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American Indian Movement of Colorado

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Monday, June 07, 2004

Water is sacred-Fighting Peabody Coal.

Indigenous Peoples understand one of the essential elements of life is water. That awareness is reflected in the Indigenous stories, rituals and ceremonies that affirm the life sustaining force of water. Indigenous Peoples give thanks for the rains and the renewal of life it brings. Native traditions teach that water is a sacred gift and one that should not be taken for granted. This is a basic understanding but one that is lost on those too "advanced" for notions of the sacred.

Living in an urban area can erase the understanding of what water means in providing us with life. The convenience of producing water at the turn of a tap diminishes the fear of water scarcity that our ancestors had to face at times. In the city, the majority of people share a common fear during a drought. Their fear is that their front lawn will not be as lush or green as it had been the year before. When the rains do come, people rush outside, not to give a silent acknowledgement of thanks for the rain but, instead, to turn on their lawn sprinklers so that their lawns will be more thoroughly saturated.

Not all urban areas supply their own water and energy from resources in their region. Instead, the resources that drive the city come from distant, impoverished, areas that receive money in exchange for the draining of their resources. Such is the case with Black Mesa.

"Chasing the Clouds", an LA Times article, traces the struggle of Black Mesa Dine and Hopi as they fight to keep Peabody Coal from draining the water of Black Mesa, to meet the consumer needs of Southern California.
"Somewhere far away from us, people have no understanding that their demand for cheap electricity, air conditioning and lights 24 hours a day have contributed to the imbalance of this very delicate place." — Nicole Horseherder, Navajo, Black Mesa

Nicole Horseherder belongs to an organization called, "To Nizhoni Ani" which means "Beautiful Spring Speaks. Her organization is one of many that have been fighting Peabody Coal's tapping of the Navajo Aquifer, which lies below Black Mesa.
Tapping the water from the Navajo aquifer, as deep as 3,000 feet beneath Black Mesa, the mine pumps water aboveground, where it propels crushed coal as a slurry mixture 273 miles through a pipeline to Southern California Edison's Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nev. There the aquifer water is drained and the coal is dried and burned, producing 3% of Southern California's electricity, or enough to power 1.5 million homes. On an average day, Peabody draws 3.3 million gallons of water from below Black Mesa.

Peabody, which pays the tribes $4.3 million annually for the water, argues that the water sources above and below ground are not related. The company has commissioned studies, hired consultants and created a computer model simulating the effects of water taken from the aquifer.

Black Mesa also is home to rich coal deposits. With Southern California's voracious appetite for energy, the U.S. Department of the Interior in the mid-1960s brokered a deal with the Navajo Nation and the Hopi tribe to open the mine. Because Black Mesa was so remote, with no access to rail or traditional shipping, the only way to move the coal profitably was to build a slurry pipeline. Black Mesa is the only mine in the world to use a water-propelled pipeline for coal delivery, yet it does so from one of the most arid regions in the U.S., where two Native American cultures consider water a centerpiece of their existence. The plan, approved by unsophisticated tribal governments at the time, was a recipe for controversy.

One of the most resilient opponents of Peabody Coal is Black Mesa Trust founder, Vernon Masayesva. Before founding Black Mesa Trust, Masayesva served on the Hopi Tribal Council as a rep, vice-chair and Chairman. He used his position to try and bring "official opposition" but decided he could be more effective by organizing a grassroots opposition.
He did not campaign for reelection as chairman in 1994 because he felt the tribal government system had been too compromised. "I decided instead I needed to work with the grass-roots people who had not been represented, ever," Masayesva says. "I decided to put all my energy to fighting the fight from outside the government."

To that end,Black Mesa Trust was created. The vision of Black Mesa Trust is to
work toward creating a region where generations of Hopi and Dineh people can live and thrive in harmony with all of nature. Our vision for Black Mesa one hundred years from now is a comunity characterized by:

vast open spaces with a healthy ecosystem and habitat for all living things;
respectful relationships between human communities and the natural environment; and
people serving as responsible stewards of land and water.

The core values of Black Mesa Trust are stated as follows
Black Mesa Trust is an organization born out of concern for the depleting water supply and its long range implications for the health and viability of the Black Mesa ecosystem and Native people.We are dedicated to bringing back the traditional water ethics that have sustained our people for millenia and creating new ways of caring for and healing the water...the lifeblood of all living things.

To create a permanent homeland for generations of children yet to come we hope to apply the lessons of traditional knowledge with the techniques of western science and technology. It is our hope that our families will always enjoy the wide open spaces, deep canyons, majestic mesas, clear air and waters that characterize our sacred homeland.

Masayesva continued to organize the people and was ready when an opportunity arose in 2001.
But in 2001, Peabody again was forced to apply for the mine's permanent permit because of terms in the renewal of its coal supply agreement with Edison's Mohave station. Its application ignored the growing opposition to the water-based delivery from the mine. In fact, the company asked permission to mine more coal, using even more water.

"The timing of their permit application was perfect for us," Masayesva says. "That process allowed the opportunity for public comment on the mine plan."

During June of that same year, several organization attended a water meeting hosted by Nicole Horseherder and her cousin.
Inspired by the water meeting, Horseherder and her husband, Marshall Johnson, attended the 2002 spring session of the Navajo Nation Council in Window Rock, Ariz., where water rights was a centerpiece topic. With the new Peabody application, "our great fear was that the Navajo council would just renegotiate all of it without holding hearings and without all our people's approval," Horseherder says.

What happened instead was that there was little comment on the Navajo aquifer or the Peabody application in the council session. The water talks instead focused on matters with the Colorado River and the Little Colorado River Basin. No one was representing the Navajo side of the water controversies on Black Mesa as Masayesva was doing for the Hopi. "It opened our eyes to how our leaders were just letting the situation on Black Mesa happen," Horseherder says. "They were allowing representatives from groups to get up and talk, and I pushed my husband up there."

Unrehearsed, Johnson addressed the Navajo Nation Council.

What they did next was to use the resources they had to get their message out.
Energized by their reception in Window Rock, and seeing the need for representation of the Navajo water issues on Black Mesa, Horseherder and Johnson dedicated themselves to mobilizing the local people. While Peabody built a $2-million computer model to fulfill its legal obligation to assess the effect of its mining on the aquifer, Horseherder and Johnson drew poster boards showing how an aquifer could be depleted and depressurized. While they met with their traditional elders and medicine people to ensure they kept balance with the Navajo's spiritual meaning of water, they drafted a resolution asking current Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton to stop Navajo aquifer pumping and to find non-water-based transportation for Black Mesa coal.

Horseherder and Johnson began "pounding dirt roads for hours at a time," from one community to another, meeting with groups of 25 to 80 people, traveling hundreds of miles until they had reached the residents of 11 of the 14 Navajo chapter houses in and around Black Mesa. (A chapter represents the most local form of Navajo government, and a resolution from a chapter is the "official voice of the people of that community," Horseherder says.) The work took them away from their children at night and left them exhausted at the start of each day.

After months of work, Horseherder and Johnson got those 11 chapter houses to oppose Navajo aquifer pumping.

Marshall Johnson and Nicole Horseherder tied the resolutions to the saddle of Johnsons horse. Nicole and their baby then followed Johnson, in their truck, as he made a 2 day ride to deliver the resolutions to the Tribal Council.
They then asked the Navajo Council to adopt the resolution on behalf of the Navajo Nation as a whole. What happened then surprised them.

"When we approached Window Rock, they told us to come back next week, then come back next month, and pretty soon they didn't even have us on the agenda," Johnson says. "You hear them talk in Window Rock that people are the power of the government. They were trying to [stress] local empowerment. Yet we had a resolution from all the communities directly impacted by Black Mesa mine—and it turned out our government didn't want to hear us."

In addition to grassroots opposition, Peabody also faced another dilemma.
Southern California Edison's Mohave Generating Station belches 40,000 tons of sulfur dioxide into the air each year, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, making it one of the largest sources of that pollutant in the West. The white haze that Mohave pushed over the Grand Canyon made it the target of a late-1990s lawsuit by the Grand Canyon Trust, the Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Assn. A federal consent decree resulting from the lawsuit required Edison to retrofit Mohave with pollution control equipment by Dec. 31, 2005—the same date Edison's coal supply agreement with the Black Mesa mine expires.

Before committing an estimated $1.1 billion to retrofit the Mohave plant, replace the aging slurry pipeline and build a proposed new water transport pipeline, and considering the growing challenge to the mine operations on Black Mesa, Edison demanded that Peabody obtain its permanent mining permit as a condition to starting the retrofit. Edison wanted to make sure that if it made the investment, Mohave's coal supply would be secure for decades. Showing little concern for the water issues on Black Mesa, Edison also asked for a daily increase in coal volume and that the coal be "washed" before it is slurried so that it would burn cleaner—processes that called for a 34% increase in the mine's water draw.

As Peabody initiated the permanent permit process, Masayesva began spreading the word using a thoroughly modern tool—the Internet. Where Peabody's applications in the past had received scant notice by the local people, this time, due to the awareness created by the Black Mesa Trust, the Natural Resources Defense Council and others, the Office of Surface Mining received 7,000 comments on the permit application in a short time, all objecting to the mine's continued use of the aquifer. The outcry from the Navajo and Hopi people was so unified that, at least initially, both Joe Shirley Jr., the elected president of the Navajo Nation, and Wayne Taylor Jr., the elected chairman of the Hopi tribe, demanded that Black Mesa mine disconnect from the Navajo aquifer by what now became everyone's deadline—the end of 2005.

Peabody, along with the Navajo and Hopi Presidents, sought to extend the deadline. However, the efforts of the Black Mesa residents brought an unexpected decision from the Navajo Council.
Navajo President Shirley and Hopi Chairman Taylor were the first to call for a deadline extension that would allow the mine to continue using its traditional water source—a concession offer that Masayesva, Marshall Johnson and Horseherder say was predictable given the tribal governments' long history of cooperation with the mine company. But while they were backpedaling, Horseherder had been persisting with the resolution to the Navajo council. On Friday, July 25, 2003, against the wishes of Shirley, the Navajo Nation Council voted 48-12 to adopt Horseherder's resolution asking the Secretary of the Interior to intervene and force Peabody off the Navajo aquifer by the 2005 date.

"When they passed the resolution, I was actually numb," Horseherder says. "It took me a couple of weeks to realize we won, that our biggest goal had been achieved."

"In light of the issues surrounding the plant, we have concluded it is probable that Mohave will be shut down at the end of 2005," says Alan J. Fohrer, Southern California Edison's chief executive officer. "If it comes back, it would most likely be after an extended shutdown sometime [until] 2009, assuming these issues can be resolved."

Says Horseherder,
"Taking on the issues of Black Mesa have taken a huge toll on our family. You have to understand we have no money to pay anyone to do anything for us when we meet these agencies and corporations," Horseherder says. "We don't have money to pay ourselves. We have long gone through our savings. But when you have small children looking up at you, you have to imagine and envision what life is going to be for them in 20 years and 50 years, even when you are not here anymore. You have to imagine what you are going to leave for them. full article

Peabody may not have plans to quit, but neither do the people of Black Mesa. “Peabody has resources,” said President(Black Mesa Trust) Leonard Selestewa, “but they don’t have spirit. Spirit can beat money.”

The People of Black Mesa. Fighting for the sacred.

For more information, please visit the following sites.
Black Mesa Trust
Black Mesa Water Coalition
July 15-18 All Peoples Power Summit


At 10:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

President Bush supports corporations. Peabody is the world's largest coal mine corporation. Therefore, President Bush probably will fight any attempt to close Peabody down. I wonder if any of the anti-Peabody groups have considered this? Looking at Peabody's past, the giant corporation has corrupt politicians up its sleeve, such as Secretary of Interior in the Navajo Nation v. Peabody case. No doubt Peabody will bumb President Bush for help.


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