A Letter To President Obama: Black Mesa Trust
The Honorable Barack H. Obama
President, United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President,
I write to inform you of a tragedy and national disgrace occurring on the Hopi and Navajo Indian Reservations in Northern Arizona.
This month, on Hopiland, we are observing the month of Kyamuya, the time of rest, reflection and renewal, the time for staying in our homes and for telling the old stories, for sharing ancient teachings and wisdom with the youth who gather round us. They look to us with eager eyes and listen with open hearts and minds. They know they are gathering the truest wealth for living a good life, for living in our Hopi Way. They gather ancient teachings for the time when they will be called to do what I am now fulfilling: the responsibility to carry forward that our ancestors have given to us. Since time immemorial, it has been so, but, this year, more than most, correction and renewal seems especially critical.
I do not tell these children what now burdens my heart, and which I am petitioning you to address. Bodies of those who told the stories and shared the wisdom before me do not rest easy. As I write these words, bulldozers and gigantic shovels are ripping through ancient graves and dislodging my ancestors from their sacred rest in Mother Earth. As I write these words, Peabody Energy Company, with the approval of your Department of the Interior, is strip mining the history and the sacred from the ancestral lands of the Hopi people. The burial grounds and cultural sites that are our living museums and cathedrals and academy of our Hopi Way are being dynamited from under our feet.
Since 1970, strip mining started on Black Mesa, the heart of Hopi land. It is expected to continue for 16 more years. In the process of strip mining for coal, untold numbers of our ancestral villages, burial sites, rock art, and religious shrines have been and are being systematically destroyed by Peabody Western Coal Co., a subsidiary of Peabody Energy. To send the coal to Los Angeles they tap into our wells and aquifers using a million gallons of pure drinking water every day to send coal slurry through pipelines. Hopi wells have dropped in some places by 80 feet, making our traditional subsistence farming impossible.
It is not easy to explain to our children about the tragedy, about the obliteration of all traces of their ancestors. It is painful and confusing to have to explain to them that their government does not hold what is sacred to them of any importance.
This is occurring on your watch and on mine. It is the shame of our generation. It is the shame of our contracts with Peabody Energy and the shame of selling our birthright. It is the shame of Hopi who were coerced into signing the 35-year leases with Peabody and federal agents who do not seem to be concerned with the damage they wreak, and it is the shame of the Department of the Interior, which is charged with looking after our long-term well-being.
Things have changed with your election. The forces that are now destroying the resting places of our ancestors no longer hold absolute sway. The way to a brighter world is before us if we choose it. The time of desecrating the graves and the spewing of poisons can and must come to an end. There are new technologies and new fuels available for a healthier world. And, where there was once only disdain and dismissal, there is now growing respect for indigenous knowledge that has sustained the peoples for millennia. It is time to create historic change and you can bring it about.
Please, Mr. President, command those who answer to you; those in the Office of Surface Mining who are entrusted to perform the studies and select options regarding strip mining on Black Mesa. Instruct them that your administration is to be guided by a wiser and wider agenda. Inform them that a new spirit of mutual respect and concern is to be the rule when dealing with Native people and that OSM and others must re-evaluate their decisions regarding Black Mesa and other indigenous lands on the basis of mutual respect and sovereignty. Instruct them to take their trust responsibility to indigenous peoples seriously, and demand they give full consideration to cultural issues (along with those of air and water, etc.) as they move forward in their findings and decisions.
And, please, Mr. President, do not let the process be blind and deaf to the culture and ancient Way of the people whose lives and future are at stake. Do not let OSM dismiss the need to preserve the land sites in which Hopi history and teaching is encoded. Do not let federal officers under your control disgrace the bones and burial places of my ancestors.
You and your Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, have the historic opportunity to bring environmental justice to the Hopi people and all indigenous people whose lands are being desecrated by mining and logging industries.
Kwakwa (Thank you),
Black Mesa Trust
cc: U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar
( Emphasis added by me )