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USA: Struggle at Big Mountain

Thu, 10 Jun 1993 17:38:00 PDT

## Original in: /APC/NLNS/NEWS
## author : nlns@igc.org
## date : 07.06.93

The Long Struggle at Big Mountain
Arthur J. Miller, Big Mountain Support Network, Bayou La Rose

"The white man does not understand that the Indian is bonded to their land and cannot be treated as parcels to be distributed like the U.S. mail."
--Askie Betsie

(NLNS)--The struggle at Big Mountain is one of the longest and most complex struggles in modern times. To understand the current situation we must take a look at the history which leads up to the resistance of today.

Long before the white man ever came to the area the Dine (Navajos) and the Hopis lived near each other and were trading partners.

In 1583, Spanish "Explorer" Antonio de Espero reported Dine and Hopi living side by side in the so-called disputed area. In 1680, in the Pueblo Revolt both Dine and Hopi fought together to drive the Spanish out. In 1693, Spanish reoccupied all the area [except for the] Hopi land. In 1848, after the U.S./Mexican War the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo was signed and the U.S. agreed to never remove the native People from their land.

Starting in 1849, white settlers began to flood the area and the U.S. war on the Dine thus began. Colonel Kit Carson destroyed Dine livestock and crops and forced all captured Dine [to go] on a 400 mile walk to Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Thousands of Dine died on the walk and while they were imprisoned in a concentration camp. After four years of starvation in the concentration camp the Dine were forced to agree to the Navajo Treaty of 1868, which forced them on to a "reservation."

In 1871 all "Indian affairs" were placed into the Department of the Interior and a program was started to "civilize" them by kidnapping Dine and Hopi children and placing them in prison-like schools for indoctrination. There they were told that their traditional ways were bad and they were not allowed to speak their own language. In 1882, President Arthur issued an Executive Order which created the "Joint Use Area."

There were three lines drawn on a map by the white government in Washington. First, the Hopi Reservation in the center; around that was the "Joint Use Area," and around that was the Navajo Reservation. At that time all land that Indians were placed on was viewed as worthless. The government was short-sighted in the creation of the "Joint Use Area" because neither Dine or Hopi were given control over the area. It was just viewed as a dumping ground of Indians who had no other place to go.

In 1909 coal was found on the Black Mesa. The companies found it very hard to sign leases so in 1923 the first Navajo Tribal Council was set up by the Department of the Interior at the request of Standard Oil. In 1934, the Indian Reorganization Act was passed which imposed these government controlled Tribal Councils on all Native Nations. In defiance the Dine and Hopi repeatedly disbanded their tribal councils. Since much of the Black Mesa coal was beneath the "Joint Use Area" the government had a problem; neither the Navajo or Hopi Tribal Councils could sign leases. So in 1946, Mormon lawyer John Boyden was sent to try to get a job with the Navajo Tribal Council to press a claim to lease rights in the area. He was rejected by the Dine who wanted no part in the government's plan. Then the Department of the Interior picked Boyden to go back and settle a dispute over the land that did not exist. He organized a Hopi Tribal Council and hired himself to resolve mineral rights. In 1958 Boyden wrote P.L. 85-547 which passed Congress, authorizing a Boyden suit to settle the land claims.

In 1962 the Boyden suit "Healing vs. Jones" won and was upheld by the Supreme Court. This suit gave 1,000 square miles to the Hopi Tribal Council. In 1966 the Navajo and Hopi Tribal Councils signed the first leases for the largest coal strip mine in the U.S., with Peabody Coal. Boyden also represented Peabody in these leases. Because of the difficulty in passing a law to divide up the whole area a "ranger war" was fabricated by the Mormon P.R. firm, Evans and Associates. This was exposed by the Washington Post. Still, the plan worked. In 1974, Congress passed P.L. 93-531 which divided the area 50/50 between the two tribal councils. It called for the forced removal of all Indians on the "wrong side of the fence." There were about 100 Hopis and over 10,000 Dine living where the government said they could not. To help with the forced relocation the law included a 90% livestock reduction to try to starve the Dine off their land.

In 1977, U.S. District Court decreed the partition line.In 1980 P.L. 96-305 was passed, which set the deadline for the forced relocation on July 6, 1986. This deadline was misunderstood by many, for when the government did not move in on that date people thought the Dine had won. What the deadline really meant was that the government could move in at any time after that. Two things are important to understand. First, this has nothing to do with any dispute between the Dine and Hopi people, rather this is all about mineral development. Most of the "Joint Use Area" and most of the Hopi Reservation is within the Black Mesa mineral formation. Within time all Native People living within that formation will be in danger of losing their homes. Next, as many people think, you cannot just repeal P.L. 93-531 because there are other laws and court rulings.

Peabody Coal plans to strip mine coal from the area, move the coal by rail to Dong Beach, CA, and ship it to Japan. Japan wants this coal so that they can stop buying coal from South Africa. Already Peabody has two strip mines operating on the Black Mesa, just outside of the "Joint Use Area." They produce about 12 million tons of coal annually. The coal is shipped to the Navajo Generating Station at Page, Arizona, and the Mojave Station 273 miles away. The coal [going] to the Mojave Station is slurried by pipeline along the Colorado River. The water table is being lowered by this and springs are running dry.

The Dine people have resisted the forced relocation. This started with Dine Elder Pauline Whitesinger confronting fencing crews in 1977.

Since that time many miles of fence have been taken down. Many Dine people have been arrested and some have been beaten. In 1977 both Dine and Hopi people met with outside supporters and requested assistance. The government has continued its harassment of the Dine resisters in the form of low flying military jets, livestock reductions, a ban on all new construction, poisoned wells, the threat of military force (Reagan bragged that U.S. Marshalls and the military could complete the relocation in 30 minutes), court ordered destruction of homes (April 1982, District Court), and a misinfirmation/intimidation campaign. They have also tried to force our supporters from the outside by a court ordered destruction of the structures at the Survival Camp, which was set up for outside support people.

While faced with the great powers of greed against them the Dine Resistance stands strong in their fight to stay on their land. And with just a handful [of] outside supporters they vow to fight to the end. As Dine Elder Ruth Benally put it, "When the time comes, if we don't have any other choice we are going to use our fists. No matter how small I am, I'll fight all the way to the end. After we throw our punches, if we get clubbed to death, they will have to drag us out."

The Dine Resistance needs YOUR help! You can help by organizing a support group in your area, and plugging into the Big Mountain Support Network. P.O. Box 5464, Tacoma, WA 98415-0464.
Go out and get other organizations, churches, unions or human rights groups involved. Gather together with your friends in your home to write letters. Get this article printed in papers and newsletters wherever you live. We must work together and everyone of you are very important for the forces of greed are very powerful.

Bayou la Rose can be reached at PO Box 5464, Tacoma, WA 98415-0464.

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