Traveling to the Dineh Nation for Thanksgiving is a bit like traveling through time as well as space. In the course of the journey I feel not only history, but the future as well. The vast, expansive landscape – much of it unchanged for a millennium-stretches the limits of my eyesight and expands my vision. The lines between hope and despair, past and future, blur as the richly colored earth races by, reminiscent of the line between the sky and mountains in the distance. As the mountains and sky seem at times to be so close to each other and then so far apart, so it is with hope and despair, past and future on the reservation.
According to a timeline on the Dineh website www.lapahie.com the people we know as the Navajo (Dineh) were settling into life between the four sacred mountains around the time of Columbus’ arrival on Turtle Island. There is a great deal of history before and after that time for the Dinehtah (people), but the present and future remind me of a period of history starting when Mexico and the United States of America signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848 ending the Mexican War. Mexico, having lost the war, was forced to give up half of its country-Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California. The Dineh homeland was part of this massive land settlement.
A great deal of conflict followed between the Dineh and the new “landlord” the US Government, eventually culminating with Kit Carson’s “Scorched Earth Policy”. (sounds a lot like W’s Shock and Awe) Carson had his troops kill sheep and other livestock, burn orchards and crops, destroy hogans and anything of value to the people. He hunted down and rounded up all those he could and in March of 1863 he marched them 350 miles from Fort Defiance in Arizona to Fort Sumner at Bosque Redondo in New Mexico, through a spring blizzard. Many died due to the harsh weather conditions or starved, others were killed for moving too slow, women were raped, the old left to die.
After five miserable years of deplorable conditions for the captives and great cost to the US Government, civil war hero General William Techemseh Sherman was sent to negotiate a resettlement to reservation lands in Kansas or Oklahoma. The great Dineh war chief and leader Barboncito refused to sign the agreement as written. He said the people must return to their homeland. He told Sherman:
"When the Dineh were first created, 4 mountains and 4 rivers were pointed out to us, inside of which we should live. That was to be our country and it was given to us by the First Woman of the Dineh. It was told to us by our forefathers that we were never to move east of the Rio Grande or north of the San Juan Rivers and I think that our coming here has been the cause of so much death among us and our animals. First woman when she was created, gave us this piece of land and created it especially for us … I hope you will not ask me to go to any country except my own … They told us this was a good place when we came, but it is not!"
The Dineh were allowed to return to their homeland, the Navajo Reservation was created and eventually grew to be the largest reservation in the country.
Fast forward to the 1940’s when energy companies began to petition the US Government for the right to the coal and other minerals below the ground the Dineh were living on.
The ugly dealings and deceit that eventually culminated in the 1974 passage by congress of the Navajo Relocation Act would take pages to describe. What has followed is the largest forced relocation of Indian people since the 1800s. Over 12,000 Dineh were eventually moved to relocation housing from the Black Mesa/Big Mountain region of the reservation. The official government storyline is the act was passed to settle a land dispute between the Dineh and the neighboring Hopi tribe, the truth is it’s all about the coal. So history continues to repeat itself.
It’s been 27 years since Clan Dyken did our first benefit concert with AIM leader Dennis Banks to aid the Dineh people who continue to resist this forced relocation. Since 1991 we’ve been personally bringing the food, firewood and supplies you send us with to let these folks know we support them in this struggle. A lot of you have joined us over the years. This struggle encompasses so many of the issues we all care about: human rights, social justice, energy policy, environmental stewardship, religious and spiritual freedom, global warming, corporate greed, government corruption and if I may be so bold, the very soul of the nation as it deals with the indigenous people of Turtle Island.
Over the years there has been a steady dwindling of the population in resistance. Elder leaders have passed on and younger generations have moved on. In fact there are only 29 people left who have not died, moved off the land or signed the Accommodation Agreement (a 75 year lease to live on the land). During this time I’ve seen a lot that would cause many to give up; an ever expanding strip mine, extended drought, capped off or dried up wells, confiscated live stock, bull dozed hogans and sacred sights (remember Kit Carson), poverty, lack of economic development or opportunity, deceitful politicians and bureaucrats and a general lack of respect for the ways of the people.
At the same time there are things that bring hope- the language, culture and spirit of resistance are strong, the perma-culture movement has taken root, people have learned to organize and Dineh activists are making connections around the world. One of the most promising developments we discovered on this trip is the return of relocated people to the land. We were happily surprised as we delivered goods to remote home sites and found there were more families in the some areas than last year. Some of those who signed the Accommodation Agreement and continue to live on the land are talking about tearing up the leases and bringing family and clan members back as well. I heard one local leader talk of encouraging thousands to start moving back and retake this land. The words of Barboncito echo through the years and come back to life as the people come back to live between the four mountains.
With your help we raised a vibe and brought it along with thousands of pounds of food, supplies and firewood and served over 110 families. Our crew of about thirty people coordinated with over one hundred activists organized by Black Mesa Indigenous Support network who provided work parties as well.
The days were warm, the nights clear and cold, the circle strong and time was irrelevant. The future is now and we are making it.
Photos by Dan Harrison-For more pictures visit the photo gallery at www.clandyken.com/giveback
We recorded this Thomas Spellman song at Dove Springs, part of the Go Outside and Play series.