“You are commodifying the sacred. What should have been held in high regard should have been sacred, has been sold for money, converting all the natural resources to monetary values for economy’s sake. You have subjected yourself to that. You have taken on a new god, the peso, money.”
When Roberta Blackgoat, one of the great matriarchs of the Dine — Navajo — of the Southwest said that the Holy Ones put her people between the four mountains, the San Francisco Peaks, Mount Taylor, Hesperus Peak and Sierra Blanca, one should listen. Roberta’s saga became the focus of the 1985 Academy Award winning documentary “Broken Rainbow,” a superb portrait of the Dine struggle and a matriarch ’s battle to maintain her people’s lands against the abuse, sacrilege and mining the dominant society has afflicted on the Dine, their land, and by extension all native peoples around the world.
The Divine laws were given to the Dine, and their song cycles and ceremonies honor the land as a foundational prayer that is beyond the scope of what Western culture can presently comprehend. We used to be in touch with the telluric realities in the pagan days. But Christianity quashed those beliefs as fast as it could. The Dine spirituality and the land are tied together like two strands of DNA. The land is their altar. Roberta has fought Peabody Coal for years and when she spoke her thoughts were like an elemental force. Peabody coal had tried to move her people from Black Mesa for the vast reserves under native land.
“They’re disturbing it,” she said. “Water drilling and all these things are going open and the coal is going and the uranium mines. Its not being respected by the government. They think we’re just a stupid people just living in and wasting the area. The whole area is sacred. They (the government) want to dig here, the coal mine is what they’re after. This the liver of Mother Earth. We don’t want bigger, bigger, bigger surgery on our Mother Earth. She’s suffering with all the blowing that we’ve been hearing: earthquakes, tornadoes, volcanoes, that’s her breath. It’s a warning but the government doesn’t understand. We need to have the mine stop and have Mother Earth, that’s part of her body, all the machines, equipment. Even the money is part of her body."
And as Danny, Roberta’s son, explained, “If we continue strip mining, that eliminates mass and weight. Water will seep and there will be great floods.” Danny implicates the dominant society for everything that has become imbalanced. He explains, “You probably lost your instructions, your ways, your belief systems that held you strong for years and years. Now by doing all these things you were told not to do, you are expressing all the ill effects of it. The dust that comes from the pollution in the air, its cancer of the lungs, and different ailments.
“You are commodifying the sacred. What should have been held in high regard should have been sacred, has been sold for money, converting all the natural resources to monetary values for economy’s sake. You have subjected yourself to that. You have taken on a new god, the peso, money. The dominant society is not listening to us. It seems like you want to have it happen sooner, quicker, faster. You are overdoing yourself, all the things that you make are going to come back upon you. The architect, the designer, you are implementing things that weren’t ever used before. We don’t know what some of these things are capable of. Like an eagle, it’s going to come back upon you. How you design an airplane, the components came from natural resources, in the ground and the Holy People are looking at it, all the bullets, and missiles, and saying those things were put there not for that purpose. It’s going to be up to the Holy People to decide what to do with all the things we are creating.”
Grace Smithe Yellowhammer’s grandmother was called Morningstar and her husband was Lakota. Her grandmother stayed two years in prison and was put there by none other than Kit Carson. “The grandfathers did not go on the Long Walk,” she says. “They were hiding. They were not identified as Dine at the time because all the elders had different hair styles. They were medicine people and my mom practiced birth control the herbal way. My grandmother she was a psychic and my grandfather was into ceremony, so all the children were taught. We were brought to take care of the land, take care of the animals — they are a part of us. We are part of the land and they are part of us. The living beings, the trees everything.”
As so much of the Pacific West burns, humanity has come to a crossroads, a crucifixion really of the life force. “In 1946 the U.S. government rounded up a lot of young children,” Yellowhammer said. “They hauled them away to school. They trained us like military. When the land dispute came about, pitting the Dine Navajo against the Hopi, on December 22, 1974, they signed over the land. When they put the Dine on this desert they thought it was nothing but desert. Later they found there was a lot of things inside. It’s greed that’s taking over the land mining. The government of the U.S. has no heart for their own people.”
“They are dividing the land, then they took all the animals, they also burned my mother’s hogan. They burned my high school diploma. We had to redo everything. My mother’s house has been burned three times. My husband and I, where do we go from here?”
In 1987 Hopi grandmother Caroline Tawangyawma and James Kootz went to the UN and presented the Human Rights violation that the Dine were being forcibly removed. Grace got Roberta Blackgoat to fight for the land, to fight for the elders. The swat teams that invaded Dine land is the age old story of the dominant society abusing the Native peoples. “So many children have lost their home, a lot of them have moved off the land and received relocation housing,” said Yellowhammer. “They didn’t know they had to pay for it, electricity, utilities and property tax. They lost everything. Now they’re homeless. Nobody knows where they went. “
Having been harassed Grace did not go anywhere on the land alone. She had been threatened on numerous occasions and had guns forced on her by the authorities. The Dine were called troublemakers and the level of harassment shows the level to which human rights were abused all in the name of mineral wealth under Dine and neighboring Hopi land. The artificial “animosity” the U.S. government created out of thin air between the Dine and their neighbors the Hopi never existed. It has been a divide and conquer mentality all along. “The Navajo are the most hated tribe in the U.S. by the government,” said Yellowhammer. I want to make sure everybody knows that. Because we are [one of] the largest tribe[s]. We hold the most natural resources. This is why they want to kill half the Navajo. This is why starvation is livestock impoundment. The government doesn’t control nature, which controls the animals, the land. That is our point of view. We’re finished from the white man’s point of view.”
The irony is that the dominant society is the one that may be finished sooner rather than later and the Native peoples the ones that will be able to survive. One Dine leader Peter Mc Donald fought to shut down the power plant in Page, Ariz. The authorities found out about him and put him in jail. Peter helped some Dine get their land back west of Gallup, near Ganado and got land back for the Paiute in Utah.
“The bigger war is coming yet,” said Yellowhammer. “The U.S. is always preparing itself. They pay money to develop technology. Three years ago I was invited to pray for the Veterans at the Pentagon in D.C. and all these four star generals. They seem to be tough looking but they’re lost; spiritually they don’t know what to believe any more. Their minds are working on building more and more. They want to control the sun and space. They want to live up there. But the Holy Ones are the only ones who can live up there; they want to escape. If the end is coming then they want to go up there. We’re not allowed. Human flesh can’t go up there. When we die we go back to Mother Earth. That’s where we belong. She controls us. A lot of people don’t know that. That’s their area, the Holy People. We’re just flesh and we belong to Earth.
“We teach the children to walk gently on Mother Earth. To find themselves deep in their hearts, to relive their spirituality. Many of todays’ political leaders are in very bad pain, very confused. They can’t find direction because their ancestors, they came to our land, everything is mine, mine, me first. They’re all in their mind these white people. They forgot about how to care, the beauty of the land; they didn’t have time to enjoy anything. They work twelve, fourteen hours a day. They built it so fast they want to develop and get money and they don’t want to share it with anybody. Then they get sick. They really need to sit back and listen to the body and to their mind. Take time out and meditate and rethink what they’re doing. You’re just driving on the road, going, going, going, not turn off, no nothing. Especially on the East Coast, people are very confused.
“At the end what they don’t know is that we’re the Spiritual People. If you harm God’s children, you pay for it, what goes around, comes around. When you try to destroy nature and a way of life for greed, you cannot survive on money. Money is good to have but it is also evil, because if you make so much money and not care for the poor and hungry, you will never survive, you will die of cancer. You will die of a broken heart, all kinds of diseases. That’s why all these rich people are dying. People so greedy they don’t want to share it with the people.
“In our prophecies it is said, the U.S. will pay for what is going on. Something’s going to happen and the elders are not going to be around. They (the dominant society) really don’t care about life anymore. That’s when they talk about the changing of the world. But we’re still going to be around.”
Learn more about Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson's work at their website.
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