Navajos and Appalachians protest Peabody Coal in St Louis, protesters arrested

By Brenda Norrell

Courtesy photos: Top photo Fern Benally, Navajo of Black Mesa

About one hundred protesters gathered in downtown St. Louis today outside of the Peabody Coal corporate headquarters. St. Louis locals were joined by Navajo residents from Black Mesa, Ariz., Appalachians from coal-burdened West Virginia, and supporters from across the United States, to demand the cessation of strip mining and accountability for land and people.  

Navajo residents of Black Mesa, Don Yellowman and Fern Benally, demanded to speak with Peabody CEO Greg H. Boyce, and deliver a letter, detailing their concerns.   (Read it here.)

"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. The pristine Navajo Aquifer is irreversibly damaged," the statement said.

About a dozen protesters were arrested for linking arms and refusing to leave Peabody property when Boyce refused to meet with Navajo representatives. Protesters included representatives from Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, Radical Action for Mountain People’s Survival, Black Mesa Indigenous Support, Veterans for Peace, SEIU and other labor unions.

Protesters said in a statement:

Activists dropped a banner from two nearby buildings reading, “Stop the War on Mother Earth. Peabody: Bad for St. Louis, Bad for the Planet” and “Peabody Kills.”

According to eye witnesses, the police used pain compliance pressure points and the twisting of heads as they arrested them.

One arrested member of Veterans for Peace was handcuffed, walking compliantly with police and was suddenly thrown to the ground by the police.

The rest of the protesters, upset by Peabody's unresponsiveness and the police violence, took the march into the streets of St. Louis with a banner reading, "St. Louis! Stop Subsidizing the Climate Crisis".  After marching through the streets, the protest returned to Peabody Headquarters and disbursed.

Peabody, the largest coal company in the U.S., operates massive strip mines on Black Mesa, Ariz., ancestral homelands of the Navajo people. Tens of thousands of Navajo families have been forcibly relocated in order to clear the land for Peabody’s strip mines; this constitutes the largest forced relocation of indigenous peoples in the U.S since the Trail of Tears. To this day, Navajo and Hopi people are engaged in resistance to the forced relocation and mining practices threaten the land and livelihood of future generations.

In nearly 45 years of operation, Peabody’s mines on Black Mesa have been the source of over 325 million tons of carbon dioxide discharged into the atmosphere#. The strip mines have damaged countless graves, sacred sites, and homes. 70 percent of a once-pristine desert aquifer has been drained for coal operations. The remaining groundwater is polluted, causing devastation to a once-flourishing ecosystem.

“The mine affects lots of ways of life. It’s destroying the places that have names. Everywhere you go here, every place has a name: names I learned from my grandparents, names that have existed for hundreds of years.  A lot of those places and knowledge of those places and cultural values are being destroyed by the mine. It’s destroying our way of life,” says Gerold Blackrock, a resident of Black Mesa.

Peabody’s strip mines harm the health of communities wherever they operate, from Black Mesa to Appalachia. Appalachian miners’ hard-earned healthcare benefits and pensions are threatened by Peabody’s business practices. “Peabody and Arch dumped their obligations to retired miners into Patriot.  This was a calculated decision to cheat people out of their pensions,” said retired United Mine Workers of America miner Terry Steele.

“Enabled by the City of St. Louis, Peabody’s corporate executives hide out in their downtown office building, removed from the destruction they cause in communities across the nation,” said Dan Cohn, St. Louis resident.  In 2010, the Board of Aldermen, in conjunction with the St. Louis Development Corporation, gave Peabody a $61 million tax break, including $2 million that was designated for the St. Louis City Public Schools.

“Peabody’s everyday business contributed to this summer’s triple-digit heat waves and historic drought. St. Louis residents are here today to stand in solidarity with the other communities that Peabody impacts and demand that our city stops subsidizing the unjust relocation of indigenous people and climate change. We need our taxpayer development dollars to be invested in green jobs, not corporations who have no regard for human life,” Reggie Rounds, a MORE member, said.

MORE is currently collecting signatures for a ballot initiative that would force the city of St. Louis to divest public money from fossil fuel corporations and switch over incentives to renewable energy and sustainability initiatives. The St. Louis Sustainable Energy ballot initiative has gained the support of numerous local social and environmental groups, small businesses, and 6th Ward Alderperson candidate Michelle Witthaus, who was present at today’s protest.

Today’s action is part of a growing movement for indigenous self-determination, and against exploitative business practices that destroy communities and land.

More statements from Navajos at Black Mesa:

 http://bit.ly/PBD-press-packet

brendanorrell@gmail.com

About Brenda Norrell

Brenda Norrell has been a news reporter in Indian country for 34 years. She is publisher of Censored News, focusing on Indigenous Peoples, human rights and the US border. Censored News was created after Norrell was censored, then terminated, by Indian Country Today after serving as a longtime staff reporter. Now censored by the mainstream media, she previously was a staff reporter at numerous American Indian newspapers and a stringer for AP, USA Today and others. She lived on the Navajo Nation for 18 years, and then traveled with the Zapatistas. She covered the climate summits in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and Cancun, Mexico, in 2010.

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About Brenda Norrell

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http://www.bsnorrell.blogspot.com/

Biography

Brenda Norrell has been a news reporter in Indian country for 34 years. She is publisher of Censored News, focusing on Indigenous Peoples, human rights and the US border. Censored News was created after Norrell was censored, then terminated, by Indian Country Today after serving as a longtime staff reporter. Now censored by the mainstream media, she previously was a staff reporter at numerous American Indian newspapers and a stringer for AP, USA Today and others. She lived on the Navajo Nation for 18 years, and then traveled with the Zapatistas. She covered the climate summits in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and Cancun, Mexico, in 2010.