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THE GENOCIDE AND RELOCATION OF THE DINE'H (NAVAJO)
Part 2 of 3

by Brigitte Thimiakis

 

Far from the spotlights of the Media, a human and cultural genocide is going on every day in America, in different places. Human, civil and religious rights are repeatedly being violated. Native Americans are being forcedly relocated even nowadays. One example in the USA is the ongoing forced relocation of the Navajo in Arizona.

The Navajo People, (the Dine'h in their native tongue) have been forced over the years to leave their land and settle in urban surroundings which are irrelevant to their culture, or in areas contaminated by toxic wastes since the worst nuclear disaster of the USA in 1979.

At the beginning of the 20th century, geological surveys revealed the wealth of natural resources on Dine'h and Hopi land. The Black Mesa, the Northern Part of the reservation, is the largest open-cast coal mine in the world, with an estimated deposit of 200 billions tons of coal, operated since the 1960's by the PEABODY COAL COMPANY (owned by a British company). In addition, one third of all uranium mined in the United States has come from the Dine'h land. And next to the site, the US largest power plant was built, adding dramatically to the pollution of the area and the rest of the world as it is the largest single source of greenhouse gasses in North America.

The relocation of 12.000 Dine'h was to begin when in 1974 President Gerald Ford signed Public Law 93531 - while on a skiing trip. As a result, 25% of the Dine'h who were first relocated to the area around the Rio Puerco have died within six years, as the soil and water of these "New Lands" chosen for them are contaminated by uranium tailings, an extremely toxic substance the levels of which have been measured at 100 times the maximum safe level. The birth defect rate has risen to TWICE the national average. This relocation land is unfit for humans or animals, yet the US government is still taking extreme measures to force the relocation of the nearly 3 000 Dine'h who have resisted and refused it, and most of whom are elders.

The main reason why these people refuse to give up their land is their sacred bond to Mother Earth. Leaving the land of their ancestors is bound to kill their spirituality by taking away their heritage and identity. The elders, many of them grandmothers, will not sign the Relocation Agreement in spite of the continuous harassment for another reason too : they know that by doing so their descendents will lose claim of the land as the agreement concerns only the signer - the children and grandchildren are left out.

The harsh measures taken by the US government in Black Mesa amount to an unbelievable level of harassment and violation of basic human rights which would never be tolerated elsewhere. These measures stem from a continuous policy of terrorism and threats. The Dine'h are threatened with exclusion orders, eviction notices nailed to their doors. There have been beatings and arrests even for the elderly. Firewood and tools have been confiscated even in winter. Wells have been capped and the people forbidden to draw water out of them which means that they have no fresh water and that their ability to maintain their sheep has been reduced dramatically . What is left to them is the water from the nearby contaminated streams, which has killed many of their sheep. "They're our living! Taking away our sheep is taking away our life." shouted Chris as armed rangers were confiscating the sheep on a farm where the boy was taking care of them. The confiscation of the livestock upon which the Dine'h depends is part of the US policy. Every time the livestock is confiscated, the only thing the Dine'h can do is BUY it again -regardless of their poverty. In addition, houses, holy sites or burial graves have been illegally bulldozed to the ground.

Another inhuman measure is known under the name of the Bennett Freeze. This law was issued in 1966 to prevent the Navajo tribe from constructing and repairing their dwellings on land which was subject to the so-called land dispute with the Hopi tribe. The Freeze was confirmed by Congress in 1980, lifted in 1992 by a US District Court order, imposed again in 1995 and continues through this day. For over 30 years the Dine'h people have been forbidden not only to build new dwellings, but also to repair their homes (even broken windows!) which are continuously shaken by the dynamite explosions from the mines. The Bennett Freeze has also stopped essential construction, such as waterline and power line extensions, road improvement and inadequate sewage disposal. Only 3% of these families have electricity; only 10% have running water. Several generations of families have to live together in dwellings declared unfit for human habitation. The conditions of life are even worse than in the rest of the Dine'h reservation. As a matter of fact, all the facilities including housing should be replaced. What is more, the Dine'h Black Mesa are now totally dependent on the Hopi Tribal Council. Permits are required for everything, from cutting a green branch from a tree to grazing their herds of even bury the dead on their own land, which is part of their religion.

It is fair to say that the genocide of the Dine'h is more than ever in effect, resulting in extremely high rates of radiation-related diseases, high suicide and murder rates, child abuse, high infant mortality and soaring school drop-out rates.

Now the mining is coming close to Big Mountain, a sacred site to the Dine'h, and the USA want them out of the area. The Dine'h resistance to this forced relocation is not only motivated by the belief that this land has always been Indian land - their attitude towards mining itself compels them to protect the Earth. In their eyes, mining is open surgery into Mother Earth who has protected them and nurtured them for so long; the white man violates the land by extracting the coal and the water in order to create more facilities for himself (the energy is used to serve the huge demands of energy in South California and Las Vegas), thus contributing to the drastic environmental destruction of the planet. Like many other Native Americans, by their resistance the Dine'h are trying to warn us of the dangers threatening the future of our children and of the earth. They are trying to protect not only the land where the Creator has put them but also the whole planet. And this, even though their hearts are broken in the process. For the traditional Dine'h elders, to give away the land is to die twice, spiritually and physically.

The US government has remained blind to their rightful claims for decades, and in order to cover up the scandal of the whole genocide, they have fabricated the so-called "Navajo-Hopi Land Conflict". Thanks to the Relocation Act of 1974, officially called the "Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute Settlement Act", they have painted the expulsion of the Dine'h as a 'well-meaning mediation of a territorial dispute between two Indian tribes'. They have portrayed the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) as benevolent and the tribes as childish and ungrateful. The truth is that from the 1500s to the 1800's the Dine'h and Hopi coexisted peacefully in this area. Later in the 19th century attempts were made by Colonel Kit Carson, on contract with the USA, to annihilate the Hopi and Dine'h. He destroyed their crops and livestock, and forced the captured Dine'h population on the 400 mile "Long Walk" to Fort Summer, New Mexico. Thousands died before they arrived and the survivors were held in concentration camps that later inspired Adolf Hitler and led him to congratulate the USA on the strategies chosen to "get rid of the Indians".

Surviving under intolerable conditions the Dine'h were forced to agree to the 1868 Navajo treaty and were given only a fraction of their original homeland. They were also "educated" by the white man to forget everything about their national culture : the children were removed from their homes, forbidden to practice their religion, speak their native language or do anything related to their culture. However, the Dine'h resisted again. In 1882, the US government imposed new boundaries to both the Hopi and Navajo; as a result, many Navajo found themselves living or having sacred sites within the Hopi land, and many Hopi living on Navajo land. In 1923, through the BIA, the US government created a diversion to the mining projects by fabricating a territorial conflict between the two tribes, and against the will of the Dine'h people, they formed the First 'Navajo Tribal Council', which was merely used to sign mining leases. The conflict has never existed between the Hopi and Dine'h people who have cried out in protest against the mining companies and the BIA. In the early 1970's the Navajo-Hopi Settlement Act became law and there followed a 50/50 partition of the lands, 90% livestock reduction and a Relocation Commission to implement removal of the people living in the "wrong" areas. This is when the home repair and construction freeze began.

The latest deadline for the eviction of the Dine'h was February 1st, 2000. Thousands of supporters all over the world had been protesting against it with countless emails, letters, phone calls and petitions. Native organizations and individuals have actively supported the cause of the Dine'h. Demonstrations and vigils were held in several places of the USA and a number of European countries as well, and many supporters even traveled to Big Mountain in support of the Dine'h, even from far-away places like Japan where a Walk was organized .However, the Media have been very quiet and as in many other countries the American people are not really aware of what is going on in their nation. .Eventually nothing bad happened and the Dine'h are still in their homes for the time being, but it is feared that the US government together with the companies are waiting for the pressure of the public opinion to decrease.

On Thursday 17th February, 2000, during the plenary sessions in Strasbourg, France, the European Parliament adopted the Urgency Resolution against the forced relocation, the ongoing violations of human, religious and land rights of the Dine'h at Big Mountain. This is another step in the right direction, however the everyday life of the Dine'h has not changed yet. This is still the struggle of a "small group of resolute Dine'h fighting out a battle against the USA Superpower", as Professor Harald Ihmig has put it in this remarkable article on the issue. And all people of goodwill should find a way to help them.

 

Many Credits for this article should be given to SENAA, their work and the authors of the articles displayed on their website.

SENAA (Southeast Native American Alliance):

http://www.senaa.org/index2.html

There you can also find the PETITION to end the genocide and the Relocation of the Dine'h

For the chronology of the History of the Dine'h and the "land conflict":

http://members.xoom.com/senaa/DinehNews2.html

 

 

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Brigitte Thimiakis is originally from France, but she and her family make their home in Greece, where she operates a language school. Brigitte honors SENAA and all Native Americans by speaking out about Native American issues. She also translates for SENAA and is in the process of translating documents into French and Greek for SENAA Europe's web site.

"The First Nations" is one of three articles written by Brigitte and published simultaneously by the Greek magazine Nemecis.

Thank you, Brigitte, for all your hard work, help, and dedication.

 

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(c) 2000. Brigitte Thimiakis. Greece. All Rights Reserved.
One time world serial and reprint rights granted to SENAA International.

No part of this article may be duplicated or published without the written consent of the author.

 

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