Tuesday, February 21, 2017
THE FIGHT TO PROTECT THE ALTAR, BLACK MESA, & ITS LIFE IS NOT OVER
Written by Bahe Katenay, February 2017
The original Big Mountain region encompasses most of the northern portion of the so-called “HPL.” Part of an area designated by a Presidential Executive Order in 1974 where traditional, non-English speaking Dineh (Navajos) were to be forcible evicted. Since that time, other regions besides Big Mountain like Coal Mine Mesa, Jeddito, Sands Springs, and Star Mountain, nearly 14,000 Dineh and 600 Hopis were relocated, and 22,000 Dineh were displaced or have lost their ancestral ranging areas. The harsh federal policing continues with restrictions on: water and natural spring management, animal control, firewood gathering, and any type of social or ceremonial activities. Meanwhile, Peabody coal company has exhausted its 70,000 acres lease area and are now pondering upon expanding southward into the heart of Big Mountain.
This Dineh resistance began with intense direct actions and organizing with the help from only a couple of local Dineh coordinators and interpreters in 1977. The resistance leaders outlined their purposes which was that Big Mountain Summits were dwelling places of deities and that Black Mesa was the central Altar of the microcosm of Dineh Universe. These resistance communities assembled in 1979 and declared independence based on the Ft Sumner Treaty of 1868. The sovereign region of Big Mountain that was recognized was about 450,000 acres. This 40 year Dineh experience may be equal and similar to the fight at Standing Rock, North Dakota. Today, mainly outside non-Native supporters continue to “trespass” by keeping vigil with: sheep herding, seasonal homestays, be in solidarity with Dineh resisters to violate federal restriction laws to help maintain Dineh lifeways, and sometimes as human rights observers. Though many of the original traditional, leaders of the resistance have passed on, younger and older extended family members are attempting to take on their parent and grandparents’ roles in protecting the pristine lands and reviving the shattered culture.
Response to Bring Extra Comfort:
In late January, a global warming fueled winter storms brought a week and half of rains then followed by a sudden snow blizzard that blanketed the whole Big Mountain-Black Mesa region. The result was a saturated but frozen ground, the snow’s depth reached above “the bellies of the sheep” and herding was impossible. Accessibility to and from Dineh resister homesteads or sheep camps was limited or completely cut off, and even a challenge for 4 wheel drive vehicles. Due to US Government’s harsh relocation laws like recent livestock impoundments, the traditional Dineh methods of survival were already strangled. Climate change, which was partially induced by years of coal and aquifer extraction/export by Peabody Energy, is now a new and unpredictable weather scenario for these remote dwelling Dineh of this semi-arid high desert. Inhumane industrial occupation combined with government Anti-Indian policies have depleted Eco-Life sustaining systems, all which the Peoples of Big Mountain, Black Mesa were dependent upon for centuries.
Given these factors in maintaining support, a call for support was made in January to initiate a small scale emergency relief effort. We were blessed with just enough funds to get some hay, foods and firewood to elder resisters, especially those in the most remote reaches of the Mosquito Springs to upper Big Mountain area. A joint effort by both native and non-natives who took time out of their lives to use their own personal vehicles, some traveled from Flagstaff, Winslow and Colorado, as they found themselves on the miles of un-maintained roads and jeep trails that were inundated with thawing mud beneath a foot of snow. From the south, it was a gift to have two locals volunteer, Andy and Bahe (#2), to do deliveries out to Tiic Yaa Toh’ and Red Willow Springs area. The two met the main delivery out of Flagstaff at the paved road’s end to pick up the small load of hay and boxes of food. Briefly, memories and sadness were shared about three elders who have recently past. Then how the deliveries will be made were discussed, “head out in the dark of early morning when the mud is frozen solid.” A small amount of funds were given for gas expenses.
Andy: “Willie Sr. has about 60 sheep and goats. Old man Tsosie still has about 30 heads.” (Later) “This morning I met up with Shil’naa'ashi’, (paternal kin) Tsosie on the way to his place to bring hay and food. But we met on the road. He was so thankful! We shook hands. He said, ‘Áhxe’eh’éé to Bahe (#1), and all the support network!’ Elders are very contend people, even a little gesture of kindness means a lot to them. Love to see their expression on their faces and their hopes and love for peace. But their struggle goes on. I love my Peoples."
Bahe (#2): “I met my elder brother on his way out of the territory about 5:30 in the morning. Before turning around, we off loaded at the late Pauline Whitesinger’s homestead where her grandson still stays at the Stronghold with the sheep. I’ve heard about the wood crew and some elders getting loads. Also there was talk that the support wood crew were spotted by the BIA Hopi police patrols. People are thinking that the police might intensify their threats and harassment once the roads are all better.”
Scarce situations existed in the few places where more support could be delivered.
In conjunction with this hay and food deliveries, support came out of the north and from the frontlines of Standing Rock, ND. A returning work crew, led by Mercury, a Dineh from Sanders Ariz., were hosted at the Juniper Grove Stronghold of Upper Big Mountain. Their main objective was to cut more fire wood since they felt that the November 2016 caravan still needed additional deliveries.
"Wood cutting out here is no joke," Mercury explains.
The mud was so thick, trucks would only carry the crew so far in before they had to get out and walk to the cut and collection area. Because of the heavy fog of the Black Mesa high plateaus, two seasoned non-Native sheepherders guided the wood crew to some remote homesites of Big Mountain.
"We caught up with a tough rancher/resister who was driving her few cattle on horseback. She instructed us about the location of her firewood pile. When we arrived, there was nothing but kinlin scraps raked into a small pile." –supporter, Jake Stockwell.
In the dark of a cold evening, elder resisters, Harry and Bessie, directed their non-Native sheepherders to use flashlights to off-load the split firewood next to their dwindling pile.
"Nizhoní’ éé, nizhoní’ éé (Beautiful!)," Harry repeated. In Dineh he says, “It's nice to have good firewood again!”
For the few and last aging elder resisters with sheep, it's lambing season. They are unable to manage all their traditional routines of caring for the herds. Also, as for the few Native and non-Native volunteers, they are still learning about checking the corral during the night despite the freezing rain or snow. These were the few old Dineh ways, to monitor the corral throughout the night for new born lambs or kids, or make sure to stoke up the little stoves inside the sheep maternity ward. Trying the best as possible to raise sheep and lambs the way this threatened and vanishing, indigenous culture use to do it.
"We are all still out here. We will always be here! And so, thank you to all that remember us!" –Resister, John Benally.
“Yes, we are here, and Big Mountain Dineh resistance continues to stand with the Standing Rock fight against the DAPL. We hope to continue building a network system to collaborate more and be apart of enhancing as well as strengthening indigenous resistance throughout the western hemisphere. Big Mountain Dineh elders and their extended family resisters will also work hard to maintain our involvement of exchanges, for liberation and in the defense of our ancestral lands and its natural resources. From the south to the north, Hoka Hey, the time for liberation is here!” – Kat Bahe, Big Mountain Dineh.
Coal Mining: Navajo Generating Station (NGS), Peabody Energy Kayenta Mines
The voices of past traditional elder resisters still resonates about the 70,000 acre Peabody Energy’s coal mines that is adjacent to Big Mountain area, “Liver of Female Mountain is being carved out of Her body while She is still alive! (They) have conspired with a staged land dispute between us and our Hopi relatives. This is how (they) gained access to butcher Her.” But even their past words about why they resist has all vanished with history. It has been replaced by modern native activist attempt to question environmental policies, which are mere corporate procedural “guidelines” designed by scientific engineers of mining. Policies that are restricted to the discussion of water or other matters related to EPA standards, not the human factor nor the “irrelevant” claims of religious ties.
If most of the Dineh elders were here, today, they would simply say, “Stay cautions!” We are often misled by politics like native activism and their white counterpart rejoicing when the Mohave Generation station (MGS) closed. MGS had been receiving Black Mesa coal via a 260 coal-slurry pipeline that also used the region’s aquifers. However, those changes didn’t affect the massive coal mining or the continued extraction of aquifers. Now the stories being popularized are that the NGS will shut down and maybe Peabody will close, too. Peabody Energy has been surviving on government mega loans after filing for bankruptcy recently.
Just how much do we know about corporate global bank politics?
So, back to the original plan of the Four Corners National Sacrifice Area and within this plan also originated the relocation law, Public Law 93-531. The clusters of cities that would cover most of the Navajo and Hopi reservation. A giant metropolis that was to outdo southern Cal-LA, Phoenix and Las Vegas put together. Back to today, and the question that is not being asked is while Washington D.C. has repealed many laws, should PL 93-531 be considered for repeal? Likely not but instead the Justice Department and the BIA will push for complete removal of humans off Big Mountain – Black Mesa and yes, NGS may turn solar but Peabody can shift to fracking the Mancos Shale so technologically easy.
Your Participation is Still Vital:
These recent times of national upheavals between socio-cultural defensiveness and the unexpected militarized responses made by states, we are drawn to review our purposes on this planet and on the other hand, we seek deeper and perhaps spiritual meaning of how we can play a more effective role in supporting or joining the frontlines of resistance. If you have never been to Big Mountain in northeastern Arizona, it is as remote as the previous stories tell and such experience can be rewarding when allowing yourself to embrace the spirit of what was true indigenous existence. Leaving aside the ‘normal’ politics or the human egos, we can just imagine ancestors with their flocks, doing a ritual horse ride, harvesting and procuring corn, or carrying water from the natural springs in tight woven baskets.
This spirit of the human nature and its endeavors of today, however, face the capitalistic laws of global industrial madness. Unfortunately, this is also occurring elsewhere across Turtle Island and in the world. At Big Mountain on Black Mesa, it has been a 40 year struggle and it can still be defended and moreover, be saved. Volunteer helpers are needed, individuals must fully understand indigenous cultures and be mentally and physical fit, able to be self-sufficient and adaptable to cultural foods and to the elements. Have patient to observe and learn the challenges of animal husbandry, firewood chopping, build and repair with limit resources and tools. Contact us, join us.
This year, the 40th anniversary of the resistance, is a critical time. How? Look back at history and think about what were the last days of an Indian village like: before it got flooded by a dam project, deforested for oil drilling like in South America today, when Chief Crazy Horse’s people were militarily-driven onto the reservation, and the 1860’s Trail of Tears when the link to ancestry were severed? Big Mountain traditional elders are the last ones who: speak the old language – a language that tells of a universe the way modern thinking has never heard. The last ones who understood ecology and sustainability because they have lived it rather than practicing it from a book. Finally, these few last Dineh elder resisters are what true grassroot is, demonstrating a sovereign fight all based on Order from their ancient religions, religions that may not be –ten years from now.
This spring, a few of us hope to continue to trespass on our own lands to fix some roads, fix natural springs, shear sheep and goats by hand, try again to revive corn and squash planting, and basically to keep this indigenous world and us alive. You will have to contact us and come out, it is the only way for you to see our story. As the Dineh elders use to say years ago, “We are resisting on behalf of global society, we are not just resisting relocation laws for our own benefit.” It is amazing how they knew about this time, when global preparedness should already be in place. The land, the sheep and the hogans are here for you and if necessary, a territory upon where we can attempt to build or revive those elements of survival and strengthen the original human destiny. And if you are experienced from other battle fields, like Standing Rock ND, and seeking to continue your learning and contribute to peace, this is one of the places – Big Mountain.
-NááBahii (Kat Bahe) Kéédíniihii
(Contributing Writer, Jake Stockwell