Athena's Web
Week of September 3rd - 9th,  1999

Cowboy Consciousness

Columns Archive


   We are approaching an aspect which evokes the memory of the height of the Indian Removal period. Unless we, as a people, awaken to the travesty and hypocrisy of what is about to take place and do something about it, the patterns of history will repeat. Congressional legislation is in place to remove the final 2,000 Dineh (Navajo) people tenaciously clinging to their ancestral homelands, and the planetary alignments responsible for this blindness are inexorably moving into place. What follows is a synopsis of the Crisis on Black Mesa:

   "Our People, the Dineh, live on Black Mesa on land our families have occupied continuously from the times long before the Europeans first arrived on the continent. Even though several colonial powers claimed our land, we were able to remain to pursue our ancient way of life until the 1950s, when the nation's richest coal deposits were discovered beneath us. Since that time, many outsiders have fought for control of this wealth: a US government concerned with providing energy for its distant cities, tribal governments founded and run by white lawyers driven by greed, and Peabody Coal Company, which started one of the world's largest strip mines on our land. Our religion tells us we must remain on our sacred lands and protect them for future generations, but the outsiders have forced most of our people off the land and are viciously persecuting those who remain."

   "In 1974, the US government ordered all the people in an area larger than the state of Rhode Island to leave. They had no place to put us - until a containment dam at a uranium mine burst and generated the largest spill of radioactive material in US history. The US government bought the contaminated land and turned it into the "New Lands" for us. Some refused to leave and became Resisters, despite their attempts to evict us."

   "For over 25 years, we have not been allowed to repair our houses- people have even received citations for using mud to patch holes on their roofs to keep the rain off their children. We have no civil rights - we can not vote, are subject to arbitrary arrest, and can not go to any court to appeal actions by the government. Our wells and springs have been fenced off. We are blocked from our grazing lands, and our livestock are arbitrarily confiscated. Possessing firewood to heat our homes in winter is a violation of law, and we have to obtain permits to perform our religious ceremonies. The police who enforce these laws do not even speak our language."

   "Meanwhile, the coal company goes about its business of making millions of dollars for itself and the tribal governments which serve as its security force. They destroy our sacred sites and burial grounds. The air pollution fueled by the mines is the largest point source of greenhouse gases in the US, and has decreased visibility at the Grand Canyon by 50% since mining began."

   "The US government is implementing its Final Solution. Resisters are receiving 45-day evection notices which are enforced by heavily armed US marshals. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has sent investigators into the region, but US officials maintain that they are not subject to UN jurisdiction for human rights violations."

   Is this the world we are trying to create?


A Mining Town leaves its mark on the West

This picture of the near ghost town of Ophir City, Nevada, taken in the 1870s, points to the way the mining frontier left its mark on the landscape.

The Coal Rush Begins

   The richest known deposit of coal in the US was discovered on the northern part of the 1882 reservation. The Hopi did not have a government that could sign leases, as the people practiced their traditional self-government and their religion forbade coal mining. In 1951, John Boyden was appointed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a land claims attorney for the Hopi and began organizing a government which would be able to issue coal leases. The Coal Rush had begun. In 1955 his government was recognized by the BIA as the sovereign government of the Hopi people. A similar process was underway on the Navajo Reservation, where their appointed land claims attorney obtained a contract giving himself 10% of all future coal mining revenues.

   After the leasing authority was established, a lease was quickly signed with Peabody Coal in 1967 giving them the right to mine the area. The royality rates to the tribes were far below standard commercial rates, as John Boyden, negotiating the leases for the Hopi, also worked for Peabody Coal. The traditional Hopi leaders filed a lawsuit opposing the lease, as strip mining violates traditional Hopi religion. US courts rejected the suit.


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