A group of mostly Diné youth named Nihígaal bee Iiná began a 200-mile prayer walk on the eastern Navajo Nation on January 6 to bring awareness to environmental issues occurring on the nation.
The Diné people have been fighting corporations seeking resources-for-profit through mineral extraction on the Navajo Nation for decades. The affected Navajo communities feel the Navajo Nation leadership, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Federal Indian Mineral office have turned their backs on them allowing these companies a ‘free for all’ to mine and extract minerals. Fracking and uranium mining are issues the grassroots groups and Diné people have been battling for years and it is alive and well on the Navajo Nation.
Nihígaal bee Iiná stated in a December 30 press release:
“The journey will honor the 150 years of existence as Diné since Hwééldii, The Long Walk of the Diné People to Ft. Sumner, New Mexico," the release read. "This will be the Inaugural walk of several to take place throughout the Navajo Nation in 2015.”
Their walk began in the birthplace of the Diné. The Diné emerged from the underworld to a place called Dzi? Náhodi?ii (Huerfano, New Mexico). The creation of the Diné was saved by the Hero Twins: Monster Slayer and Born For Water. It was here that the Hero Twins laid their weapons and ended their fight. The youth walk this journey to bring awareness to the very same struggles our ancestors were faced with, to save the existence of the Diné through the protection of mother earth.
In an interview with Etta Arviso (Diné), a community supporter of the group, she stated, “We need to listen to our kids. Our youth are walking right now and we need to support them.”
The youth are concerned with environmental issues which continues to occur without the informed consent of the Diné. Many of the people who live in the areas where mineral extraction occurs are Elders who speak little to no English. Because of this, they have been taken advantage of. Many of the elders were never properly informed of the dangers of fracking and many who speak only Diné signed away their rights with no translation of what they were signing.
Etta says, “They want to address some very serious issues. They are speaking up for the Elders who cannot read or write.” Along the path the youth have encountered fracking wells. In the night sky, they can see the lights of fracking in the distance, some wells are within walking distance from Diné homes.
Photo courtesy Etta Arviso
Fracking is a relatively new phenomenon, began in the 1940s as a way to extract natural gas using high-pressured minerals and ground water. The communities are unaware of where the water for these operations come from and the long term damage to the land as well as the dangers it poses to the people who live only miles from the wells. Community members do not seem to be aware of damage this causes to people as well.
Many are concerned that the Navajo Nation does not bring the Diné people to the table when making such deals with corporations who find huge profits in these mines. The Diné who own allotted lands on the outskirts of the Navajo Nation do not have protection as well. Many feel the Federal government has once again turned the blind eye to these grass roots groups who have protested and contested these mines through the years. Protection of sacred sites has never been considered.
“These kids understand what is going on. They are all educated, with degrees but more importantly they are educated in the traditional Diné culture,” Etta says. “I am so impressed with these youth. Along the way they preserve the Diné language by speaking it, they pray every morning and every night with corn pollen, they value our traditional foods, and they value the traditional dress of our people.”
She continues with the story that the youth are telling the rest of the world and the Navajo Nation they need to be informed of the issues which plague the community. The youth are garnering support from Diné and others around the Nation to do this walk. The Jicarilla Apache donated supplies to them. Council Delegates from the Eastern Agency, Diné veterans and Code Talkers have heard them. Several are walking and helping to protect the group.
The end point of the prayer walk will be at Tsoodzi?, Mount Taylor, New Mexico, the east sacred mountain to the Diné. The abandoned mines and mills near Tsoodzi? were the source of uranium used in the battle of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The Diné continue to be threatened by further mining of uranium in the area.
Along the way they educate others, their elders, and the public. They eat traditional foods while they engage the communities they pass through. They sleep in a teepee provided by the Jicarilla Apache and although the winter weather conditions show no mercy they continue to walk. Etta spoke of being impressed with these youth. Seeing a 3-year-old girl who walked with the group brought tears to her eyes.
Yesterday, the youth wrote on their Facebook page:
“For our walk through Lybrook we had to wear respirators. Industry workers have gas monitors and do a routine check daily for gases emitted due to the burn offs done for fracking. Two out of the four gases that are emitted are deadly! One whiff of H2S and you're a goner. Community members don't have respirators or gas monitors! We had children tell us that due to a oil spill they were sent home from their Christmas program?! Where is the accountability? Our people shouldn't have to live this way! We're blowing the whistle! What would our ancestors say?! NO PINON PIPELINE! NO SANDPIPER PIPELINE! NO BLUEGRASS PIPELINE! NO PACIFIC CONNECTOR PIPELINE! NO KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE!”
There is no end date for the walkers, but they anticipate walking for about two more weeks. They were taken off their path as they discover more fracking wells along the way over the weekend. Community members who invited them into their homes welcomed them. On Saturday, they stopped to rest, pray and participate in the Kesh’jee, which is a traditional Diné shoe game hosted by community members. The youth find this enriches their relationship with their people and preserves their culture, language and traditional ways.
Etta says there should be a fracking ban across Indian country and the Navajo Nation must bring the community members to the table. She states, “People need to wake up and be more aware of desecration of Diné lands.” Mother earth is suffering and the people are suffering from it. This prayer walk occurs on the eve of the Keystone XL Pipeline bill, which is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Senate. These youth are protesting through prayer and are asking for your help to combat these issues.
As the group continues on their pilgrimage they could use your support through donations of wood. Temperatures can go as low as 20 degrees at night and 30 degrees during the day. They could also use traditional foods to replenish their bodies, like mutton, blue corn mush, chi?chin, and such. Healthy snacks and water are also accepted. Donations of personal hygiene products could also be used. To make donations and for continued updates, view their Facebook page.
Amanda Blackhorse. Photo courtesy Malcolm Benally
Amanda Blackhorse, Diné, is a mother and activist. She and four other plaintiffs won a case against the Washington football team that stripped it of six of its seven trademarks. Follow her on Twitter @blackhorse_a. She lives in Kayenta, Arizona on the Navajo Nation.