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.