Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Urgent Update: Livestock Confiscation at Big Mountain on Black Mesa, Again!

U.S. taxpayer dollars maintain the Indian Wars: heavily armed Indian law personnel confiscating Dineh owned sheep.  

 Excessive Laws to Livestock Confiscation at Big Mountain on Black Mesa

--contributing writers: Tree with Black Mesa Indigenous Support, and Kat with SheepDogNation Media, August 2015.

We all have to live with regulations whether we live in the urban or rural areas, and permits may apply as to how many pets we should have to how much livestock we can range. What the Hopi tribe is up to is also like any county/state authority that regulate ranching particularly involving horses and cattle. This current situation in Big Mountain involves, in part, the Hopi rangers doing their annual livestock assessment, however for the Dineh sheep and goat herders, it is unique because it involves culture and identity. It is also important to understand that because of this unique factor, Dineh (Navajos) are attempting to resist this 'range management' practices just as they have resisted the relocation program. The BIA Police and tribal rangers have reoriented their livestock confiscation approaches against these Dineh. There is now a standby alert system to agency-wide, Special Operation Services and this makes the enforcement more excessive.    
These Dineh resisters to a federal mandatory, relocation law have been subjected to livestock count and impoundments this past week and more are expected to continue, perhaps into next month. Livestock counts and impoundments are used also as a tool to harass, demoralize, terminate the economic and cultural backbone, monitor family home site activities, and to pressure all Dineh to vacate their ancestral homelands. 
Eventually this policy of force removal will not create new Hopi lands as the Law states, but it makes way for Peabody Coal Company to expand and exploit the remaining coal deposits. Peabody's role here is major as compared to all other natural resource extraction in Arizona, it is a long term multinational corporate investment that extends to 2055-60. The now 50 year old mining leases at Black Mesa has nearly exhausted its operation and Peabody hopes to expand new lease areas into the still, culturally-intact, Big Mountain region.   
Grandma Rena (L) a resident of Big Mountain's Horse Corral area. Her son (R), Jerry.
 After the specially targeted, excessive force used by the BIA - Hopi police during fall of 2015 animal confiscations, resident herders were not only left uneasy but some did not have the $1000 to $2000 to get their animals back. One traditional woman in her 90s lost her whole herd and was so dramatized that she asked the government to help her relocate. Her neighbor, a traditional man who intervened during that impoundment, was arrested, and he was finally acquitted this summer after an agonizing period of distance travels for court appearances, attorney and court fees, not having transportation, and never being provided a translator. Other traditional herders holding grazing permits lost about 85 percent of their herds, and were recently intimidated and told they are again over the limits. The rest of the herders are still uneasy and knowing they are listed for an invasion, a method of genocide: to exterminate the means of food, medicinal and material, economic and cultural resources. This is the reason why volunteer human rights observers are needed. 

There a few Dineh elders resisters that have withheld their sovereign and ancient obligations to their sacred Mountain Soil Bundle which is believed to represent the complete authority over animal husbandry, sustainable and eco-conscious live styles, farming, and rituals. The federal, both tribal and state, consider these particular resisters as ‘extremist’ and trespassers. These traditional resisters have refused to get ‘legal’ permits or temporary resident status. Pauline Whitesinger who passed away in 2014 was just one of those hardcore resister and leader. Rena Babbit Lane is still remaining strong as one of the last true sovereign Indian, and just this week she was told to be prepared for that BIA invasion to confiscate her animals. Her son, Jerry, is the one that was just acquitted. Grandma Rena is in her 90s, and it is unimaginable how a grandma this old, who withholds much wisdom, a soft spoken and kind individual be tortured further. Does this country, the U.S. and its fossil fuel addicted citizens, truly believe in destroying all earth based humans in order to control global real estates and the electrical power grids?  
Etta became the lone Matriarch after both her parents passed-on in 2014. 
 A few voices from the land:

This recent attack happened on the 152nd anniversary of the start of the US Army's scorch the earth policy against the Dineh, in which a bounty was placed on all ‘Navajo’ livestock in an attempt to starve them into submission, and resulted in the massive forced relocation, known as the Long Walk. Big Mountain elder, John Katenay’s story, "My great grandmother told us that she was just little (1863) when they hid in the thick woods because the army came upon them. They couldn’t escape with the herd, but they could only listen as the soldiers cut open the bellies of live goats, goats wailed as soldiers laughed, and as her mother cried..."
“We are in a battleground, the endless battleground of the Partitioned Lands. This is the front of the line and when it comes, your family there is no yes or no, you have to stand up for your family and your relatives. This is what I was taught. The past was never really forgotten of the way the U.S. Government treated my people. It is still going on, it is still alive. We will fight- not with violence or armor, but with the old ways.  This is a stand for people to know who we are and how we live as Dineh.”--Gerald Blackrock, October 2014.
“They came as before like having no mercy, they counted the sheep and goats. One of the police filled out sheets of paper and I was given a copy. Their interpreter simply told me ‘your herd is over the limit again!’ They did not say how much is over nor suggested to me anything about how to reduce it to the limit. They did not want any conversation and they all left. After that, I heard that one of my cousins, Ruby, got her sheep impounded but they were able to get most of them back. They probably had to pay a lot of money in order to get them back. The BIA Hopi land agency just want the money, and this is how we are force to give them monies every year!” –Etta Begay, August 20, 2015

Dineh residents in resistance however are made to be voiceless and nonexistent, and are again asking world citizens to demand an immediate halt to this forced, herd reductions and that the relocation law be repealed so that, they be recognized as true determined group of peoples and to be allowed to remain with any cultural content that are retrievable including the said ancestral lands.  Please, call the numbers below to demand a moratorium on the impoundments of Dineh livestock and the nullification of P.L. 93-531, a law too expensive for taxpayers and that was created under debunked circumstances. Also email to find out more about the human rights observation and the volunteer home-stay sheepherding program.
Sample of a reduced herd near Etta's homestead, one lone goat, and the multiple trail grooves before the impoundments of 2014.
Call to Action:
-       Participate in community organizing geared toward sustainability, Peace, stopping militarization, Indigenous sovereign rights and protecting sacred sites, then join vigils or marches at federal buildings by showing your support for Dineh elders: “U.S. Peabody Out of Big Mountain!”
-       Donate funds here, to Black Mesa Indigenous Support which facilitates networks and on land support. So, come out to herd sheep and monitor human rights violations (email

-       Support Native Resistance and the endangered indigenous ways. ***Share, forward this request far and wide! 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
•   The BIA superintendent Wendel Honanie at (928-738-2228),
•   Hopi Chairman Herman G. Honanie,  Email:, Phone: (928) 734-3102
•   The Hopi Rangers Clayton Honyumptewa at (928-734-3601),

•   The Department of Interior at  (602-379-6600)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Saffron march, Peace Walk carries prayers, anti-nuke message to U.N.

[Published on April 8, 2015 by Gallup Independent]

By Kathy Helms
Dine Bureau
COALMINE (Mesa) CANYON – Futaba Kitayama was 33 years old and living in Hiroshima in August 1945 when Col. Paul Tibbets released “Little Boy,” a 9,700-pound atomic bomb, over the city. Within minutes, nine out of 10 people half a mile or less from ground zero were dead.
Kitayama was about a mile away when a “shattering blast filled the sky,” according to her eyewitness account at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. She was thrown to the ground while the world collapsed around her. She thought of her three children who had been evacuated to the country to escape the incendiary raids leading up to the detonation of America's secret weapon.
When she managed to crawl free, there was a terrible smell in the air. She rubbed her nose and mouth hard with a towel she had around her waist.
“To my horror, I found that the skin of my face had come off in the towel. Oh! The skin on my hands, on my arms, came off too. From elbow to fingertips, all the skin on my right arm had come loose and was hanging grotesquely. The skin of my left hand fell off too, the five fingers, like a glove.”
She later wrote, “In these critical international conditions, I hope that the atomic bombing did not steal away the precious lives of 200,000 people for nothing, but that they died for peace. I hope this will be shown to the world.”
Big responsibility
This week, Jun Yasuda, a Buddhist nun originally from Tokyo, led more than a dozen people from Japan on a cross-country Prayer Walk from San Francisco to New York where they will attend a United Nations meeting later this month.

Carrying an urgent prayer to “end this chain of nuclear destruction,” they are walking to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference which begins April 27 in New York.

The Non-Proliferation Treaty is a landmark international treaty aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology while promoting peaceful uses of nuclear energy and furthering the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament.
“Japan is a county which experienced the nuclear bomb 70 years ago,” Yuichi Kamoshita of Okinawa said Tuesday while walking near Coalmine Chapter House. “Also, recently the Fukushima nuclear power plant exploded. So Japan's people feel like we have a big responsibility to speak to the people and the world.”
Like Yasuda, Kamoshita is a Buddhist monk from the Nipponzan Myohoji order, which is actively engaged worldwide in the peace movement.

The message they will take to the United Nations is simple, he said: “No more nukes.”

 Native connection
Crossing portions of the Navajo Nation, the walkers viewed abandoned uranium mines in Cameron and the former Rare Metals uranium mill in Tuba City. They also visited other Native American communities where people continue to suffer from various stages of the nuclear chain, including Nevada Test Site where nuclear tests were conducted for over 40 years on lands of the Western Shoshone.
“The founder of Nipponzan Myohoji, Nichidatsu Fujii, he told his monks to go to the United States and work with the Native people,” Kamoshita said. “He said the country will only be rescued with the prayer of the Native people. So other Buddhist monks, we came here to support Native people, to save this country, to save this nation. The United States itself needs the prayer of the Native people and also their way of life. Without their presence, this country will be in big danger.
“The leader of this march is Jun-san. She's been in the U.S. maybe 40 years and she has a very deep connection with the Native Americans all around the country. So that's why many Native people support this walk,” he said.
  Yasuda, who lives near Albany, N.Y., accompanied Native Americans to Washington in 1978 on “The Longest Walk,” and has been to the Navajo Nation many times. Almost 30 years ago she met Bahe Katenay of Big Mountain who facilitated the Japanese visitors on this week's visit to Navajoland.
“He is like a brother,” Yasuda said. “I know what struggle is going on. We keep in touch.”
Peaceful inspiration
Katenay said he became inspired by Nipponzan Myohoji monks some years back during a protest at the proposed Desert Rock Power Plant site near Burnham. The monks were sitting in front of the gate when Navajo Nation Police showed up.
“The Navajo Police came right up to the fence and told them, 'Get away from the fence. Move!' But the monks kept chanting,” Katenay said. “Finally, Navajo Police took out tear gas and sprayed the three monks. One man, he stayed. He just opened his eyes more and kept chanting. Finally, we had to go rescue him because he was going to get really hurt. After that, they started to inspire me more. They pray for a reason, but still they're peaceful. It's almost like watching maybe Martin Luther King (Jr.) or Gandhi. They're not expressing any anger. They're just keeping up the prayer.”

Yasuda has crossed the United States eight times with different Native tribes, and knows of their sufferings.
Asked why the Peace Walk, she said, “We keep destroying this Earth. How to survive as humans, that's the reason. Without water, cannot survive; without air, cannot survive. But if all this is destroyed, how do humans survive? Human desire does not care about these things.”
Asked whether she is an anti-nuclear activist, Yasuda said, “It's not about anti-something. We are responsible for the next generation. All my life, when I come here, people taking care, open home and feeding us. Everywhere we are walking people are very generous, helping us, making dinner and cooking breakfast.
“I am now 66 years old and my responsibility is what to do for the next generation. Do you give them a terrible Earth – garbage Earth? That's my responsibility.”

Japan is a small country, about the size of California, and the nuclear reactor meltdown at Fukushima left much damage, Yasuda and Kamoshita said.
“We are an earthquake country. It's so crazy, the mentality. People are thinking the earth is not moving. But the earth is moving all the time,” Yasuda said. When she visited Japan in March, a magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck off the shores of northeastern Japan. “So why have to develop all these things? It doesn't make sense.”
Kamoshita said the situation in Fukushima is very confusing. “There are so many issues, so many problems. Children have started to have cancer.” Fukushima Prefecture recently reported 117 children under age 18 have tested positive for thyroid cancer.

“So much soil is contaminated. They are trying to collect all soils and put somewhere, but no one wants the contaminated soil at their village, so it has no place to go. It's in bags and even in people's gardens,” he said. “Contaminated water keeps leaking, for four years now. It never stops. They have no idea how to stop it. That's reality. It's not under control.”
Mori Koichiro of Kyushu is concerned there are not enough workers to do the Fukushima cleanup. “So many of our people are getting sick,” he said.
Workers are hired at low wages but they only work three or four months, until they reach maximum radiation exposure, then they are sent away, Yasuda said. “These people are like garbage. After three months, ‘We have no more job. Good-bye!’ and then new people come in to clean up. But who can continue 50 years, 100 years or more?”

“If we forget about Earth, our life is no more,” she said. “So we just happy to walk together with Native friends. Step by step is our prayer.”

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Big Mountain Dineh Resistance: Still A Cornerstone

By NaBahe (Bahe) Keediniihii (Katenay), 2015


Big Mountain, Dinehtah (Navajo Lands) – In this remote high desert which is mostly covered with juniper and pinon pine forest in northeastern Arizona lays a region known as Black Mesa. The region was once so pristine but in the 1960s, Peabody Energy acquired leases to begin mining, building highways and massive industrial infrastructures, and extracting an ancient aquifer. Dineh (means The Peoples) who inhabited the region and who kept an ancient form of eco-conscious practices were now confronted with destructive and political upheavals. Traditional and non-English speaking Dineh were soon notified that “a Law” was made that will divide these territories and one half of it will go to Dineh’s close neighbor, the Hopis. Immediate concern and oppositions grew among Dineh and traditional Hopis, but this also exposed that major utility companies who served sprawling southwest cities were behind the lobbying and financial power that boost the U. S. Congress’s passage of the “Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act of 1974.”

Eventually, the federal-controlled Navajo government came forth with distorted information that, “the Hopis have disputed over these lands,” and the feds had figured out a way to settle this. However, Hopi chiefs and spiritual leaders who were of the traditional-based village autonomy told their Dineh friends there was a 20 yearlong effort made by commissioners, from the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), to established a U.S. run tribal council. A handpicked Hopi council was formed in early 1960, and the Peabody lease was signed soon after. The unannounced Relocation Law was already being drafted by Peabody lawyers and U.S. House members of Arizona about this time also. Traditional Hopis also told the Dineh that according to their lawyers’ findings the region will be further divided and which will forever endanger the tribal co-existence and the pristine state of the lands.

In regards to the mass media headlines of a “hundred year old land dispute” between these tribes, no evidence or proof went with their storyline. On the other hand, published articles and books pointed out that numerous utility companies were conspiring previously to target the Black Mesa coal field: have the Department of the Interior adjust the 1882 joint-reservation of the Dineh and Hopis, that leases can only be made through organized tribal ‘friendlies,’ and perhaps design a taxpayer funded Indian removal policy.


(Photos by Dan budnik, 1979) Black Mesa coal mine [L], Pauline Whitesinger & relatives on the demarcation line.

Local native opposition continued, but there was confusion that was caused by politically minded Dineh and as Navajo officials kept coercing local Dineh to begin plans to, give up their ancient culture, stop living in log and dirt huts, and move away to where elaborate dwellings will be built for them. The federal partitioning was becoming a reality with bull-dozed routes for the steel and barbed wire fences that would shut off the natural open ranges. In the fall of 1977, a lone traditional Dineh woman began having numerous encounters with government, Indian fence-construction crew. The crew also began humiliating her about her traditional life styles, but one day and to the surprise of the crew foreman, Pauline Whitesinger at five-foot-two ripped out a dead juniper root and flung it out at the retreating foreman. The heavy two inch root slammed into the side mirror of the government vehicle. The foreman scrambled to the microphone to call the nearest BIA Indian police in the area, but Pauline was too quick and was there with a two hands full of sand which she casted toward the foreman’s mouth.  The BIA foreman’s call never went over out. Other crewmembers were now in their trucks and in no time, the construction site was all empty and quiet, as Pauline stood alone again on her ancestral grazing pasture with her sheep nearby.

As the fall cold evening sun was going down, Pauline walked the herd back toward the sheep corral which was near her little log and dirt hogan, and a neighbor was passing by in their pickup truck. Pauline waved them down and asked (in Dineh language) for a big favor, “Please, tell the first household that might be down the road and if they can to also pass on my message. ‘This afternoon I must have over reacted and may have damaged a law that we were clearly told to never touch or interfere with. I had an altercation with that fencing crew,’ and tell our relatives that ‘I don’t know what will happen to me, but Washington’s police may all be on their way to take me away.’ Pass this message on for me in case tomorrow people will wonder what had happened to me.”

Many of Pauline’s clan relation and relatives showed up along the newly erected fence that same evening. Quickly, Dineh organized to work late and begin dismantling as much fence as possible and as much as their few trucks can haul away. During a meeting a day later and with Pauline still having her freedom, she was told by her relatives, “You have re-ignited the ancestors’ flame of resistance against the U.S. Army, those flames from a hundred and fifth teen years earlier. We will have to mobilize and have meetings to stop this invasion by Washington.” Pauline’s sheepherding range became the earliest stronghold for modern day Dineh resistance against colonization and Peabody’s sponsored terror of psychological warfare.

There were failed attempts to get the BIA’s Navajo government support, and even protests that turned violent in front of the federal-tribal headquarters. Elders and their Dineh supporters along with AIM advisors turned to the federal agencies and the courts, but the feds’ response was that only Congress can repeal the relocation law. It was realized then that that would take millions of dollars of lobbying efforts to convince the feds to think otherwise about these particular Indians. The tribal government would be prohibited by the BIA to finance such repeal efforts.

Meanwhile on the lands of Big Mountain, there were still threats of fencing, livestock confiscation, aerial patrols, capping off of water wells, disruption of traditional ceremonies, coercion by relocation program, and federal Indian police presence. Dineh youths and elders set up resistance outposts despite the new federal “restrictions on new construction and improvements.” By 1980, Big Mountain Dineh resisters and their few but growing non-Natives allies began network strategies that reached as far as Washington State, southern California and the east coast. Non-native support collectives began bringing themselves and logistics out to the now restricted zones. Both the indigenous community and non-Natives shared the need to document the deliberate violations of human rights, to stop forcible occupation to extract fossil fuel, to halt the desecration of human religions, and to let the world know that the U.S. is committing genocide. Dineh elders and youths felt that by working alongside non-Native allies, they can rebuild and strengthen Dineh culture and livelihoods that were under siege.

(Photo by Bay Area Big Mountain Support Group, 1987) Ashiike' Bi'ts'ii' [center] and family joining supporters at sheep corral construction site.

This was a traditional and land based resistance taking place in modern colonial America and which was initiated by non-English speaking matriarch and patriarchs. This was a sovereign movement that recognized its treaties made with the U.S. by their ancestors. This was a movement that relied on sacred laws of existence and therefore and once again, they rejected the Anglo-colonizers’ aggressive methods of governing. Big Mountain Dineh resistance was so unique, not only by the beauty of their country and culture, but that they were able to deter federal Indian dominance of earth based on real estate and to hold off Peabody coal from expanding.     

The year 2000 brought new federal laws that would attempt to clear out those elders and their families who have not yet made legal agreements according to numerous mandates that were amended to the original relocation law. Most but a few of the original Dineh matriarch and patriarchs were still around to direct how resistance communities should respond and so, it was reaffirmed that resistance will continue, this time in the name of human survival. The elders felt this is their only option since all of Black Mesa, including Big Mountain, is to be mined beyond 2054. This meant that if the Dineh failed as caretakers of mother earth, they would allow the escalation of climate change and the end of Big Mountain religion. All Dineh who were around then could not believe that they were still at “war,” the resistance to the inhumane relocation laws, but corporate profits and intense Indian policing were gaining over the now sparsely Dineh holdouts. Non-Native supporters and helpers however kept vigil alongside their surviving elder hosts; while a small amount of the Dineh cultural resources were being maintained.

The small consciousness in America that realizes we live “in the belly of the monster,” the vicious colonial beast of the world, perhaps. Within its urban guts, there is daily surveillance and monitoring of our every movements, activity and conversation, and are analyzed by video and national data centers. Indian country is different because they are wards of the state and are confined into guarded enclosures. It does not matter how spirituality and nobility is said to dominate, natives are easily steered by greed, poverty and that readily available acts of jealousy. Those colonial conditioning factors have eventually infested both the Hopi and Navajo reservation, and this is altering identity and pride. This also has penetrated so-called ‘activism’ as groups or a few bunches rally only when contribution dollars are flowing, and while the core purpose of their traditional elders are overlooked, almost purposely. Outside non-Native alliances for indigenous or global causes are also being dissected by this American terror of fear, policing and civil order. Those ideas of peaceful or loving understanding for collaboration are only words of décor and are not being defined and discussed as to how those can be re-applied. Meanwhile, Wall Street trades and mergers maintain their genuine trust and profits gains to feed its police state and its war machines.        

Long and short term non-Native helpers are sometimes the only full-time member at Dineh elder homesteads. Sheepherder has been the underlining, volunteer position title, but there were much skills and challenges that went with the endless manual work of water collecting, cooking or heating, sometimes farming and harvest, believe it or not even traditional ritual assistance, and human rights observation. In more recent times, these means of association has become the strategy to help resisters maintain presence on the ancestral lands, the sheep becoming a tool of resistance and re-occupying the homelands.

The BIA and its Indian police however begun, in late 2014, to initially target this native elder – white supporter bond, and sheep herds were threatened once again. It is so obvious when police staged raids after days of endless drone and foot commando surveillance, and then specific family homestead are targeted. Over 300 sheep and goats were confiscated and were never returned by the BIA–Hopi agency. As of now, non-Native volunteer organizers and on-land helpers could face being arrested and prosecuted, then excluded. The few and the pride elder matriarchs and their volunteer helpers will resist orders to acquire “official” permission, and it’s not known how this outcome will be because there are no monies for a legal fight nor are there willing lawyers available to represent this type of a defense.

White oppressors invade the Indians and white or non-Native sympathizers get in the way. Reminds me of what a Lakota man said one time at Black Hills, South Dakota, during a protest against uranium mining, “Someday us Indians may not be around to protect our mother earth, and if that happens, you white people may have to stand up.”

Today, the original surviving elders are advanced in age and unable to direct the movement they helped start. The flames that the late Pauline Whitesinger re-ignited still flickers in the distance out there in remote southwest Big Mountain. Now, the dark winds of climate change and the delusional-trendy America are about to blow it out. Those that are left and are somewhat disconnected to their elders’ past revolutionary journeys have succumbed to colonial victories while they blindly retract failed avenues of democratic forgiveness.

“Legacies of great wisdoms” is how I would put it in reference to my 40 years of working for these traditional elders who were mostly women, matriarchs. Would the now weakened societies allow another indigenous America to fade away by mere ignorance, and because how those coal and carbon-saturated shale fields of Big Mountain are so necessary for the short-term future of consumption and waste?

‘Stop your fears! Believe strongly in yourself!’ - Ida Mae Clinton, Star Mountain

February 5, 2015 -  The first thing I must acknowledge is that, though I will do my best, my words could never do Ida Mae Clinton or her struggle, justice. There is no way to adequately describe her strength, her resolve, or the depth of the spiritual relationship she had with the land that sustained not only her, but countless generations before her. Ida was what in a sane world would be considered a “national treasure,” yet her passing and the passing of others like her [5 elder resisters in 2014] have taken place with barely a whisper, barely a mention.


First and foremost, Ida was an activist fighting to save her way of life from the forces of colonialism. During the 1980s Ida and other elders on Black Mesa took their activism to another level and opened up their homes to “supporters” who came from all over the world to see firsthand what was happening.

 Supporters began staying for weeks or months at a time herding sheep and providing elder care and domestic assistance. One important task of the supporter is to spread the word about what is happening in that area. The message of Ida’s resistance must be heard. Her message, her truth, is exactly what we need to hear In today’s world of multiple and overlapping crises, many of them stemming from our warped or totally nonexistent relationship with the land we live on and the natural forces that sustain us.

Ida Mae Clinton was one of the last of a generation that truly knew what it was to be free. Their worldview is almost incomprehensible to us. How many of us can go down to our local river or stream and drink from it? How many of us can feed, clothe, and house ourselves without the aid of money or huge corporations?
Imagine learning everything you need for life without expensive universities and tedious hours of absorbing and regurgitating useless facts and information. Imagine a way of life that does not pollute and destroy the earth we depend on for survival. Though the modern world has given us much, the price has been steep and something has been lost, something fundamental to our humanity and to our ability to be good stewards of this precious earth.
In the 1960s and 70s, the Baby Boomer generation was coming of age and driving the expansion of cities and suburbs in the increasingly energy-hungry southwest. Amazingly, at that time and despite all the assaults against indigenous people over the centuries, many traditional Diné still thrived on the so-called reservation. Around this time is when the U.S. government instigated land dispute between the Navajo and Hopi tribes began in earnest.
It was no coincidence that the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act came into effect during this period of settler expansion in the southwest. This legislation that officially disenfranchised many thousands of traditional Diné was enacted in 1974. The Navajo Generating Station power plant was officially brought online two years later in 1976; it ran on coal that was strip mined from lands that had until a few years before been occupied by traditional Diné and Hopi living together in relative peace and harmony. Essentially, there was cultural genocide in exchange for cheap, dirty energy.

Ida lived far enough from the mine and the Navajo Generating Station to avoid the very worst aspects of this turmoil (devastating pollution and a marring of the landscape), but she was still swept up in the tragic events due to living on the wrong side of the newly created Hopi partition boundary. In the very beginning she could have taken a settlement and moved to relocation housing like many others were compelled to do, but she did not. As the years wore on, and as she grew frailer, rather than take the easier path of moving in with relatives to live out the rest of her days in relative comfort, Ida chose to continue residing on her land despite the hardships she knew she would face.

Her own tribal leaders, many of them brainwashed by the settler education system and more concerned with money and status than with anything else, turned their backs on her and the other resisters. Services like road and home repairs that were provided to most tribal members were denied to Ida because, according to the bureaucrats, technically she was no longer living on the Navajo Reservation. I remember Ida telling me several times how she and her daughter Rose (who was special needs and required a lot of care) would often resort to eating potatoes for days on end. There were times when she would be fearful of people trespassing on her land, yet there was no phone line, no electricity. Living as a resister to relocation also caused rifts between Ida and members of her family who had made different choices. There was bitterness on both sides; some relationships fell apart and were never mended.
Knowing the physical and emotional hardships she would face, why did Ida choose to stay? Well, when the land dispute kicked into high gear, she recognized right away that the future of the Diné people was in jeopardy. She understood instinctively that dislocation from the land would mean a loss of tradition, a loss of language, and that the loss of these things constituted a form of violence. This is why she advocated for direct action. When the livestock impoundments began, Ida fought back. Along with her friends and family in Star Mountain valley she confronted BIA officials, even going as far as to get into physical altercations with them. She marched, she protested, she traveled to faraway cities to spread awareness about the threats facing her traditional way of life.
Here are some of her words from the last video recorded interview she gave to NaBahe Katenay Keedihiihii for Big Mountain Productions: “Our livelihood, like the sheep, all of it they confiscated! The sheep are our savings and income, food as well. There are the cornfields, the sweat lodges, places of holiness — all of these they destroyed in our area. To me it is unacceptable! Another solution with more force perhaps; stronger plans initiated from here; our supporters and non-Native allies notified — Access into [the] coal mine pit needs to be blocked, a barrier set up and their operations halted.”
During the last weeks of Ida’s life the Hopi and BIA assault on Black Mesa elders was renewed with the tacit support of the Navajo tribal government. Swat teams complete with helicopters descended on Black Mesa after a lull of over a decade, terrorizing and arresting people and confiscating livestock. Though Ida was recovering in a nursing home far from her own land at the time, and though her family did not dare let her know what was happening, it was almost as if she could somehow sense what was going on. The small progress she had managed to make began to reverse itself. She became “agitated” according to the nurses, and began insisting on being allowed to go home immediately.
I wish I could say that Ida passed peacefully from this world after her decades of inspirational struggle, but that would be a lie. Thanks to a fundamentally broken geriatric care system, her last months on this earth were very difficult. The details are too painful to recount here. In the end, her heart that was so strong and warm and full of love failed. Because of the situation on Black Mesa she could not be buried on her beautiful ancestral lands, but instead was laid to rest in some strip mall border town. Sadly, the circumstances of her passing are not unique and will be familiar to many reading this.

What is unique is the way she lived. She lived life on her own terms. She fought for what she believed in, drawing upon wells of strength that must have been quite deep. In the days following her passing, many family members came out to her land over a period of several days to pay their respects, as is their custom. Seeing Ida’s great-grandchildren and other young relatives taking the sheep out to pasture made me smile in spite of my grief. She had left them an important gift; she had been a living example, a living testament to the importance of holding onto their traditions. Her sacrifice was not in vain.

 Over these past few months I think I’ve cried more for her than I cried for my own grandmother when she passed in 2010 (rest in peace). This was surprising at first, but then understanding dawned on me. Yes, Ida was not related to me by blood; she was not flesh of my flesh. Yet flesh can be corrupted, destroyed, and obliterated. Flesh rots away and blood can be tainted. Spiritual bonds and emotional ties born of shared experiences, mutual respect, and an acknowledgement of another person’s humanity and uniqueness — these bonds are not so easily broken. Some might say that these bonds transcend our earthbound existence; they are, or can be, immortal.

 I will end this with Ida’s own words: “The aggressors force requires prayers to confront them, “Stop your fears! Believe strongly in yourself!”

 Ron Lester Whyte
Philadelphia, Pa.