2009 Thanksgiving Report

img_4160Traveling 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.

foodIt’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.

The Traveling Song of an Old Singer

The Yazzi family of Sandsprings have been picking up the pieces and putting their lives back together following the loss of their father this year. When we arrived just before Thanksgiving some of the brothers and nephews were hunkered around a laptop watching a movie. It was dark outside, they had one lantern burning, and three pieces of firewood. It was good to see that they had taken most everything out of the house and were cleaning, painting, and fixing up the place. We returned a couple days later with firewood, roofing material, and some sheet rock to help with the improvements. As we were watching the younger men work with some wild horses they had captured, Woody, the number three son, pointed out that the big cottonwood tree in front of the house had blown over, cracked off at about three feet high. He said he was hoping it would put out another shoot and live on. That statement inspired this song which came to me on the long lonely ride home. I call it "The Traveling Song of an Old Singer".

another skinny old man took his walk to the west and no one here can say
where he went when he went away
and the wind moves like a river of air across the lonely land
where does it go when it’s blown away?
like the painting of sand that was made by his hand and in three days swept away
where did it go when it was sent away?
they say that flesh and bone is a temporary home for the spirit of a man
where does it go when it flies away?
big wheel is turning
the last echoes of the songs of the old singer
black fire keeps burning
he shook his rattle now he’s traveling on
his eyes squinted into the sun and the wind for most of ninety years
and he leaned like a desert tree
a grandson of the ones who were marched by the guns and survived to return again
they survived and returned again
to a place near the wash and a spring on the hill where the peach trees used to be
there he raised up his family
and when the government lines for uranium mines pushed most people off the land
he was rooted where he took his stand
big wheel is turning
the last echoes of the songs of the old singer
black fire keeps burning
he planted his seeds now he’s traveling on
way out there still near the spring on the hill the morning sun shines through
a door with an open view
you can hear his voice in the sound of the language coming from within
his sons and daughters and his grandchildren
like a fresh new shoot on an old tree root they survive and return again
they survive and return again
and the struggle goes on as i sing this song and the struggle’s gone on so long
they survive and return again
big wheel is turning
the last echoes of the songs of the old singer
black fire keeps burning
he said his prayers now he’s traveling on
old trees are falling
they’ve scattered the seeds for the life of the new trees
the old ones are leaving
they’ve done their dance now they’re traveling on
they’ve done their dance now they’re traveling on
they’ve done their dance now they’re traveling on
they’ve done their dance now they’re traveling on