Support the Navajo Resisters of Big Mountain
Revolutionary Worker #959, May 31, 1998
The Navajo resisters of Big Mountain are facing new threats of evictions and government impoundment of their livestock. Elders at Big Mountain have put out a call asking volunteers to come, work with threatened families on the land, and "witness, document and assist in a non-violent resistance to forced relocation."
For many years, there has been an intense confrontation over Big Mountain--a stretch of land in the Four Corners area of the U.S. Southwest. The Four Corners is the largest area inhabited by Native People in the U.S.--including reservation lands of the Hopi and Navajo peoples. (The Navajo are also known as the Dineh.)
Major corporations have, for decades, shamelessly exploited the rich natural resources here. The countryside is dotted with the radioactive waste from uranium mining. Peabody Coal Corporation has built North America's largest coal strip mine on Indian land, and has been draining 1.4 billion gallons of underground water a year from underground reserves for hundreds of miles. In this way this dry region's precious and irreplaceable water resources are wasted and contaminated. The coal provides energy throughout the Southwest--while the Indian people here live in deep poverty and often don't even have basic electrification or running water in their hogans.
One area of Four Corners--around Big Mountain--was long known as Joint Use Area. For a hundred years, Navajo and Hopi people have jointly lived on the land. However energy companies discovered rich minerals under the soil. They inflamed a "Hopi-Navajo land dispute" as an excuse to have traditional Navajo people expelled from this land.
In the 1980s, 10,000 Navajo people were forcibly relocated from this land. That was the second largest forced movement of people in the U.S. during the 20th century--second only to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War 2. Adding murder to injustice: the U.S. government relocated many of these Dineh people to areas severely poisoned by toxic uranium.
Two Big Mountain resisters, Lawrence Altsisi and Chris Interpreter recently traveled on a speaking tour of the Midwest. Chris explained to the RW: "What they didn't tell these people is that in 1979 the river Rio Puerco had the largest toxic waste spill in the history of this country--radiation leak. They didn't tell these people about it and they moved them. Out of these 10,000 people that have been moved, 25 percent of them are dead or dying.... and because of that my Navajo nation has the highest rate of birth defects in this country today."
About 2,000 Navajo people heroically refused to leave Big Mountain--and in 1996 were placed under heavy pressure by the Clinton administration. Under a so-called Accommodation Agreement, these people were "permitted" to stay on their traditional lands--but with severe and unjust restrictions. They were forced to lease their land at high prices from the Hopi tribal council, greatly limit the size of their sheep herds, and obey severe restrictions of wood usage and building on their own land.
Chris Interpreter told the RW: "They knew the Navajo people had close to 100-300 sheep and most of the families have less than 100. Cutting by 86 percent would leave people with only 8, 10 or 20 sheep. I know a family who only has two sheep because of the livestock reduction."
The agreement was designed to make it extremely difficult to survive by herding sheep in the Big Mountain area. And it only promised to allow people to stay for 75 years. Those who violated the new rules were threatened with fines and evictions. Many signed the agreement, in hopes of staying on their land. And about 12 families completely refused to sign.
Now the local authorities are threatening to enforce the details of this Accommodation Agreement--starting on June 1. In particular, the authorities are threatening to steal the sheep of those families that refused to sign--and force them to relocate. And they are threatening to confiscate sheep of any other families that violate the outrageously low limits imposed by the Agreement.
For more information:
Sovereign Dineh Nation/Dineh Alliance
(505) 371-5551, PO Box 2889, Window Rock, AZ 86515,
Big Mountain Hotline: 612-362-5964.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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