Only the Creator will Relocate Me
Somehow the sky in the desert seems more ancient than other places. Maybe it's the way it stretches on endlessly without tall trees to hold it up and make it feel separate from the ground. It suspends itself with help only from the sun, moon, and stars, and it watches, without blinking for more than a moment here and there, everything that moves or doesn't move below. I spent two months last spring under the sky on Navajo (Diné) land in northeastern Arizona. I lived with four generations of the Blackrock family and I took care of their sheep during a time when the federal government passed yet another law calling for the relocation of native people. I went down there to give support to the Diné people as a witness to the turmoil in this quiet place, and to open my eyes, my heart, and my mouth to what should not be happening to these people. And to the Blackrock family, who shared with me their hogan and their hearts, I promised that when I left I would share their story...
In 1864, nearly 10,000 Diné people were forced on the long walk from their homes in Arizona to New Mexico and held prisoner in the concentration camp at Ft. Sumner for four years. Thousands died from the walk, the cold, starvation and disease. They were released due to public outcry about money, not human torture. Many people walked the long way back to their homes with their sheep and re-built their lives. One hundred and ten years later the federal government broke yet another treaty and with the passing of P.L. 93-531 forced another 10,000 Diné from their ancestral land. This Relocation Act of 1974 placed a new border around the Diné people living in the Joint Use Area (Hopi/Navajo) and placed them under Hopi tribal government jurisdiction. It took away their soveriegn rights and also placed them under a fully armed Hopi tribal police force who, in the 28 years since, have used intimidation, livestock impoundments, strict and expensive permits for firewood gathering, secret monitoring, religious restrictions, and a building freeze (issuing tickets and arrests for fixing broken windows, roofs, etc.) to wear down the people... until they finally give in and leave.
And why do they want these traditional subsistence sheep herding people to leave? It may be because this land contains the largest coal field in North America and Peabody Western Coal Company leases the land for America's largest strip mine (103 square miles). This land is also rich in oil shale, uranium, and natural gas. The land lies within the four mountains considered to be the sacred center of the Earth to the traditional Diné and Hopi people.
In 1980, the U.S. federal government established a new reservation for the Diné called New Lands, along the Rio Puerco River in Arizona. They lost their grazing rights and were placed in non-traditional track houses built cheaply and without foundations,"paper hogans", that the people have to pay to fix as they fall down within 2-3 years after they're built. This New Lands is also the area where, in 1979, 97 million gallons of radioactive waste broke through the United Nuclear's Churchrock dam &emdash; the largest nuclear spill in U.S. history. Do I need to say that the rates of death, cancer, and birth defects are very high?
There are now about 3,000 Diné left living on the "Hopi Partitioned Land"(HPL). They are in the way of the mine, and their removal equals dollar signs to Peabody Coal, the Navajo Tribal Council, the Hopi Tribal Council, and many people in the federal government. These tribal councils are puppet governments not recognized by the traditional Hopi and Diné peoples. Peabody Western pays $45 million/year in royalties to the Navajo Tribal Council and funds 65% of the total annual budget of the Hopi Tribal Council. The survival of these institutions depends upon the mining. So these three forces created the "Hopi-Navajo Land Dispute", claiming that these people were fighting over the land and opening the door for the U.S. federal government to intervene and settle the so-called "dispute". (It should be noted that the U.S. government, through the process of federal recognition and setting up of tribal governments under the Department of Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has, historically, sought to undermine and diminish the importance of traditional peoples and their "way of life").
On Columbus Day, 1996, President Clinton signed P.L. 104-301, The Accommodation Agreement to settle the "range war". This agreement gave these remaining Diné three choices: 1. relocate to New Lands, or elsewhere; 2. sign the lease agreement and be allowed to remain on three acres with one sheep, one goat, one cow, one horse for 75 years, not to be passed on to their children; or 3. refuse to sign or leave and be "removed by any means necessary". To these people, most of whom are elders and speak no English and who can trace themselves and their traditional relationship with the land back 18 generations, these ultimatums mean nothing. How can they be forced to compromise their way of life because they are simply living?
Everyone knew that the Accommodation Agreement was bad and that they shouldn't sign. But the Hopi Tribal Council was to receive over $25 million if they coerced 65% of the families to sign by April 1st. So with lies and threats, most people signed at the last minute. When I asked Clarence Blackrock why he signed, he said "If we don't sign they will evict us. If we do sign they will evict us anyway when they feel like it." The people just want to live and die in peace and provide a home for the young people.
These public laws and actions violate human rights. Burial and sacred sites have been bulldozed in violation of the Native American Grave Protection Act. Water rights are violated as Peabody pumps 1.4 billion gallons each year from aquifers to run a 275 mile slurry line to Nevada (Might I add that the people living on HPL have no water or electricity). The divide-and-conquer tactics violate sacred agreements between the Diné and Hopi traditional leaders. The removal of the people threatens fulfillment of Hopi prophecies of global upheaval and destruction. Their religion and culture mandates that their home stands where they are bonded with the land.
Rickson Bedonie says, "Our religion tells us that there is a coal god--that the coal is the liver of our Mother, the uranium is her lungs. By digging and stabbing at this coal, our religious people have daily thoughts of this murder and it makes them sick."
Katherine Smith, 79, says, "These laws were passed without our knowledge. I believe the land was stolen. Our livestock are stolen. Even our very being is stolen. They threaten to throw us off the land. They put fear in our hearts, and this is the way they are killing us. The land that I am sitting on, there are many minerals underneath that could bring wealth to people. This is why they crush me with their laws to tell me I do not belong here. For these reasons I am resisting. I was born here. Big Mountain is my mother, and that is why I remain. She is the one who will decide when it is time for me to return to her. This is when I will leave."
Roberta Blackgoat, 77, explains her connection to the land this way: "My ancestors were all buried around here. ...Our prayers are all here. ... Inside the Four Sacred Mountains are the guts of the Mother Earth. ... It is for those reasons that I am asking you to stop the injustice and destruction of our lands, our people. We do not recognize this Law 93-531 [or 104-301]. We had no way to understand this thing being done to us. It is against our laws. We are going hungry because our livestock is being taken away. We are homeless because we can't build. We are losing our children. ...Please help us to stop this inhumane treatment of our people, our animals, our land. Let us have the peace and the treaties that gave us the right to our land."
The Hopi Tribal Council will receive an additional $50 million if they remove the remaining resisters off of H.P.L. by the year 2000. As I walked beneath that ancient sky of Diné land, I was very aware of these terrible forces ripping the people and land apart. But I was equally aware of the unfathomable and deep strength of the oneness of the Diné and their home. Let us help them raise their voices to the sky and make them be heard.
Please send letters and contact the following:
Senator Paul Wellstone
2550 University Ave. West
St. Paul, MN 55114-1025
President Bill Clinton
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington DC 20500
(request that he give State Dept. approval for a United Nations fact finding delegation to Big Mt.)
Chairman Ferrell Secakuku
The Hopi Tribe
PO Box 123
Kykotsmovi AZ 86039
Janet Reno, Attorney General, U.S. Dept. of Justice,
Constitution and 10th St. NW
Washington DC 20530
US Dept. of the Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington DC 20240
For more information, or information on how to be a land Supporter to set up a Diné support group in your area, contact:
Twin Cities Dineh Defense Alliance,
PO Box 583082
Minneapolis, MN 55458
hotline -- (612) 362-5964
Media Island International
PO Box 7204
Olympia, Washington, 98502
In mid-April there will be a Supporter conference in Flagstaff, Arizona. Please come to show support and educate yourself to educate others.
Theresa Gigante lives in Maple City, Michigan, near Traverse City, and is dedicated to matters of the heart and of healing through love and awareness.
Return to the Index of Synapse 43, Spring 1998