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Letter from Fern Benally (Black Mesa, AZ) and Don Yellowman (Tuba City, AZ) to Peabody CEO Greg Boyce

January 27, 2013 by  
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January 2013
St. Louis, MODear Mr. Greg H. Boyce and other Peabody Officials,

We have traveled from the Navajo Nation located in what is now the State of Arizona.  We are in St. Louis on behalf of some of the elders from Black Mesa/Big Mountain who are impacted by the coal mining back home.  This letter is to request a face to face meeting with you or others responsible for the coal mine out in Black Mesa, to address our issues and concerns.  We personally live within the boundary and vicinity of Peabody Western Coal Company.

The 46 year old strip-mining on Black Mesa is devastating for our people. Our Dine’ (Navajo People) are facing forced relocation as Peabody Western Coal Co., makes way for the strip-mining; in addition to the many environmental and health issues which they face on a daily basis. The pollution from Kayenta Mine on Black Mesa is visible every day. The coal mine does not effectively extinguish coal fires to prevent the toxic gases from being emitted. The gaseous pollution poisons and endangers the respiratory health of the residents.  Many coal miners suspect they have lung diseases caused by the coal but Peabody Western has adamantly denied coal being the direct cause of pulmonary diseases. The residents have noticed increased prevalence of lung problems since the coal mining began in late 1960s and 1970s. It does not require a high education to make the correlations.

Before Peabody’s arrival, natural springs were plentiful. Our animals, both wild and domestic, quenched their thirst effectively without needing to search for waters. Wildlife was in abundance, as were domestic livestock. Natural springs are extinct now. Black Mesa residents now face the daily chores of hauling water. They drive as far as 30 to 40 miles round trip to deliver potable water to their homes and livestock, while wild animals are left to fend for themselves. Water is essential for life. However, Peabody has wasted billions of acre feet of irreplaceable water. The pristine Navajo Aquifer is irreversibly damaged according to researcher Daniel Higgins, PhD.

The only option, Peabody Energy, is to transition to solar. It is well known, fossil fuels are the dirtiest energy and coal emits the most carbon dioxide, contributing to global climate change. Coal causes detrimental effects to the Indigenous Peoples of Black Mesa. Peabody needs to be active in the immediate healing of Black Mesa residents. The healing process can begin with Peabody Energy ceasing further coal strip mining on Black Mesa. Now is the time to about face and turn to renewable energy. To take initiative in healing, Peabody Energy and Peabody Western should put profits into solar and allow the residents of Black Mesa to create their own way of life as we see fit.

Our people live with these impacts, as Peabody Western reaps financial profits in the billions each year from the bountiful resources extracted from the heart of our ancestral land. The Dine’ people are unable to focus on their prayers and sacred offerings because of coal mining impacts. We, also request that there be a study to collect scientific data available for respiratory diseases from coal mining on Black Mesa.  We have personal knowledge and we witness the damages, losses and impacts the Black Mesa people have endured physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Black Mesa is where it all begins.  The Dine’ people struggle to survive, as the southwest cities benefits from cheap resources.

Finally, a direct message from our elders living on their ancestral homelands in the former joint use area now known as the Hopi Partitioned Land: they have asked for you to stop mining on Black Mesa and to stop the forced relocation of our people immediately.  Tens of thousands of our people were forced to leave their land to make room for your mine, making this the biggest forced relocation of Native people in this country since the Trial of Tears.  Do not expand your mine anymore!


Fern Benally
Don Yellowman


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