Guest Columnist #71 - Nick Matthes

    Getting away is always nice, but after 2.5 months in the desert, it is good to be back in Wisconsin. I spent 11 weeks in the placid, picturesque desert of the Navajo reservation in Northern Arizona. On the Greyhound ride back up north, the 2-day barrage of billboards was a screaming reemergence into euro-american society who’s absence of (yet subtle reminders) was greatly needed. Depressingly, though, even in the middle of the Navajo reservation, some parasitic tentacles of our culture have infected and ingrained itself into their way of life - although this is probably not news to some people. Be it the fascination with television, the adoration of shit food like Hostess cupcakes, or the radio commercials urging everyone to consume to fulfill their needs - the reminder of their omnipresence is enough to make you wanna puke.
    In the area of northern Arizona on the reservation lies one of the largest coal deposits in north america. In 1974 the US congress passed a law to settle a so-called land dispute between the Navajo (Dine') and their Hopi neighbors; this redrew some of the reservation lines and automatically made over a thousand Dine' and hundred Hopi people trespassers on their ancestral homelands, and targets for relocation. For hundreds of years, the Dine' (Navajo) and Hopi had lived closely together with no problems, and the "dispute" that congress settled was fabricated for corporations to get easier access to the coal. Through crooked lawyers and the standard lies and empty promises, Peabody Coal gained control over 103 square miles of land in the heart of the Navajo rez - the largest privately owned coal mine in the world. They also flaunt the statistic of being the world’s largest coal company; and their Parent company is Lehmen Bros., whom I've heard are very involved in private prisons. (Though I have no documented proof of this - anyone know of them? Get a hold of me if you have any info on them, please)
    The Dine' believe that coal is the earth mothers liver, and without it she dies...
    To get the coal to a generating station, they move it by slurry line. They crush the coal into small chunks and then - in the middle of the desert - they mix the coal with water and move it down a slurry line over 200 miles to a station in Nevada, where the coal is used to provide more electricity to California, and to support the disgusting waste of Las Vegas. To slurry this coal, Peabody pumps over 3 million gallons of water A DAY out of an underground acquifer that is the only source of water for the people in that area. As the years go by, more and more wells have gone dry - it's hard to imagine how much longer this can continue.
    Starting in 1974, despite threats and continual harassment, there were over 1000 families resisting relocation from their homelands; now today there are barely over 100 families left that continue to hold out on their lands. Without signing the Accommodation Agreement, the Dine' families on this part of the rez are technically trespassing. This whole push has been to get the resistors to sign the Accommodation Agreement - which is, in a nutshell, a forfeiture of their lands. When signing the A.A. the family agrees to give up their land to the Hopi government in 75 years, to presently live under the Hopi laws and jurisdiction - this also means limiting the number of sheep they are allowed to have - among
other things. In return, the government (which one, I’m not sure) builds them a house to replace their hogan. (this is what was explained to me by a resistor) I stayed in one of these houses with the family that I was with, and I can honestly say that it was the poorest house that I’ve ever seen. Being just 3 years old, it had already sunk considerably to the point that the bedroom door would not close any more and the wall had pulled down from the ceiling more than half an inch.  The walls were thin and let the cold through without much resistance. I could list many more things, but you get the picture.
    Most of the Natives that continue to live there are elders and/or people who have had most of their families move away. I think every family has a herd of sheep - sheep are a very important part of their life.
    The Dine' of Black Mesa Have requested outside support - help with work, herding, and just daily life from strong and independent people who would be willing to live out there and work with/for a resisting family - to help ease the stress in their lives. I first read about this whole situation in Punk Planet over a year ago in an article by a girl who stayed out on the rez for a month helping the resistors. She provided the website address at the end, and I checked it out and got really excited about doing it, and then went. In writing this piece, I hope to provoke those same thoughts and feelings that I first felt, and hope to inform anyone that may have not heard of this struggle yet (in the same way the PP article informed me). The support group that coordinates and places the volunteers (Black Mesa Indigenous Support) is one of the main helpers of the resistors. They're actually just a handful of volunteers that all have jobs, so it can be hard for them to get you a ride out to the rez right away. I was lucky and arrived a day before they were doing a food run out to the rez, so I got a free ride. They placed me with an elder lady that lived by
herself, which made me pretty happy - that I could be applied where I'd be most useful. I had brought my sleeping bag and was anticipating sleeping on a dirt floor in a hogan, but instead I ended up in a bedroom in a house, but that was ok, too. The only neighbor was about 1 mile away, and then there wasn't another house for a five mile radius, just beautiful desert, tumbleweeds, and the occasional herd of Hopi cows. In the desert there - where Peabody pumps 3mil/gal/water/a day - about 2 times a week we would have to drive a good 10 miles (20 min) to a communal well to obtain any water. The main jobs of the supporters out there are sheepherding and chopping and hauling wood. Sheepherding is a great time. I'd never been around sheep or goats, and then once on the rez, I found that I'd spend 6 hours a day with those delightful animals. I would follow them around all day and keep them out of trouble while we both would explore the varied and breathtaking landscape that surrounded us. Rabbits would spring, roused from their hiding spot and effortlessly evade the pursuing sheepdogs. Fields would give way to washes, where water carves trenches in the loose ground, which would lead into magnificent canyons with animal homes burrowed into the sides amidst exposed roots, and sandstone-like rocks surrounded you - forming a temporary horizon which gave the sheep just enough opportunity to run over the next hill to confuse and worry you.
    I found the sheep and goats to be absolutely adorable animals - which reinforced my inability to breach the veganism. I'd heard from a lot of people that it's ok to eat the sheep, or that I couldn't sustain on veganism, etc, etc. I even thought that I'd have no ethical objection to eating mutton (sheep meat), but once out there, I said fuck that - if it bleeds it bleeds. When I saw a sheep get lassoed, I could see that it knew it was headed for the knife. I ended up cooking for my host and myself everyday, so the eating situation was pretty decent - before I left for the rez, I loaded up on grains and dry foods.  It was also pretty hard being in the atmosphere where not much compassion is lent to the animals.
    The times that I wasn't herding I'd spend back around the house, helping haul wood, fix fences, random jobs, or then just hanging out with the sheep and goats and watching them interact with each other. Around sundown we'd head inside and make dinner. After eating I just stayed inside. I'd heard enough stories about thieves and met enough hostile people to feel content with staying inside at night. At night I'd read and write by myself, and although lonely as hell, the time passed quite well. The elder I stayed with spoke not a bit of english, and her blunt refusal to try and communicate with hand gestures made things very frustrating.  It can get quite overwhelming at times. But it all depends on what your host is like - some can be real easy going or some can be more stubborn. All in all, it was quite an adventure.
    Interestingly enough, the Dine' have no word for government, so instead they say "washingdon". That is pretty telling, eh? I think that this column is already too long, but If you need any more info, or have any questions/comments feel free to write me. And I strongly encourage you to check out the BMIS website at It is huge and they have lots of information on it, and they list things that you can do to help out. Well, Yat'eh (thank you) for listening.
Nick Matthes
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