At dawn on the Fall Equinox, September 23, 2015, a handful of young Diné women and their supporters will hold white corn meal offerings to the eastern horizon asking for guidance and strength. Thereafter, they will begin a 300-mile prayer-walk through the northern edge of their ancestral homeland. The walk has been named Nihígaal Bee Iiná [Nih-hi-gahl Bay Ee-nah] which translates to "Our Journey for Existence." The movement is a cry to the ancestors and to the world for help at this pivotal time in their tribal history where environmental and social issues threaten their very existence.
This will be the fourth of four walks they set out to complete this year. The first walk was characterized by the hardship of witnessing the fracking boom occurring in their eastern agency where fracking wells exist on average every 0.6 miles in every direction. The second was a journey through the heart of the Cold War legacy that left hundreds of abandoned uranium mines and coal mines throughout their New Mexico and Arizona homelands. The third leg tied their prayers into the northern parts of their homeland through Utah and into Colorado. The fourth will carry them along the southern edge of Colorado from their northern sacred mountain, Dibénistaa (near Durango, Colorado) to their eastern sacred mountain, Tsisnaajini (near Alamosa, Colorado).
"The fourth walk carries our original purpose," says Dana Eldridge, Nihígaal Bee Iiná walker. "To carry prayers to our sacred mountains. To seek their guidance to maintain our way of life as Diné people and to maintain our home. It is to awaken our people to the destruction that is happening in our home and to realize that if we do not do something we will lose it and discontinue to be Diné people."
So far this year walkers have journeyed on foot for more than 1,000 miles. While they have gained much experience in living with the elements and living with each other, this walk will present new and difficult challenges. This is the first leg that will take place outside of the imaginary borders of the Navajo Reservation that were illegally and brutally imposed upon them by foreign imperialists. On this journey they will venture into ancestral homelands that many of their people have not seen for over a century.
"We're going back to a place that is so old it's new," says walker Kimberly Smith. "For some of us young people, it's going to be our first time to visit this area and to see that sacred mountain."
The walkers view this fourth and final walk as a journey back to their original selves before their destiny was dictated for them by outsiders.
"We have to challenge these frameworks of colonization and how we view and relate to our land. This land is what our Holy People put forward, not American conquerors drawing imaginary boundaries on pieces of paper," says Eldridge.
By breaking out of this box, Nihígaal Bee Iiná walkers also seek to bring awareness to the unfairness of the recent Utah Water Rights Settlement. The settlement did not account for Diné water rights before 1884, when the reservation was imagined.
"They are using these reservation lines to restrict our access to water. We need to reclaim these homelands and the associated responsibility to them," notes Eldridge.
When walker Annie Ayze, 25, was asked why she participates, she responded, "I was the ultimate product of colonization and consumerism for too long. I was taken away from the reservation at a young age and raised in an all white family on the east coast. It was time for me to finally come home and remember who I am. By walking on sacred land and relearning my culture, I have been able to find my true identity. And it is not the identity the government has fooled me into believing my whole life. I'm walking to remind our people of all ages that being indigenous is a beautiful thing. It's time to lace up our moccasins, learn the language, and show the world who we are. We've been misunderstood, oppressed, and hidden for too long. We must reunite and stand together. The time is now."
The launch event will occur two days before the journey begins at the Fort Lewis College amphitheater and will be hosted by the Buffalo Council student group. From 5-9 p.m. there will be music, poetry and multimedia presentations from previous walks. Speakers of other movements to protect sacred sites will join the prayer and offer their voices, such as Save Oak Flat and No Loop 202.
"The time is upon us to take action, to restore our relationship with our land, our water and our Diyin Diné'é [Holy People]. The recent spill of 3 million gallons of toxic waste into the Animas River has given us a visual representation of our homeland. But we want to emphasize that our people live with this kind of contamination everyday. Now people are paying attention. Through our actions and the actions of others we are building our momentum so people can realize what a critical time we are in."
The journey is characteristic of so many indigenous ways of life in which the solution to all problems is a selfless prayer for the people. Through this extreme spiritual, emotional and physical sacrifice, the young Diné hope to shake the foundations of the known world and enact a resurgence of the indigenous spirit.
For walking routes and up-to-date information on the journey, visit the Nihígaal Bee Iiná Facebook page. Contact the group via firstname.lastname@example.org or (405) 534-4620. Walkers are asking for donations of all weather tents, mountain packs, and cold weather gear.