Genocide at Black Mesa
miles from a paved road or a telephone; at times even from another
soul who speaks English. The sun is hot and the workdays long.
There is intense surveillance and harassment by the authorities.
I’m between a fierce resistance and an ancient indigenous culture.
And I’m not in Chiapas. I’m not even in another country for that
matter. I am deep in the desert of Black Mesa, AZ, in the Navajo
Nation, a sacred yet tense area commonly called “Big Mountain,”
as a supporter to the community resisting relocation.
In 1863, the US government dispatched Kit Carson to subdue the
Navajo, whose farming lifestyle stood in the way of white settlement.
He engaged in a “scorched-earth” policy of killing livestock and
destroying homes. Eventually over 8,500 Navajos were captured
and forced to march 300 miles to Fort Sumner, NM, the first “reservation”
in America, where many of the Navajo died. Eventually they were
allowed to return to “freedom” in the form of a larger reservation
centered around the Big Mountain area only to now face the largest
forced relocation of any racial group since the internment of
Japanese-Americans during World War II.
In 1974, the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act was passed, masterminded
by Arizona Republican Barry Goldwater, and authored by self-described
“reformer,” John McCain. Claiming it would finally settle a long-standing
“land dispute” between the Dine and the Hopi tribes, the settlement
called for the relocation of over 10,000 Dine but less than 100
One thing that struck me at Black Mesa was the contrast between
being both removed from and deeply centered within corporate capitalist
society. There were no Starbucks on every corner, yet the entire
Dine culture, despite its existence outside of such goods, is
being swallowed by them. It is hardly a coincidence that the “land
dispute” is over land that happens to sit on top of the largest
unstripped coal deposit left in the country.
In 1996, McCain drafted an “Accommodation Agreement,” which offered
benefits to the Dine for relocation or an option to remain on
the land for up to 75 years—but with reduced livestock grazing
rights, no chance to pass on land to families, and subservience
to the Hopi tribal government. McCain gave the Dine people two
choices: sign the agreement or be forcibly evicted from the land
in four years.
There are currently several hundred Dine who refuse to sign the
Agreement and resist relocation. The resisters, as well as supporters
like me, are subject to constant harassment and intimidation by
the Bureau of Indian Affairs police, often in the form of livestock
impoundment. This is particularly devastating because the livelihood
of the Dine people depends on sheep and goats.
Relocation is genocide to the Dine people as their religion and
spirituality is site-specific.They have looked to the United Nations
and other human and indigenous rights groups for help; in fact,
the situation was the target of the first UN investigation on
human rights violations on US soil in the country’s history.
Although it has been a few months since I left, the words of Dine
elder Pauline Whitesinger continually echo in my head: “There
is no word in the Dine language for relocation. To relocate is
to disappear forever and never to be seen again.” #
author is a student at Evergreen College in Washington. Excerpted
from Punk Planet, Nov./Dec. ‘00.
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