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Women of Power
Issue 4 1986

Interview with Roberta Blackgoat. A Dineh Elder
By Winona LaDuke

Winona: What does relocation mean to your people?

Roberta: Our ancestors have tilled and turned this land. We can't exchange the land. We'd be giving up our ancestors. When a person dies, we shed our tears and bury the body in the land. It turns to soil. We can't leave the land; it's like leaving our dead, our bodies.

Winona: What happens with relocation - do they send you letters, harass you and things like that?

Roberta: I get letters from them all the time. I put them in the fire. The relocation commission sends these letters and I put them in the fire. They (some people) told me I should keep these letters and show them to a lawyer. I don't keep them. I think maybe a lawyer would tell me I have to relocate or something.

Winona: What happens to people when they relocate?

Roberta: People don't speak English. These people worry me a lot. No good this relocation, it's sad to think about and it does no good. My children all relocated, all trying to come back now - lost their houses, lost their things, all everything messed up.
These old people worry me a lot. These people should not be pushed off their lands. People who don't speak English, they are in tears so often. They just destroy themselves; they get sick and lose their lives - just worrying about relocation.
You are just trying to rip these elders apart and think you can transplant them. Old roots - they won't grow again. They're just sitting on strange soil. They just go down, down and die.
Why don't you just send a big helicopter and drop bombs on us. Then we won't have to suffer this way. This suffering and worrying kills us just like that. Just causes us hardship. It would be easier if they send a big helicopter and drop bombs on us.

Winona: Who are the people at the Hopi-Navajo Relocation Commission?

Roberta: They are like gods; they try and be the creator. This one man I went to tell him something about how the earth was cracking from all that mining (The Black Mesa Coal strip mine). He said "I didn't know that." I said "The way you're sitting behind the desk like you know everything, how come you don't know that? You act like the Creator." The Creator is the only one who can relocate me.

Winona: What happens when the police come and try and put a fence on your land or relocate you?

Roberta: I told some policemen who was talking to me, " I don't care who you police is. They are not born here. I'm born here." "O.K. I'm going to get my boss," that policeman says to me. I don't care," I said, "He not born here either. I am born here."

Winona: What about your children?

Roberta: All of my kids were born on the sheepskin. The last one, Vickie, I had to have a cesarean. She doesn't have any fingerprints on the land. I'll have to do that with her when she returns.
I got six kids. Sheila was born in 1942, another girl Bessie, Then Betty, I lost one right there. Then Danny, Harry and Vickie. Vickie is at Dartmouth right now.
Sheila is in Flagstaff, she relocated. She is having problems too.. She lost her home - it was a relocation home. She's having to work now just to pay the rent bills. They really got rushed on it - and now she just has to keep paying. She only got paid $40,000 for her land, and then she got a relocation house that they said was worth $82,000. Then she got a job. In the end she lost her house too. She wants to come home now. Bessie relocated too. She works in a hospital in Flagstaff, just so she can pay her bills.
I want to have my children return, and let my grandchildren use this land after me. I want to have my children come back.

Winona: What about your sons?

Roberta: My youngest boy, Harry, he got drafted. I had to get all my lawyers to keep him from being drafted. I said, "I'll be all alone if you take all my children and send them away to fight our brothers over there. We need them here." I kept him from getting drafted that way. Now he works over at the power plant in Page, Arizona. He works there now. But he helps out a lot. He sends some money to help pay for my sheepherder, Kodiak, and things like that.
Danny, he's here with me now. He had a hard time with that relocation, a real hard time. I didn't even sign for him to go on that relocation. He came to me and said, "I'm relocated now. I have a place to go now." About a month later he came to me and said he was getting married. Then after that he just got divorced. He had a lot of problems. He even went and started drinking alcohol. He didn't care what happened to him. We had to make a lot of ceremonies for him. For things about three times with strong prayers. Those people really talked to him. He really committed himself too. He put that alcohol aside and he's starting to come back. He works now in the office (the Big Mountain Legal Defense/Offense Committee Office) in Flagstaff.

Winona: There is some talk about how the Relocation Commission ordered that many of your sheep were to be taken away. This is called the 'starve or move choice', since sheep are your way of living. Also, when the Federal government started trying to take over the Navajo reservation in the early part of the century there was something like that too - the stock reduction program. In 1887, over 75% of the Navajo people had sheep and livestock, and there were over a million animals on the reservation. The federal government came in and literally destroyed - left to rot, took them elsewhere, whatever - about one third of the livestock in the 1930's. The result was that fewer Navajo had sheep, and those who had sheep had more sheep - or it concentrated the livestock in the hands of the few. Right after that the federal government began mining, and things like that. Anyway, this forced Navajo people to go to work for the government or the mining companies, and by the 1960's less than 10% of the Navajo people earned most of their income from livestock. How did this affect you?

Roberta: I have around 52 sheep now, and around 6 goats, and some babies. I went out with the sheep last week, and there were 6 baby sheep born when I was out there. I wrapped 4 in my skirt, and 2 in my shirt, and walked home like that. I was tired when I got home. We used to have 220 sheep, a long time ago. Now I have 52 sheep. They shot some of those horses in the 1940's too.

Winona: How does this affect your family - keeping it together, and keeping enough money so your family can stay on the land?

Roberta: They send papers and say if you sign you get a home with electricity. It says you can go to the trading post to get food. We want to grow our own. We have eyes, ears, and hands to use to support ourselves and grow food.
Our children go to school. They are trapped and told to get houses and food. They get away from the old ways. My children go to college. The children come home for one morning, then they have to go away and get money. We want them to stay and do this for the next generation and not just for us - but for all Indian people.

Winona: What clan are you from?

Roberta: I'm Bitter Water Clan on my mother, and Salt is my father clan. My husband he was Many Goat Clan and Coyote Clan was on his father's side. My children are Bitter Water Clan and Many Goat Clan.

Winona: What was your husband like - were you married a long time?

Roberta: His name was Benny Blackgoat. Ever since 1941 we were married. He was raised and born here too. He didn't go to school so he didn't speak English. He was killed by a car in 1966.

Winona: When Indian people talk about the Earth as being our Mother it's very important to us. And the land that we are from is very important too. Can you say something about this for our readers?

Roberta: We have four sacred mountains. We have bundles. A Hogan, it's a room to a house. Inside of these four sacred mountains is a room, it's a Navajo Hogan. All these things: uranium, coal mines and oil drilling, are not supposed to be in our bundles. We have a prayer, corn pollen, and we pray for it. We pray to hold it together.
San Francisco Peak has a big scar on it's back, a "ski-place". It hurts us. By executive order there is a red mark. This is a sacred medicine place. Medicine man sits on the west - patient to the east. This is where they are making coal mines. If this happens we have no place; east, west, to make our medicine. This mark place is our altar. We have no complaints; all we need is to protect it.

Winona: Is this true about the Earth all over?

Roberta: The liver of the Earth is coal, the lung is uranium. In this way the Earth has parts of its body. Just like us. We can't leave; we can't let them take our bodies. When we're born, we have a fingerprint on the Earth. But we're sitting on Mother Earth and she's holding us. It's worse, worse. If she gets in pain how can we forget? Just like sticking a person with a stick. It hurts. That's what they are doing to her. She's in pain.
Earthquakes and tornadoes are her breath. She's breathing heavy. She's in pain; we need to protect our mother. Fighting for her to be free. She has to be dried up to die. When they take her oil and her organs she dies. The government needs what she has in her body. The government wants money, it doesn't think of the four-legged people, people who crawl. These are our brothers and sisters, they have life. They talk, even the grass, you can hear it when one wind blows. You can talk to them…….

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