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SEARCHING FOR OCCUPY finds the Navajo Nation in St. Louis and Kentucky

By czevon - Posted on 13 February 2013


It seems about a century ago that I was in St. Louis where Don Yellowman and Fern Benally of Black Mesa, Arizona tried to deliver a letter on behalf of elders of Black Mesa/Big Mountain to Peabody CEO, Greg H. Boyce. The letter spoke to the devastation caused by Peabody's 46 years of strip mining coal on the Navajo reservation.

In part, the letter reads: "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.....  Finally, a direct message from our elders living on their ancestral homelands in the former joint use area now known as the Hopi Partitioned Land: they have asked for you to stop mining on Black Mesa and to stop the forced relocation of our people immediately.  Tens of thousands of our people were forced to leave their land to make room for your mine, making this the biggest forced relocation of Native people in this country since the Trial of Tears.  Do not expand your mine anymore! Sincerely, Fern Benally and Don Yellowman"

I have not been able to get the testimony of Don and Fern out of my mind, which is partly why I decided to join Footprints for Peace's 'Walk for a Sustainable Future' to address the devastating effects of mountaintop removal on the people of Kentucky.   Just to let you all know how connected we all are, as I walked in Kentucky documenting those protesting mountaintop removal, I chanced to met another Navajo, Ammon, from Black Measa who walked with us for a few days.  Ammon was recently in Maine where he was installing wind turbines. He said he came expecting that he would be working with environmental activist but was disappointed that his co-workers were just there for the job. As Footprints for Peace walks 200 miles on their "Walk for a Sustainable Future" and RAMPS, Veterans for Peace, MORE, the Navajo Nation and Searching for Occupy continue our quest to address the damage corporate interests are inflicting upon the earth, it is sometimes difficult not to get discouraged.  So many people are ignorant of the on-going destruction in places like Black Mesa and Kentucky. Nevertheless, we walk, we shout, we cry out, we hold hands and we keep the faith, and our 'family' grows... Step by step, we talk to people, one by one, and every now and then, hearts and minds are changed.  Or, at least, a seed gets planted. 

I am reminded daily that this is the purpose of this Search I am on... to connect people and to remind us all that WE ARE NOT ALONE.  Our mission is, indeed, a sacred one. 


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