A Reformation of Monsters
Jessie: Turn to 101.5, KTNN
[Navajo corn grinding song fades in]
Brett: The people in this area, this region, here you see all these canyons and mountains and things out here, this, this side of the Navajo Nation is filled with resistors.
Jessie: This is Black Mesa, a section of the Navajo reservation here in Arizona.
Brett Isaacs is part Hopi, part Navajo, and he is working to transition this nation to solar.
Brett: In Navajo when you're born, they take your umbilical cord and they bury it. Essentially when you say where you're from it's where your umbilical cord was buried because that ties you back to where you came up out of in existence in this world.
[guitar strumming, woman’s laughter]
Lorraine: My name is Lorraine Herder
Jessie: A low-roofed house, a small herd of sheep, 11 skinny dogs wrestling. Lorraine is a matriarch, she makes decisions for this land and her daughter and granddaughter will stay just as she has. She sits and cards wool.
[sound of wool being carded]
Lorraine: I raise Navajo churro sheep and I herd sheep and then I also am a plant dyer. I just use these natural plants around here, the sagebrush. When I use that plant it used to come out yellow-green but during this summer when I used it it was almost like charcoal cause of the drought that we had all year.
[building minor music]
Jessie: Lorraine and her husband have fought to stay on their land as outside powers and a changing climate have encroached.
Dan: My name is Dan Herder. I met my wife in high school and she lived out here, and it was probably about the late 60s I think, in the early 70s is when they built the power plant in Paige and about around that time the early 70s they started mining, and they been pumping our aquifer all these years.
Jessie: Peabody, that is. The corporation who mined the seams of coal in this mesa, mixing it with aquifer water into a slurry in order to pipe it to the nearby Navajo Generating Station. This is Brett speaking again.
Brett: The latest colonizer is energy, so, coal markets, uranium, natural gas. All those industries touch the Navajo Nation and continue to touch the Navajo Nation, and kind of push a very extractive industry that is not very beneficial other than jobs, and that's the fear that Navajo people have--it's not the impact on the environment, it's not the impact on some sort of taxation or larger scale thing, it's putting food on the table. But they estimate that $0.70 of every dollar made on the Navajo Nation is exported off.
Jessie: Peabody forced many people off their land in order to construct facilities and extract the coal from Black Mesa. This mining agenda fractured families, creating a new iteration of displacement.
Dan: Just like, just like what the federal government does, they, they . . . cut off your livelihood: your livestock, your cornfield, your way of living. It’s how they pick on people and then they just give up and they just move. And our Navajo Nation, they just didn't, they just didn’t help the people.
Jessie: In the wake of Peabody, Dan, like his wife Lorraine, sees the impact of pollution and climate changing their homeland.
Dan: What we think is that if we had, if our aquifer is full and the water would come up and it would nourish these plants, from the bottom. And then off the plant when it nurses its plant it’ll give off steam to form a cloud and give us rain, that’s how it used to be, that's balance. Before the corporation came we had a lot of rain, at that time. Things were plentiful back then, things were different back then. Even though it brings them money but it, it seems like we don't get any.
Jessie: The plant has changed people, too. Those living on Black Mesa live with chemical-infused groundwater, and those employed at the power plant inhale noxious fumes.
Dan: It all started happening, the people getting asthma, cancer. Those people that got sick, their kids are working, and they don't want their sick family to be saying those things to the Navajo Nation or to somebody outside because it’d be costing them their jobs . . . they’re hesitant to talk about it, but there are very few that come out and say this is how it affected the family, and how it affected me, so it's, it’s pretty hard.
[slow, minor cello]
Brett: We've been this battery for the Southwest for decades and if we want to continue to do that we have to adapt to the changing evolution of energy, and that means that we have to get involved in an industry that I think is more appropriate for our value system.
Jessie: The plant is set to close in two years. Now is the time for the Navajo Nation to transition, but Dan explains that it's not simple.
Dan: As we were growing up we we were told not to, not to really plan for the future, cause you never know what’s going to happen the next day or the next week or so, but I guess for now I’d say just, just depend on renewable energy, that's about it. But right now majority of the people they're just dependent on the government that's the problem too, they don't even plant, they don't have animals, they just stay home. Those, those are the ones that are going to be hurt.
[minor rhythmic music]
Brett: In order for us to be effective in not just bringing another colonizer which solar really could be if it’s done the wrong way, we need to learn how to make this world look more like us rather than us trying to look like it.
Brett: (look up word) which is our origin story. This world we’re currently in was overrun by monsters, these impossible beings that existed in this world that we had to overtake in order to make it habitable. That's my interpretation back to the Navajo people here, what we’re thinking about in our economy: why poverty, why there’s this challenge of creating some degree of a market for people to be able to make an income. Those are . . . a reformation of monsters, they’re things that are living, they’re organic in a way that we can solve, we can fight, and we can defeat.
[Pause with rhythmic music]
Dan: All I say is, we've gone this far and we can adapt. Look what they did to us in relocation, we have adapted, so we just didn't feel sorry about ourselves, we just did other things. We’ll find something . . . we'll find something.
[wave of guitar strumming]
Jessie: For National Public Lands Radio, I'm Jessie Brandt.
Jessie was raised along the rocky, salty California coast and is now in the Walla Walla Valley of Washington near the Blue Mountains and slow-moving Columbia River. Studying Politics at Whitman College, she is focused on courses that interrogate and imagine intersections of nature, humankind, and decolonization. As well as illustrating, dancing to Talking Heads, and arguing the case for large dogs, she loves to read, write, and think about this planet we all belong to.