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Big Mountain Resistance 2005

August 1, 2005 by  
Filed under Voices from the Land

Report & Update: The Big Mountain Resistance Summer 2005

Summary of excepts & translation compiled by Bahe Katenay of Big Mountain

The “Forum on Black Mesa: Corporate Globalization & Indigenous Cultural Survival” was held on July 10, 2005 in Flagstaff, Arizona. This meeting was sponsored by the Black Mesa Indigenous Support (BMIS) volunteers. The conference’s purpose was to initiate a dialogue among volunteer supporters, local and regional indigenous environmental organizers, and representatives from the on-land resistance movements of Black Mesa and Big Mountain. The attendance at the forum was nearly 60 with at least 15 representatives from the relocation resistance and/or traditional Dineh communities.

One elder resister could not attend the forum but a video recorded message from her was shown. Besides the presentations from the relocation resisters, there was a Dineh medicine man, a couple of indigenous environmentalist spokespersons, and a traditional Hopi spokesman. Others in attendance were local peace and justice organizers, environmental activists, and those who listened about the Black Mesa human struggle for the first time.


Pauline Whitesinger speaking in Dineh set the mood for the conference in terms of how the ultimate effects of corporate globalization intruded upon indigenous culture. Through a video recording Pauline’s statement outlined specific conditions: “Living under the harsh US Relocation Policies still continues. There is no peace in our everyday life. Our lives inside the ‘restricted zones’ that is marked by these barb-wired steel fences are very much different from the normal everyday lives of most Americans and native peoples.”

Mrs. Whitesinger mentioned several aspects of an un-peaceful livelihood that included, “We, the traditional elders, have lost our children because of the ‘precursors’ of the Relocation Policies which was the BIA-government schools. We don’t know where they all live but all we know is that they are far away. Now, our grandchildren speak no Dineh language and I cannot communicate with them.”

“The foreign American society has taken all the good values from us,” Pauline adds, “They have even taken our endurance to live within the ecosystems and they have taken our longevities. I no longer see, as I have in my childhood, 90 year old women with canes as they plowed deep snow with their feet so that a herd of sheep can make their way. Today, we elders fall victims to new kinds of sicknesses and all we hear about is ‘she is on medication’ or ‘she fell and had to be admitted to the hospital.’ The days of a healthy Indian nation are gone. ”

Rena Babbitt Lane, another elder resister, and Lawrence Altsisi, a younger resister both shared Pauline’s words about the feeling of abandonment, the loneliness, and being persecuted. Rena is in her late 70s and her husband had a heart attack in 2001 during a period when the BIA law enforcement authorities were disrupting their traditional lives. Mrs. Lane is now being look after by her son, Jerry, but the Relocation laws continues to make their lives a nightmare. Lawrence Altsisi was the only sole member of a family who refused to sign-up for relocation benefits. However, his mother had signed a legal deed that stated property rights will be maintained by him. The BIA-Hopi law enforcement personnel informed Lawrence that he has no legal resident status upon his ancestral estate.

Mr. Altsisi states, “The BIA authorities have closed off the gates along the (federally) partitioned fence line to prohibit me from entering my home site and to tend to my cattle. I am the only one left out there and the whole community that I once belong to have been relocated under the US policies of 1974. I have attempted to negotiate with the BIA-Hopi officials and the Federal Relocation agency but they say to me that I ‘have no choice’ but to give up. I have no intentions to give up because my ancestral estate was taken unjustly and illegally.”

A traditional Hopi spokesman reaffirmed his solidarity with the Dineh relocation resistance movement: “I want to express my support for what our Elders have just stated. And we must continue to listen to them. Also, we must never forget those Elders who have passed on and not forget what they had said about this relocation that is going on at Black Mesa. I know that my Elders were opposed to the coal mining on Black Mesa for many years before (the federally installed) tribal councils agreed to the Peabody leases. We must keep up our fight to stop the destruction of our sacred homelands just like our Elders stated, here today, and as Elders of the past have stated also.”

In her Dineh language, Rena B. Lane sums up the overall effect of globalization, “Our lives within the ‘partitioned lands’ must be unimaginable to majority of the (industrialized) society. Try to see what it is like to not have water, to see your livestock thirsty, to live in the midst of a great drought, to have your nearest water wells capped-off due to federal policies, and to drive 70 miles everyday to haul 250 gallons of water to your resident. Sometimes we do this twice in one day. I have horses and a herd of sheep and goats to water, and we need water for our household as well. On top of all this, Peabody Coal Company is flushing coal using our ancestral waters through a pipeline that just passes right by my home.”

“I bring your attention back to what my aunt, Pauline, said,” Mrs. Lane continues. “It is true that before the massive coal mines of Peabody came there were abundance of natural springs and the seasonal monsoons came as natural as it could be. Again, it is all too true what everyone is saying, here today, that our Mother Black Mesa is being drained of her bodily fluids and this has altered the ecosystems. The relocation policies restrict us from having water so that Peabody can have all the water of Black Mesa. Is this what we deserve? What kind of human rights is this?”


One of the regional environment organizations that participated in the Forum was the Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC). This five year old organization composes of educated youth that are members of either the Hopi or Dineh nations. Its members are also from the Black Mesa area and they are personally affected by the issues of culture and environment that is taking place on their homeland. BMWC also coordinates efforts with various groups of the area like Toh Ni’Zhoni, the Black Mesa Trust, and both the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) and Dineh CARE (Citizens Against the Ruining of our Environment). Besides the advocacy work on behalf of the environment and its peoples, BMWC also does training and projects about sustainability and youth leadership in the Dineh and Hopi communities. One of the primary goals is to help the youth about world politics and the concepts of globalization and then, have the youth make connections to their own communities.

Enei Begaye of Shonto, Black Mesa and a coordinator for BMWC explains, “We try to make a connection to our everyday life like opening the refrigerator or turning on the lights. These everyday needs causes what is now manifesting on Black Mesa, and realizing that impacts do occur every time a refrigerator is opened or lights are turned on. The young people need to make those connections. Also, connections need to be made with the needs of the people in southern California who receive all of the coal and the water from Black Mesa. Southern California receives majority of the electricity and the Colorado River water for their lights and lawns. BMWC’s efforts are to have people, not just people of southern California but everywhere, to understand that all of our actions are connected to all that is happening at Black Mesa. It needs to be known how our actions affect our Elders who are here, today, and the one we saw on video.”

A Dineh medicine man brought some of his helpers to this Forum. He and the community representatives that came with him had been in support for the efforts to protect the San Francisco Mountain from ski-resort expansions and artificial snowmaking. He also emphasized that Dineh history goes far back into ancient times and that, the dominant white society must stop thinking that the Dineh are recent settlers who are without any identity. Mr. Nez clarified that Dineh religious belief systems are so strongly tied to these ancient times of evolutions. Though, medicine man, Norris Nez, resides in Tuba City his original community is near the San Juan River of the Four Corners, and he expressed that his original community has been impacted by years of emissions from several coal-fired power plants.

In his native tongue, Mr. Norris Nez states: “The regions where I am original from and where my relatives still live had been experiencing many life threatening health problems. This is all because our Mother Earth has been forced to have many power plants and more coal-fired plants are being proposed in my original community. Many members of the communities are being admitted to local hospitals because of lung disease and many are undergoing surgeries. Some have to rely on artificial lungs but there are not enough for all these patients. I strongly believe that these lung diseases are caused by the exhausts from fossil fuel engines and materials and that today, these emissions make-up our atmosphere. Extractions of coal and the industrial burning of it are very destructive and please, understand this. I feel that the continuous exhaust emission from fossil fuel has now exceeded the atmosphere’s capacity to replenish itself.”

Klee Benally, the founder of the Indigenous Action Media (IAM) and has family roots that extend back to Big Mountain, Black Mesa. He shared some reflections about the Forum, and his presence was to represent the Save the Peaks Coalition (SPC), as well. IAM is involved in empowering the youth to utilize media production as a tool to communicate and preserve their cultural heritage. The SPC has been the current, driving force which coordinates oppositions to the artificial snow-making proposals. This proposal intent to use the City of Flagstaff’s ‘reclaimed’ sewer water for snow-making. Local environmental organizations along with 13 Arizona Indian nations have all opposed this proposal for the ski-resort upgrades on the San Francisco Mountain. The environmental factors include the dangers of toxic contaminants that will impact the regional ecosystem. The cultural and religious concerns are voiced by the indigenous nations who feel artificial snow-making is a desecration of a sacred environment where traditional rituals are still practiced.

Here is how Klee spoke about the theme of the Forum, ‘Corporate Globalization,’ being the essence as to why everyone has come to the Forum -to see how globalization-values cause devastation to environment and humans: “A lot of what has been presented shows that these are intense issues. But we are not here to dishearten you people. We are hopefully here to communicate that we all can be part of the solution. And to communicate that the lifestyle choices and our choices to take action when we see this type of injustice happening. And that is the solution. We can come together and work together with various different groups. At times, we might have to meet with those we oppose which bring about a near understanding about ‘coexisting and comprising,’ but sometime there is no possibility because we look at what we are faced with, the cost of what we are paying, and because of the coal or another resource to be extracted.”

“The issue of the San Francisco Peaks is about resource extraction and the resource is recreation that is the commodity,” Klee explains. “And that is what we are faced with as well. So, it doesn’t matter where you are struggling to protect sacred sites. Even if it is not the San Francisco Mountain, it could be Mount Graham, the Petroglyphs National Monument of New Mexico, or the Black Hills, or Mount Shasta. If you are struggling in protecting sacred sites you are insuring the continuation of our cultural sovereignty.”

Klee concludes, “How can we deny the suffering that exist and is shown or communicated before us? How can we deny the environmental destruction? How can we continue to align ourselves with value systems or support value systems and make lifestyle choices that benefit off those tragedies and off those kinds of destruction? This is an issue of cultural survival.”


· Black Mesa Indigenous Support (BMIS) composes of a limited number of volunteers but will continue to insure the continuation of network dialogues to define more feasibility ways to coordinate issues and actions on Black Mesa.

· Elders and youth of the relocation resistance communities will be informed about the agendas and efforts of the current active organizations that participate at various levels to protect and preserve the environmental/cultural integrity of Black Mesa.

· The representative participants at this said Forum all acknowledge that the human experience of the impacts of religious intolerance that is being perpetrated by: the energy companies, recreational institutions, double-standards of tribal governments, and the U.S. Executive & Judicial Branch, and this will remain as key issues of discussion within in the regional, grassroots efforts.

· Once dialogues are set in motion with other regional organization and when the human removal/displacement factors on Black Mesa is better realized another Forum will be coordinated that will echo the same theme of the struggle for cultural survival and anti-globalization.

· BMIS will reassess the support and put forth more effective strategies to lend support for those Elders and their extended families that are currently labeled as ‘trespassers,’ ‘illegal residents’ and/or ‘non-signers’ of the 75 Lease Agreement, as well as, support for certain traditional Hopi resisters to modernization and federally-forced land claims settlements.

· BMIS will periodically sent out mass mailings to residents and activist groups of the Black Mesa and Big Mountain areas to maintain dialogues of issues and updates.

· BMIS and residents of the restricted ‘partitioned lands’ will maintain updates about the progress of the John McCain Bill 2005 and noting that, relocation is genocide but the U.S. government has created an even larger tragedy with its Relocation Bill of 1974. Thus, the U.S. government must not escape from the tragedy it created using this current Bill, and they must be accountable for the thousands of displaced population, numerous deaths related to loss of land, and the loss of hundreds of religious significant sites and pre-historic sites.

· There is an urgent call for on-land volunteer assistance like livestock care, repairing water catchments, mobilize for fall season supply deliveries, and to help start a program to install small-scaled solar/wind energy and establish better wireless communications for a couple of remote home sites.


Black Mesa Indigenous Support

P.O. Box 23501

Flagstaff, AZ 86002

Voice Mail: (928) 773-8086



© 2005 Bahe Katenay
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