mountain, all the Star Chiefs up in the Universe will gather to discuss the final judgment for us…’

The Indian reservation life across Turtle Island (North America) have rapidly transformed despite the last great Indian uprising of the American Indian Movement era. Cell phones and satellite broadcasted, Direct TV have capsulated our Indian world to only an individual realm like all “Americans.” We have either given in or that we do not realize we have been forced into that American culture. All the cheap comforts of altered and synthetic foods and drinks are within short reaches of coffee tables or a couple of steps to the refrigerator. The ceremonies are modified privately with the assumption that the divine powers probably do not care or that they are not watching. The ceremonies are fitted to our adapted life styles of America and so, ceremonies are conducted basically as short cuts almost like the short cuts on your desktop.

The wider community based thought which was once the gateway to universal thinking is no more. Land struggle issues are mostly or overall ignored by the Indian, and they are also determined by legitimacy in terms of influencing politics or legally intervening. Unfortunately, Big Mountain does not meet these requirements because of its illegal approaches of a humanly and earthly stances. To the federally and state regulated environmentalism, the wise notion about supernatural influences on global atmospheric weather and climate are too irrational, but instead the textbook nerd-scientists and lawyers are the real experts in air pollution, hydrology and meteorology. Individual activism is now the impostor of a community and that is why a community like Big Mountain and Black Mesa has disintegrated. I represent a thought that I call “the original resistance” while other former constituent of the original movement individually represent other thoughts. The central fires do not communicate with the center fire. The U.S. government and its corporate entities dominate the communications.

Understand now the difference or what “was” Big Mountain. What was Big Mountain will always be my sole efforts. However, I have only seen those outsiders, the non-natives, who have the dignity and the honor to live with and help these Dineh elder resisters. They were willing to escape America to do something “illegal” to protect a small aspect of universal and natural order. They were somehow educated by the right books to realize that physical on-land, direct action is the only way to confront coal mining giant, Peabody Western. These dedicated and well-committed non-natives are a community and they may not have a way of worship, but they come out by the few and leave enrich with non-text book knowledge, and that required sacrifice. At Big Mountain, we still wait for the Indians to return and be willing to sacrifice that American cheap comfort and desires. There may still be a chance for all clear minded activist and Indians that seek real change toward rebuilding communities by coming out to the great lands of Big Mountain and work with the Dineh, The Peoples.

© Kat of Sheep Dog Nation Media, 2010