|Struggles Continue Despite Black Mesa Mine Shut Down|
|by Bahe Y. Katenay|
Yes! Finally, we can all breathe a little easier the cleaner air, but it’s only temporary. The environmentalist and local Indigenous activists’ point of view may not see the whole picture. No, not in terms of keeping the Black Mesa Mine operating and letting it suck-out all the ancient pristine aquifer. But in terms of the human and economic cost that the local indigenous mine workers and their families are going to face.
The recent Peabody Western Coal Company’s action becomes another extension of environmental racism and the “American” founding patriarchs’ ideals of subjugation. To simply see its effect, one must realize that “Mr. Peabody” will continue its worldwide mega-alteration of the earth while a pinch amount of Indians are left in the cold. Mr. Peabody can chill-out in some mansion on a private island in the tropics while Mohave Generating Station is being retrofitted with new emission scrubbers, or it might rather be upgraded to a much higher kilowatt mega-power plant.
Peabody Western Coal Company has never cared about their 100 plus Indians that worked for them at the Black Mesa Mine. (They) do not even care to consider compensating for loss wages offering referrals or large bonus pay. The soon-to-be laid-off miners will start blaming their local tribal members who are: opposing the federal relocation programs, advocating about Peabody mines’ pollution and depletion of the aquifer, and supporting the shut down of Mojave power plant. This is racism by creating more instability among the indigenous communities of Black Mesa while leaving them the exposed wastelands of Black Mesa Mine.
A few close relatives from the Big Mountain area that hold jobs at the mine inquired about “what is the N-Aquifer and the C-Aquifer, and what does that have to do with the Black Mine?” These questions were obviously surprising to me when I was approached with them. I did not question why they were not informed by their Peabody supervisors. These miners just wanted to know because they were often harassed by fellow miners with comments like: “You are from Big Mountain and so you are against coal mining,” and “Your elder chiefs come to the mines like they are on a warpath when they protest.”
I explained to them in the least scientific way possible about the geologic structure of the N-Aquifer in relation to the Black Mesa topography and how the natural way of aquifer recharge was incompatible with the current industrial depletion. Thus, even studies have shown that the upper water table which is being utilized by indigenous inhabitants is disrupted by the draining of a deeper aquifer environment. Furthermore, I explained that South California Edison has ignored for many years that they are operating the dirtiest power plant and it may have already caused irreversible environmental damage. If Peabody and the tribal government lawyers were willing to sacrifice their greed over environmental consciousness, perhaps, regulations would have been in place to meet certain criteria instead of creating economic hardships and hateful distrusts in our communities.
Peabody has practiced the ideals of subjugation and environmental racism by misinforming its employees that indigenous resistance and environmental concerns will be the cause of possible job losses at Black Mesa Mine. Now, the 120 or so miners will be dumped and abandoned by the world’s largest coal producer, and once again, the Indians will be left to squabble over the “third-world crumbs” of economic development and American free enterprise opportunities.
The Mohave and Navajo Generation Stations are always supplied with coal stockpiles to last five years, and this is a security investment by Peabody in case electrical productions are interfered with by unexpected emergencies. Peabody and Southern California Edison will continue to sell electric power. The southwestern electrical power grids that are owned by the multi-national consortium, Western Energy States Transmission, will have enough to sell by relying on all the existing nuclear, natural gas, oil fired, coal-fired, and hydro-electric power plants. Meanwhile, Indian miners may be out of a job for at least ten more years, and they will have to relocate their families elsewhere because the tribes have never initiated real sovereignty, but instead chose to be subjugated by the great American freedom.
The tribal council idea of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ was actually a deliberate act to break treaties which restricted Indian nations from acting upon their own sovereignty statuses. Also, the modern, tribal constitutional designs were to have Indian nations be completely depended on U.S. government handouts and to remain as subordinate communities. The BIA finalizes all lease agreements with the energy companies, and royalties earned from mineral extractions are entrusted with the BIA. The BIA will release funds for tribal council proposals of infrastructure improvements only if such proposals are approved by the BIA.
In order for a tribe to attained full sovereign powers, the tribes will have to be daring in initiating bold attempts to implement tribally controlled economic developments. The U.S. will certainly take that as a hostile move by Indian nations and we could return back to a full scaled American and Indian wars. The U.S. will not allow the large numbers of skilled professional Indians who are engineers and business managers to take over the coal, oil and natural gas production on their own lands. It will be so unacceptable that the U.S. government allow such Indian nations to become an economic powerful player in the world.
Maybe it is useless for the Indians to try and shout, “Sovereignty!” It is too much of a sacrifice to reform the tribal councils. Indians are too overwhelmed from centuries of oppression and genocide and most rather choose the illusions of ‘freedom’ through the American way of dependency. Tribal governments barely stutter out the word, sovereignty.
At Big Mountain, traditional Dineh elder resisters declared Independence in 1977, and they have acted upon it since then. Big Mountain cannot be excluded from the legacy of the Four Corners energy wars. They have inspired and reinforced the indigenous identity and they gave courage to fight for (real) freedom, justice and peace. Today, inspired grassroots activism has had an impact upon the U.S.A.’s southwestern industrialization. Much is owed to all of wisdom and bravery of the traditional Dineh and Hopi elders of the 1960s and the 1970s. The efforts of bringing back balance to the environment and religious roles, however, should continue. The indigenous destinies to control their own territories and its resources may be much nearer if the indigenous human hope is there.
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