Navajo Louise Benally: Arizona's cultural genocide
By Brenda Norrell
Photo: Louise Benally, Navajo, confronts Salt River Project in Phoenix, during recent protest of the company that operates the Navajo Generating Station coal fired power plant on Navajoland. Photo Resist ALEC.
TUCSON -- Navajo Louise Benally, resisting relocation at Big Mountain on the Navajo Nation, joined ethnic studies students to speak out against the ongoing cultural genocide in Arizona. Benally said the racism in Arizona now manifests itself in the banning of Mexican American Studies classes and books, including “Rethinking Columbus,” written by Native American authors.
Benally said this same racism permeating the Arizona government and profiteering corporations in Arizona is a reality in the coal fired power plants targeting Indian regions in Arizona, and specifically the coal mining of Peabody Coal on Black Mesa and the Navajo Generating Station coal fired plant operated by Salt River Project, on the Navajo Nation in Arizona.
Benally joined with ethnic studies students to rally against the Tucson Unified School District and State of Arizona in January, and then spoke out on First Voices Indigenous Radio, WBAI New York, which airs nationwide, on Thursday.
Benally said regardless of the struggles, Navajos living on the land still live in harmony with the land. Describing the natural herbs and healing ceremonies that come from the wild, she said these are now being contaminated by pollution.
"It is doing a lot of destruction,” she said, adding that the chemical trails are settling in the water and environment.
"Those are real problems we are faced with now, because a lot of the vegetation is being wiped out." She said Peabody coal mine releases pollution to the regional watershed on Black Mesa.
"It is just devastating.”
Benally described the three coal fired power plants on the Navajo Nation. There are the two in the Four Corners area near Farmington NM which leave a grey haze over the region. Then there is the nearby Navajo Generating Station near Page, Ariz., operated by Salt River Project, which produces more contamination in the region of Black Mesa near the Utah Arizona border. These coal fired power plants carry electricity to cities like Phoenix and Tucson while Navajos suffer with disease and pollution. Because of this, Navajos' aquifer on Black Mesa is being drained and their springs are drying up.
"We can't just continue to produce, produce and produce pollution," said Benally, adding that these coal fired power plants are making the ice melt in the Arctic.
Benally witnessed the devastation in Alaska and the melting Arctic first hand. She traveled to Alaska, as the guest of Alaskan Native villagers, from her home on Big Mountain on Black Mesa in Arizona, devastated by Peabody coal mining and the nearby pollution from the Navajo Generating Station power plant. Polar bear, walruses and seals are losing their natural habitat and dying in the Arctic, due to the pollution from coal fired power plants on the Navajo Nation and elsewhere in the US.
Benally described the changes to the climate and how development is creating this. She said if the land is not healthy, then life is not healthy either. On the Navajo Nation, the result is Navajos have high rates of respiratory problems and cancer due to the coal mining, power plants and other destruction resulting from the leases entered into between the Navajo elected government and profiteering corporations, like Peabody Coal and Salt River Project, who show no regard for the health or wellbeing of Navajos.
The targeting of Navajos with environmental genocide is mirrored by the banning of ethnic studies by Tucson public schools and the state of Arizona, she said.
"It is just really sad."
Radio show host Tiokasin Ghosthorse, Cheyenne River Lakota, described how the scheme of Arizona politicians, attorneys and Peabody Coal was to initially make it look like the so-called land dispute was between Hopi and Navajo. This scheme kept people from getting involved because they were led to believe it was an internal dispute between the two nations, rather than what it was.
The so-called Navajo Hopi land dispute was actually a carefully designed scheme to remove more than 14,000 Navajos from Black Mesa to make way for Peabody coal mining, which continues today.
Benally said, "They were pitting tribe against tribe to get at the resources," explaining how they did this to get at the coal and other resources, including the undergound water aquifer.
Benally said the Hopi tribe is beginning to realize the detriment to the natural resources. However, she said the elected Navajo government has not yet realized the destruction to the natural world by coal mining and power plants.
Urging Native people to revitalize the old ways and create sustainable foodways, she said, "We can still use the earth as our healing substance."
Tiokasin Ghosthorse closed by pointing out that in the city, people don't take responsibility for taking care of the land and say it is the US government's responsibility to deal with it.
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