Uniting as One Voice to Sustain our Native Culture | - August 3, 2012

"...the time has come for more of the U.S. population to stand up and be a voice for the equality and justice the Native American people truly deserve."

In 1975, during my early years as an artist and craftsman, I journeyed in my handcrafted gypsy wagon perched atop a 1963 Ford pickup, through Monument Valley near the Four Corners, in the heart of Navajo Nation.  My fingers were calloused from the daily pursuit of miniature perfection in the form of inlayed pendants and boxes, precisely crafted in my mobile studio.  My theme was predominantly nature, tiny landscapes held in the palm.  But here, stretched before my eyes was a landscape so vast, so majestic, my heart raced, in daring the concept to enter my vision.  “Someday I’m gonna make a carved inlayed sculpture of Monument Valley”, I said aloud, my soul penetrated, while gazing in wonder.   While witnessing the Navajo sheppard their small herds, contrasting against the reddish, luminous backdrop, I sensed some ancient connection in my own grander journey.

Moving on the next morning, heading east from the valley, I happened upon a sight that penetrated my senses, but this time my soul was assaulted.  The billowing smoke stacks of the Four Corners coal fired power plant was launching skyward a barrage of pollution I hadn’t previously encountered.  And, I’d grown up in Cleveland during the unregulated, industrial  era when the Cuyahoga River actually caught on fire.

The contrast of my experience through Navajo Nation stayed with me for many years…also the desire to create the sculpture.  Twenty years passed.  In 1996 the sculpture was completed in my land-based studio in Santa Fe.  By the late'90s my inspired career as a sculptor took a detour and Monument Valley ended up crated in storage for next ten years.  But, as perfection would have it, this tribute to the mystical land of the Navajo, the Dine as they call themselves, now presides in perfected display as Dine activist, Anna Rondon told her compelling story at Unicopia Center conferences this past year.  A major theme of the conferences has been the coal burning power plants in and around Navajo Nation, the costs to the Native population as well as the environment, the quest for clean, renewable technologies and the eventual green jobs that the Navajo people could embrace.

Anna Rondon and I have also presented together this past spring at Laguna Pueblo, offering input on green building and renewable energy.  Her dignity and spiritual presence brings a new meaning to the term activist.  Her capacity to remain in a state of grace while greed and corruption are being thrust on her people and sacred land, reminds me that spirit may ultimately prevail. 

As I write this article I have the energetic launch from having interviewed Anna this afternoon on Unicopia Green Radio.  The environmental issues facing the Navajo are paramount to an eventual confrontation with extinction.  The battle is being waged both with the outside corporate influences, such as Peabody Coal, PNM, Salt River Project (SRP), uranium mining companies , et. nausea,  but also from within the Navajo leadership who often bend over for money and favors. 

So here’s a topic we tossed about on the air today.  John Kyl, Republican Senator from Arizona is attempting to push through a very sneaky bill in the U.S. Senate that would proclaim 34,000 acre feet per year from the Little Colorado River with the intent of servicing the various power plants, Peabody coal and others out into perpetuity.  It has the almost sweet sounding title of the Navajo/Hopi Little Colorado River Water Settlement Act,  SB 2109.  What makes this sneaky is that corporate cronies, Senator Kyl and Senator McCain from Arizona are pushing this as a great and lasting legacy as the water disputes surrounding the Little Colorado River predate Arizona’s induction into the union, 100 years.

 Obviously there is some political gain to be had for these pawnsters of the environment.   Beyond the massive water grab designed to service corporate entities who have little regard for much beyond profit, the little publicized aspect of the bill is that the Navajo and Hopi would be relinquishing their legal rights to contest abuses or environmental intrusions, including potential pollution of aquifers.  In the future that would be no power to resist further advances into this precious resource.

The list of issues in the social and environmental justice arena for the Navajo people is daunting.  From the health and environmental effects of uranium mining, coal mining, coal-fired power plant pollution, and coal ash pollution of ground water, the capacity and tenacity of Anna Rondon, and other environmental and social justice freedom fighters, to withstand the seeming endless on slot of exploitation is certainly commendable. 

The journey of our Native American population since Columbus is a story for which no European should be proud.  At the very core of the exploitation issue is the still present mindset that dates backmore than r 500 years and continues to be perpetuated on indigenous peoples throughout the land.  It’s called the Doctrine of Discovery, a philosophy instituted in 1493, the year following Columbus’ monumental “discovering” of America.  This elitist perspective is based on the concept that indigenous people are basically not human, because they are not Christians.  And, apparently, this doctrine continues to drive some federal manipulation of Navajo water.  Given the Emancipation Proclamation, woman’s suffrage, the civil rights movement and all the cultural advances and constitutional amendments that have propelled our society, how is it that the native culture is still held in such little regard?  Wasn’t it the Navajo Code Talkers who stymied the Japanese in World War II?  They’ve stood up and fought for “our” country.  Perhaps, though they have often been forced to discard their culture, they’ve held on to enough superstition to be considered different, possibly non-Christian enough to deserve a lesser fate.

A far better perspective is that the time has come for more of the U.S. population to stand up and be a voice for the equality and justice the Native American people truly deserve.

Anna mentioned the 1970s, when her growing up in Richmond, California, exposed her to a massive diversity of races and cultures.  She hasn’t caved into any sense of defeat, blame or being overwhelmed by the injustice, and since Anna mentioned the famous Sioux  Medicine Man, Black Elk, I’ll leave you with one of his most insightful quotes… “The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that its center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.”

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