Click on the Donate button to contribute to this year’s Thanksgiving Give Back trip to bring food, supplies, firewood and labor to the Big Mountain/Black Mesa region of the Navajo reservation where indigenous people are still facing forced relocation.
This is my dear friend, Louise Benally of the Dine’ (Navajo) Nation. I met her 25 years ago on my first trip to the Big Mountain region of the Navajo Reservation in Northern Arizona. She was born into a life of resistance and activism, fighting against great odds to remain on the land creator gave her people. She appeared in the 1985 Academy Award Winning Documentary, Broken Rainbow as a teenage activist, explaining the struggle against forced relocation and has been on the front lines ever since.
Her people live on land that holds coal, uranium and other resources the outside world uses to fuel a lifestyle that is poisoning our mother earth. Like the protectors in North Dakota, the Dine’ have long stood against these practices and warned of the consequences we face if we continue. In the time I’ve known her I’ve seen intimidation, violence, sanctions, live-stock confiscations, sacred sites bulldozed, drinking water wells capped, elders dragged from their homes, lies, broken promises and much more used against the people as tactics in continuing the pressure to force them from the land. They live in what some people call a “National Sacrifice Area”, adjacent to the world’s largest coal strip mine. Louise is one of only a few hold outs who have not signed the Accommodation Agreement, a 99-year lease that allows people to stay, but under restrictions and with an end date.
It’s the same all over this country. Indigenous nations suffer through the extraction, toxic processing and disposal of our energy and resource systems. People like Louise live with the collective memory of genocide – loss of land, people, language, song, ceremony, healing ways, plants, water and more than we can know. This is not just history, it continues today. But they are still there.
That’s why members of Clan Dyken and our extended family have been going back to Big Mountain every Thanksgiving since that first trip. It will be our 25th year in support of the resistors.
This year, in addition to our distribution of food and fire wood to families around the area we are organizing to bring building and repair supplies to Louise’s home site. We’ll play a concert there and have a few work days so she can keep a place on the land.
We are working on filling in the final dates for the 2016 Annual Beauty Way Tour. The concerts support the food and supply run. We start October 15th at the Refuge in Jamestown, CA and tour around California and Oregon before heading deep into the reservation for Thanksgiving. If you are interested in bringing the show to your town please get in touch. Clubs, small theaters, community centers, house parties, barn dances – we’ll do it anywhere it works.
To make this happen we’ll need your support and there are many ways you can help – sponsor or produce a show, come to a show, organize your own fund raiser, commit to coming on the journey (be careful it could change your life) or be creative and come up with a new way to produce resources.
You can also visit the Beauty Way page of the Clan Dyken web site to make a contribution.
After a one year hiatus we are going back to the land of the Dineh. Elders have passed on and those that remain are facing some very troubled times including live stock impoundment, arrests and large fines. Black Mesa Indigenous Support has updates on the current situation, including photos and first hand accounts of the suffering elders are facing.
With your help we’ve been able to connect for a long time to the people still holding sacred space with language, song, ceremony and a connection to the land. We are once again calling for your support in the form of your dance at the shows before we head to the high desert to deliver food, firewood and other supplies to this special group of people. Of course you are welcome to join the caravan for the journey of a lifetime, into a land and way of life that remain hidden in plain view from most.
It’s a small tour to long time supportive communities and then on to the land to bring your gifts and good will to the people. We’re excited to get out and bring some new and old songs to life with you.
Check out the links for details on special guests, food and all the other elements that make these events such great parties with a purpose. It’s all about the heart.
For more photos by Daniel Harrison please visit the Beauty Way Facebook page.
We did it again. Despite the hard economic times your generosity and compassion have prevailed. The people of the Big Mountain/Black Mesa region once more send their thanks and blessings to all of you who helped bring the food, firewood and solidarity.
I remember reading stories of the rail riding hobos during the depression era who knew if they had no money and needed a meal or a place to rest they would go to the part of town or a rural area where the people didn’t have a whole lot themselves. They knew that’s where they would find the most generous, understanding folks. It would be simple food or accommodations, but it would be given with kindness. This project reminds me of that. We come to you, our fellow members of the 99 percent because we know you to be true of heart. None of our supporters who make the journey or contribute their time, labor, money and energy to produce the shows or come to dance or contribute on line have a whole lot of extra resources, but by combining what we have we make a difference.
When the blanket makes its rounds in each of the communities the Beauty Way tours stops to visit, it is filled with mostly small bills, often crumpled and sweaty from the pockets of people who have been dancing hard.
Some dig real deep or even save up in anticipation of being able to drop the occasional one hundred dollar bill into the pile. That’s the magic of it all-the love the gift is given with. Like loaves and fishes, what always seems to be an amount too small when we start grows into enough to transport all that love in the form of food, blankets, clothing, supplies and firewood all the way to the very remote regions of the Dineh Nation.
By the numbers:
93 households served representing approximately 200 people
Over 5 tons of food distributed
100 organic turkeys delivered
20 cords of firewood delivered
When we arrived at Dove Springs this year we were blessed with incredible, warm weather, which always makes our task easier. Our camp of 30 people made quick work of dividing the goods. Then we teamed up with the 100 or so activists from Black Mesa Indigenous Support and the Colorado Crew to deliver what we had and get people together to cut even more wood than we could buy from our trusted wood cutter.
I only made one delivery trip, but it was a great one. The families on Coal Mine Mesa were doing well, which was a relief as I had heard some stories to the contrary. It was sad to find out Leo Yellowhair could not grow corn in his canyon last year due to extended drought, but he was in good health and spirits. Anna Begay was her usual feisty self and the smile she broke into when I handed her a beautiful quilt that was donated in Oregon was worth the trip. I don’t really know how old she is- I’ve been told she’s in her 80’s-but she is an amazing example of grace and toughness. Just that morning she had broken up a dogfight and suffered a pretty deep bite on her arm. The public health nurse happened to have a visit that day and bandaged her up. She showed no ill effects and was out in the yard making sure we stacked her wood properly. She was keeping the two young activists who were staying with her very busy and they were happy to be there.
We made the long trip from Coal Mine Mesa to Sand Springs, home of the Yazzie family. It’s been rough for the family since patriarch John Yazzie, a road man, healer, singer, respected elder and successful farmer passed away three years ago. It was great to see his son, Woody in such good spirits. They had a new solar electric system and Woody said they had a good year in the garden, growing corn, squash and melons.
His sister, Angie and her husband Rodger and their children were away at an event to raise funds to cover the expenses of sending Rodger Jr. to a bull riding competition-he’s a champion in his age group.
From there it was onto see the McCabes and the Nez family. These are both elder couples who are now living in new houses, built for them because they signed the accommodation agreement. The agreement grants Navajos 75-year leases for three-acre home sites as well as the right to graze sheep and to pray – as long as they apply for a permit from the Hopi government. If 85 percent or more of the affected Navajos sign the lease, the Hopi tribe will receive $50.2 million and 500,000 acres of land in trust from the federal government. It was nice to see these elders living in relative comfort after so many years of struggling. Mary Nez continues to weave beautiful rugs.
Ida McCabe had to give up weaving a few years ago due to arthritis in her hands. We were back in Dove Springs just after sunset. Other trucks were coming back from delivery runs all across the rez. Stories were mostly positive about the health and well being of many of the families we’ve been seeing for the past 20 years. Every year a few more of the elders pass on. I was particularly saddened to hear of the passing of Jenny Paddock, one of my favorite elders. We are seeing the end of an era. These are some of the last ones who live this close to the old ways. They remember a time before relocation, before cars and cell phones. Some survived boarding school, some managed to escape it. They have lived in the place and in the way the Creator intended their entire lives.
Over the next couple days all the food made it’s way out to the people. Evening fire circles gave way to morning prayer circles. Our hosts Tim and Belinda Johnson made everyone feel welcome. At one of the morning circles Tim reminded us how much the people, especially the elders look forward to and are grateful for the visit. He reminded us to look after each other too. That circle had people of all ages, from many different places, but they all had the same hearts. When we go around the circle it’s beautiful to see the faces shining in the morning sun as each person talks about what it means to be there. Every person is moved, many to tears as they describe why they have come, how much we all get from participating and how being on this land, with these people affects them.
For the week we were there the camp was busy with visitors, wood deliveries, story telling, singing, preparing and sharing meals, friendship, laughter and so much more. I know most people spend time with their families over Thanksgiving and I miss mine when I’m out there, but this is a true human family and community service is our bond. Thank you for helping to make it all possible. See you on the road.
A Bears Eye View
After an amazing series of events beginning with our epic bike music concert at the Port of Oakland during the historic general strike on the 2nd of November, where we witnessed what the San Francisco Chronicle estimated to be 100,000 people shut down the entire city and the fourth largest port in the country, and the ensuing 21st annual Revive the Beauty Way tour, we finally found ourselves in Arizona (Thanks to Keith of Sons and Development, in Grass Valley for filling my tank with biofuel).
A lot of dot connecting was going on for me regarding the relevance of the occupy movement to the ongoing struggle on Black Mesa where human rights are being trampled by multinational corporations extracting the resources so crucial to power the infrastructure of the military industrial machine that is in service to the %1 and massively polluting our biosphere by use of coal and uranium powered technologies of mass destruction.
Although we were pretty fried from the road it was great to be in Flagstaff and playing music at the Taala Hooghan, which is the info shop spearheaded by Klee Benally of the all Dine band "Black Fire". Klee was gracious to speak to us and bring us up to speed on the actions aimed at saving the San Francisco Peaks from being desecrated by developers bent on opening up more room for a ski resort. The Peaks are where the Kachinas that the Dine people pray to for rain abide. It is a sacred place for all the native people of the area and the plans to use sewage water to create artificial snow are an absolutely absurd example of arrogance so extreme as to boggle the mind. Klee has been arrested more than once over the summer and is facing some charges for his courageous actions in following his convictions, at one point chaining himself to a bulldozer to stop the project from going forward. You can learn more about this ongoing struggle at savethepeaks.org . He also filled us in on plans to occupy and disrupt the meeting of ALEC near Scottsdale Arizona beginning on the 28th of November, an action that was attended by some of the very resistors we served and ended up being wildly successful.
The next morning we were up early picking up the food, making connections and rolling on out another 100 miles to our base camp at Dove Springs. On the way we stopped briefly in the town of Leupp where there is an ad hoc open market with Dine people selling out of the backs of trucks and such. I bought some locally harvested, roasted and salted pinion nuts from a man there, and a fat white sage stick from a dreadlock Dine woman who also had other wild crafted herbs for sale, we used the sage in the morning circle. At camp it was yurt up, tarps down, boxes of stuff divided into units, food cooked and consumed, music played, firewood loaded, some days of deliveries driving around in groups of trucks. We have gotten really good at this.
One of the things that stood out for me this year was the nifty new mini, mobile, co-generator modules that were in place at some of the "accommodation" homesteads. They have an ample array of photo voltaic panels, a small wind generator, a bank of batteries, charge controller, and inverter, all in one neat unit that looks like it can be loaded by a forklift into a large pickup truck. I have mixed feelings about the accommodation agreement. On the one hand it certainly looks like at least some of the signers have made a deal that makes it much more doable to live on the remote family home sites scattered on Black Mesa. With the small rectangular, modern modular homes and these power units to provide electricity, these folks are definitely more comfortable and seem to have some breathing room from the oppression of the constant threat of relocation. On the other hand, it is only a 75 year lease, and then what? Tim Johnson expressed that he was feeling like burning the agreement because the conditions were not fully met. Seems to me the signers have given up a measure of sovereignty inferred in the lease to the Hopi tribe. They are confined to three-acre plots with a host of restrictions, including being required to have permits to hold gatherings and ceremonies, as well cut firewood. Also it has proven to be another way of dividing the resistance as non-signers such as Pauline Whitesinger are expressing their disapproval at watching their neighbors enjoying their new homes and power systems while the ones who have stuck to their guns are still toughing it out in grinding poverty unable to maintain their own dwellings and driving in raggedy rez mobiles or waiting for someone to come and help them with transportation needs. They still have little or no electricity or running water while the coal to light up all the southwest is being grabbed from under them. The pressure is tremendous for these holdouts to join with the others, their mood is desperate. Reviews are mixed and the jury is still out as far as I’m concerned.
Just a few stories of our friends out there; Last year our intrepid Tzadi H. had paid for and ordered a custom weaving from Mary Nez, but she couldn’t make it because the wild flowers that she needed for the colors did not bloom for lack of rain. So Tzadi will have to wait just like the corn that the desert people hang on to until they feel there will be enough rain to nourish it before they put it in the ground. However, I bought a fine dazzler blanket from her this year. I was stoked that she recognized me, and even more, when she came to give gifts of hand beaded necklaces to us she wordlessly, and with her big smile, gave me an extra one for Somer who, sadly, had to leave the tour after the Ashland show this year to be with her grandmother who was passing over due to cancer. Since Mary doesn’t speak English, she couldn’t tell me in words what she was thinking, but it seemed to me that she somehow understood what was happening and was offering her support for Somer and her family in this difficult time. As we drove away both Mary and Calvin came out of their house to wave us off, they are both very old. Buying their exquisite, world class, art is one of the best ways to support these elders and a person lucky enough to have one of these valuable weavings is enriched in many ways indeed.
For me the significant factor in the success of the Yazzies’ garden this year was that it was largely planted and tended by the young men of the family. Good to see the next generation taking over. These twenty somethings were proud of their melons, corn, and beautiful "Navajo" winter squash which they showed to me. They humbly gave the credit to Woody but he told me he hardly lifted a finger on the project due to some health problems of his own.
On the route up Big Mountain Boulevard it was good to see old friends and catch up on news. Just to give you an idea, here is a short story written by Mary Katherine Smith: "ok a kick in the little butt! i very rarely ask for help, but i kindly asked a couple organizations to assist me with firewood since my chainsaw is in the shop and i don’t see getting it out soon. after asking i was brushed off my wood level wouldn’t last another week at the time, and lo and behold! i believe it was santa. he was in a veggie diesel ford truck with firewood. this man had a long beard and dreadlocks! then another man arrived, this could have been his elf. though they have never met. He knew how to throw an axe, now i’m set for a good two months. Ho Ho Ho.”
There is so much to talk about and you would really have to make the trip to know what I mean by that, and so we have to pick and choose stories in these newsletters. So now I want to shine a light on a woman named Shannon Francis who is half Dine and half Hopi. She is the mother of six and a seemingly tireless activist in support of her people. She seemed to be everywhere at once. She was there helping the Yellowhairs’ with trucking water for their animals, she was there giving Anna Begay a shampoo. She was at the Blackrocks’ where the other supporters were camped. At one point she was going to Hotevilla where one of her children is to be initiated and she asked me if there was anything we need from Hopi. "Piki bread" I said hopefully. There were some new folks with us who have never had a taste, plus I personally can’t seem to get enough of this stuff. The Hopi people make it by using a very thin porridge of blue corn meal toasted to a crispy perfection on a hot rock and then rolled into a delicate, flaky, tube like bread. When we got back to camp after dark there was some waiting for us, she had somehow managed to get the stuff and make it back to Dove Springs before us. The next day there was a whole box of it. The next time I saw her she promised to introduce me to her supplier but because of her water carrying priorities that never happened, so now I have that to look forward to next year. Shannon is much more than a good piki hookup. If you are lucky enough to be on her email list you will be receiving a constant flow of vital information to keep you abreast of happenings in Indian Country. She is a permaculture advocate and an important member of the Colorado support network. She is currently working on, among a host of other things, water issues and other ways to bring Hopi and Dine people together for common goals. Good stuff.
I also want to shine a light on our very own Mr. Mark Dyken. The brother number one had a very rough trip this year as his back had been bothering him before even leaving, and this trip will whoop your butt even when you are feeling your oats. By the time he left the rez he could not walk, stand or even lay down with comfort. Remember he also did most of the bus driving for the whole tour plus playing his usual rock solid best as the drummer for Clan Dyken in all of the nine shows across California, Southern Oregon, and one in Arizona. You will notice he did not mention any of this in his report, which is typical of his too blessed to be stressed style. He gets the purple heart for this year!
I also want to give a shout out to veteran supporter, Mike Gerrel, who couldn’t make it because of his health. Mikey, you are missed and mentioned often by resistors and supporters alike. I hope you can feel the love. Be on the lookout for Mikes short homemade film on the struggle at Black Mesa, which I hear is excellent.
Each year after the gifts are delivered and supporters are ready to leave, there is a gathering, a closing circle, open to all the supporters and resistors. This year it was held at the home of Clarence Blackrock near the coal mine. Food is prepared by the longtime stalwarts, Seeds of Peace, featuring the amazing chef, Grumbles. It’s at this gathering that we get to pray with, and hear from the elders who can make it, one more time. Dine crafters are presenting, contact info is being shared, local foodstuffs such as blue corn meal and cedar ashes, are for sale (which I am always on the lookout for), and upcoming events and projects are talked about. As I looked around the crowd it struck me once again what a diverse, and unlikely group we are. Many languages are being spoken, everyone is feeling welcomed and accepted. The gratitude is palpable. I felt warm and well fed, and I didn’t really want to leave but my adventurous friend, Kern, and I had gotten a ride in the back of Tzadis’ truck with our long bikes as we had ambitiously planned to ride the forty miles back to our camp at Dove Springs. We were prepared to camp somewhere along the route but as we got going through the highlands and the sunset melted into night, we just couldn’t seem to stop, even after I had taken a minor mashup on a hairpin turn. The terrain is rough and rocky with craggy arroyos cutting through here and there. Down the dramatic grade into Wide Ruin Wash and up the other side. It was well past dark by the time we got to the Rocky Ridge School. We were not talking much. We were in a bicycle trance. Just about the time we got to Newspaper Rock, where all the petroglyphs dance on the half circle of high, red walls, we heard the cheering of our comrades rolling by. When we finally made it to camp there was a nice warm fire in the yurt. The pleasant conversation and laughter mixed with my dreams until one by one everyone drifted off to sleep.
In the morning we took down the yurt, packed up everything and zeroed out the camp, trash and all. Tim and Belinda sat in circle with us and shared mountain tobacco and stories one last time. There were some in our group, like Dar, who had been talking about a spring trip this coming year. Stories of friends, families, and issues facing the people were kicked around. Some of the Dine people and supporters were headed for the ALEC actions near Scottsdale. Here is a link to a video of Louise Benally speaking there, listen to her carefully, she is speaking in her second language. If you have any questions about why we have made this trip 21 times and plan to do it again next year, this should answer them:
Spring Planting Anyone?
Last week we received a call from John Yazzie Jr. of Sand Springs. He wanted to know if we would be interested in helping with spring planting and expanding the fields. A new tractor is needed and the family could use labor to put in the crops. He specifically said they don’t just want the financial support, they want to work together to make this happen. This is great news. I know we can manifest a tractor and a good crew. If you are interested in any part of this opportunity please contact us. We’ll keep you updated on this wonderful development.
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.
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.
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 2008 Thanksgiving Give Back trip in support of indigenous people in the Big Mountain region of the Dineh (Navajo) Nation was an adventure of love and light.
Once again the support of people in this musically connected family rose to the occasion and raised the funds and energy to supply over 100 families with food, labor, fire wood and other supplies. From the shows to the journey, the organizing, food and firewood pick up and delivery, setting up and maintaining the camp and group kitchen, connecting with other groups and people to improve our service. The entire event is magic and it reaches these wonderful keepers of sacred fire.
As times get rough for first world Americans they get a small taste of what many people, -especially traditional people- on the reservation, live with every day. Grandmothers told one group who delivered food to their remote homesteads that they were so glad to be remembered. It is a hard life out there. But it is a beautiful life. When we remember them they smile.
During our stay the land it is always finding new ways to reveal its beauty. This year one way was a powerful thunder storm that blew into Dove Spring the night before Thanksgiving. The lightning flashes were so bright the camp looked as if it was being hit by an arc welder and the thunder grew louder and louder, like an avalanche as the storm moved right over our camp. I watched from the warmth and comfort of the bus as the canyon lit up and the earth shook. In the morning through out the camp we talked about the charge the storm left on the land. In some ways like the charge the land was leaving on all of us.
When it was over 100 families recieved food boxes, hundreds of jackets and warm clothes were distributed, 35 cords of cut and split firewood were delivered. Much harder to measure is the impact on the people who made the journey. That will take some time.
It was a perfect day for running with a bunch of fun people. I did not make it under four hours as per my goal i did however beat my last years time by three minutes or so.
At four hours thirteen minutes and fifty one seconds I am glad i made it standing up. Thank you to everyone who pledged to support our spring trip this year. We will post the total amount when we figure out what it is.
Bear, Mark and Somer finish the Big Sur International Marathon in April 2007. Nearly $1800 was pledged for us to run 26.2 miles, in support of the people of the Big Mountain, Black Mesa and Sand Springs region of the Navajo Reservation.
Spring planting has been limited by washed out roads. We left funds to repair the tractor the family needs to repair roads and plow fields. Next up is the fall tour and Thanksgiving Food and Supply Run.