One thousand miles is a long way to travel or it’s just a few blinks of the eye, depending on your perspective. World leaders, business tycoons and diplomats criss-cross the globe in jets and a thousand tiny miles zoom past far below, as a family walks from the homeless shelter to the food bank in one of the towns that dot the landscape. Somewhere between the speed of a 737 cutting through the sky and the measured pace of a well worn, too large tennis shoe shuffling down the cracked sidewalk, a caravan rolls through time and space to a land out of time. You were on that caravan. You loaded it with food, warm clothes, firewood and kindness. You delivered the message of hope and connection to elders and families that live beneath the chem trails and wide open skies of the high desert in the land of the Dineh. You put smiles on the faces of the people who Walk in Beauty through the land the Creator put them on so many years ago. They were glad to see you.
Once again this journey- art form-fact finding mission-supply delivery trip-live social networking session and celebration came together to serve the families on the land and the supporters from afar. For twenty years now people like you have kept this connection strong. In good times and especially in the tough times you make sure we let the People know we stand with them. This year the journey to the Dineh Nation featured musical stops in Prescott and Flagstaff along the way. In Prescott we played an acoustic set at The Sacred Bean, a coffee house in the downtown area. We were graced by a visit from Dineh elder, long time resistor and activist Katherine Anne Smith and her equally dynamic daughter Mary Katherine. I don’t often see the elders away from the land. It was a special moment to have her sitting on a couch right up front listening and smiling as we played “Revive the Beauty Way”. In Flagstaff we stopped at the Taala Hooghan Info Shop, a grass roots, indigenous activist and community action headquarters. The building also houses Outta Yer Backpack Media, an incredible indigenous youth media hub.
From the OYBMedia web site – OYBMedia is an Indigenous youth response to the need for media justice in our communities. We seek to create community ownership of media through youth empowerment. We challenge corporate dominated media by telling our own stories and by establishing our own networks and opportunities for media distribution. We emphasize resource access for youth with a focus on media literacy.
Young people worked on short films and other projects until the wee hours of the morning while we were there. It was inspiring to see the level of awareness and the movement into action by these sharp, young minds.
We played an acoustic set in a small room, where a small stage was set up opposite the martial arts work out equipment that had been pushed to the back. The evening started with an opening talk by Danny Blackgoat, elder, teacher and son of the legendary resistor, Roberta Blackgoat. Danny talked for a long while, but one of the things that stuck with me was a message I’ve heard before from long time activists. It’s important to keep doing the good work and fighting the good fight no matter who is paying attention. We must be guided by our highest principles and remain true to them no matter the difficulty or odds against success.
Klee Benally, one of the three siblings who make up the band Blackfire joined us to finish the show. We backed him up as he rocked the Peter LaFarge song “I’m an Indian, I’m an Alien”. In addition to being an award winning artist and musician, Klee is a dedicated activist and a driving force behind Taala Hooghan and OYBMedia. He’s a mentor to the youth who are learning how to use the media and a great voice for indigenous issues.
The next morning we left Flagstaff just in front of a winter storm. As rain and snow filled the sky around the San Francisco Peaks (Dook’o’oosłííd) behind us, brilliant arcs of color could be seen all around the landscape. We were driving the Beauty Way Prayer – Beauty before me, Beauty behind me, Beauty above me, Beauty below me, Beauty all around me – I walk (drive) the Beauty Way. The rainbow light show stayed with us for more than two hours as we made our way to Dove Springs, the homestead of Tim and Belinda Johnson. These kind folks have been sharing their place with us for many years and it feels like home when we pull up the long dirt road to their little canyon.
Our crew of 25 people, ranging from toddlers to elders and all ages in between quickly set up camp. Bear’s yurt was erected and looked like it really belonged among the sandstone cliffs and ledges. Tents filled the sheltered spaces between rocks and washes, wood smoke from the fire circle twisted into the air and the space was prepared for the food divide. We combined forces with a group from Colorado and the well organized, long time stalwarts, Black Mesa Indigenous Support who base in Flagstaff. Food came from all the camps, dog food was in place (thanks Maureen!), clothing and blankets were gathered and divided, fire wood was cut by supporters and trucked in from Flagstaff. The place was buzzing as the work force dove into the task of dividing and delivering more than five tons of goods, 25 cords of firewood and loads of love to 110 families spread out over hundreds of miles of dirt roads in remote locations all around this part of the reservation. From Big Mountain to Blue Canyon, Teehsto to Jeddito, Sand Springs to Coal Mine Mesa and beyond. The names of the places start to tell the stories and every year we add a few more chapters.
There were some anxious moments as we were getting set to start deliveries. Word came to our camp that one of the volunteer sheep herders, who was placed with an elder couple was lost. She had been missing for more than a day and people were quite concerned for her safety. Night time temperatures were in the single digits and she had already been out one night on her own. Search efforts were being hampered by politics as well. Since this is technically Hopi land the Navajo Search and Rescue teams were not being allowed to look for her and the Hopi seemed to have little interest in helping out. A promised helicopter never materialized and as the second night of the ordeal approached she had not been located and was certainly in a dangerous situation. Exhausted teams of supporters searched long after darkness fell on the second night, but could not find her.
That night as we gathered in the yurt for music and stories Tim Johnson told us he was certain the Dineh tracker who was now on the case would find her. He was right. By mid morning of the next day as our camp was preparing to join the search we heard she had been found. Weary and exhausted, but in good shape she was reunited with her family and headed back to San Francisco. Once the extra drama was cleared up people turned back to the task at hand with a sense of urgency. We needed to get things out to families ahead of another approaching storm. Just as it has been for the past 20 years people applied themselves and completed the mission.
It is amazing to be part of such an effort and to feel the connection between the people. To be somewhere without “us” and “them”. We know our offerings are small, but as Tim told us in one of the morning circles at Dove Springs, the people of the land look forward to this time of year and truly enjoy receiving these gifts. Even more than the material things they are glad and buoyed by the knowledge that people know who they are and what they are going through. Yes, they were glad to see you. For photos of the journey by Daniel Harrison please visit the gallery.
Additional Ruminations by Bear
I just finished reading "Yellow Dirt" "An American Story Of A Poisoned Land, And A People Betrayed" by Judy Pasternak, an excellent book for anyone wanting some more background on the tragic environmental impact of resource extraction on Indian country. I first became aware of Pasternaks’ work from reading her five part series in the L.A. Times on the history of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation. Her straight forward style mixes the personal stories of affected families and a thorough attention to general history following through to the present struggle for compensation, clean up, and resistance to the next push for uranium. Reading this book lead me to a broader understanding of the magnitude of the abuse of the people and the land that happened in secret during the uranium boom at the end of WW2 and in the years of the Cold War arms race that followed. Pictures and a map showing all of the uranium mines (a whole lot of them right near Tuba City) are featured. I also learned about two new movies of relevance from the book: "Navajo Boy" and "Hear Our Voices" which i would really like to see. This book crosses our path at many passes. It outlines the story of the largest radioactive spill in U.S. history. 100 million gallons of radioactive stew dumped into the Rio Puerco, which happens to be where the resistors we visit are being pressured to relocate to. It got me thinking about our friends the Yazzie family from Sand Springs, who tried to claim their compensation checks because they were down wind from the nuclear weapons tests north of Las Vegas and are entitled to the same support as was offered to the people of Saint George Utah and other down winder communities. What is the true cost of these reckless tests? Is there any way to truly pay for such devastation? They never did succeed in navigating their way through the various government agencies to get the checks. Grandma has since been long gone, and now Grandpa too, but the radiation is still blowing around. And what about the Western Shoshone who’s land the nuclear weapons tests occurred on? Is there any way to "compensate" the people for making them the most bombed nation on earth?
The indigenous peoples of the American South West have suffered greatly for the excesses of modern society and the military/industrial madness that leads to the building of enormous stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and the production of mass pollution. We are proud to stand in solidarity and to be humble deliverers of some boxes of food and firewood and some songs and good cheer to the heroic people who fight on to resist relocation from their sacred home lands, which makes them the front line defense against multi-national corporations greedy for the oil, coal, and uranium on Indian lands. A heart felt THANKS for every little contribution that keeps this magic happening happening.